Pests and Parasites [incomplete]
Indoor tortoise habitats can attract a lot of unwanted bugs. Warm, humid air, moist substrate, rotting food and fecal material attract pretty much every common household pest, ants, fruit flies, and spiders, but they also attract two that are less familiar to us: fungus gnats and springtails. One way to control most habitat pests is to create a “bioactive substrate” with wood lice and worms, as well as micro-organisms that will prey on the pests.
Outdoor habitats can be infested with ants, termites, bees and other stinging insects, and others. Common indoor and outdoor pests can be controlled using common methods that your local county extension service can help with.
Also called “March flies”, these are small 2-5mm, dark flying insects of several species and genera whose larvae act as an important decomposer as they feed on plant roots and organic matter. The short-lived adults help pollinate fungi and other plants. They thrive in damp soils, such as we often find in indoor tortoise habitats.
Fungus gnats pose no threat to humans, pets or most plants, but may damage plant seedlings. For more information:
Also called “snow fleas”, this is another very small insect under 6mm. They feed on decaying organic matter and are an important decomposer. In fact, they are one of the more numerous macroscopic animals with 100,000 per cubic meter of soil and are found almost everywhere on Earth. If you see small, greyish, fast moving/hopping things scurrying on your tortoise, they are probably Springtails.
Springtails may infest some crops, but are harmless to humans and pets. For more information:
Ticks and mites
These are small eight-legged critters that attach to the skin and live on the blood of the host. They are most often seen on wild-caught animals and tend to congregate around the softer tissues in the shell. They can cause several health problems including weakening or stressing the animal, causing discomfort, and carrying disease. Ticks and mites are easily passed from one animal to another; some cross species barriers and can affect other animals. Tortoises kept near animals or outdoors are at risk of acquiring ticks and mites, so the pen areas should be kept clean. Some species, such as Yellow-footed Tortoises, are notorious for getting ticks or mites. If ticks and mites are a real problem in your area, your local county extension service can help you find the best way to control them.
Ticks and mites carry diseases that can make your tortoise shed, can cause blood diseases, etc. Some ticks and mites can affect humans as well. Prevent with good hygiene.
Ticks should be removed by grasping them gently but firmly with tweezers, a tick removal tool, or your fingers:
Mites are usually much smaller and harder to see, and appear as small black or red specks:
Leeches are a much less common external parasite that can be removed by getting a fingernail or similar tool between the skin and sucker mouth and gently prying it off. It will immediately try to reattach so must be flicked away or otherwise secured. Avoid letting your tortoise swim in leech-infested areas such as natural lakes.
7-16-2012 (C) Mark Adkins