Pests and Parasites [incomplete]

Habitat pests
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, spiders, and so on, 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 more. Common indoor and outdoor pests can be controlled using common methods that your local county extension service can help with.

Fungus Gnats (Order Diptera)
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 gnat

Fungus gnats pose no threat to humans, pets or most plants, but may damage plant seedlings. For more information, try…

Springtails (subclass Collembola)
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, try…

External parasites

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- weakening or stressing the animal, causing discomfort, and carrying disease. Ticks and mites are easily passed from one animal to another, and some cross species barriers and can affect other animals. Tortoises kept near animals or outdoors are at some risk of getting 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.

Medical care:
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.

  1. Ticks should be removed by grasping them gently but firmly with tweezers, a tick removal tool, or your fingers.
  • Grasp firmly as close to the skin as you can.
  • Pull gently but firmly.
  • When off, check to see if you got the head and barbs. Kill the tick (jar of alcohol both kills it and lets the vet see what it was if needed.) and have it checked if possible.
  • Treat the wound as a minor injury, but monitor for infection, etc.
  • Mites are usually much smaller and harder to see, and appear as small black or red specks.
    • Soak in warm water for 20+ minutes. A couple drops of bleach in the water helps.
    • If drowning does not work, use a commercial tick and mite killer for reptiles per directions.
  • Disinfect the affected area with a good swab of Betadine, repeated daily for a week. Watch for symptoms of illness. 
  • See a vet if needed.
  • Leeches

    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 off. It will immediately try to reattach so must be flicked away or otherwise secured. Avoid letting your tortoise swim in leech-infested areas like natural lakes, etc.

    Internal parasites

    [Coming soon]


    7-16-2012 (C) Mark Adkins