Seeing mites on your tarantula for the first time can be scary and they can concern even the most experienced tarantula keepers for different reasons. For the most part, these mites are friendly and relatively harmless.
Thankfully, the majority of mites are not harmful to your tarantula and are actually beneficial to the tarantula’s home instead. Beneficial mites still have the potential to cause problems due to other reasons. However, rare parasitic mites may hurt your tarantula.
Understanding mites will ease any concerns when they start appearing in the enclosure. When it comes to mites, it’s not a case of if you’ll see them. It’s a case of when you’ll see them. Learning about them now will make you better prepared for when mites start to appear.
What are Tarantula Mites?
Tarantula mites is usually the name given to mites that appear in the enclosure somewhere or on the tarantula. It’s a term used in tarantula keeping to describe any type of mite though it’s not a real technical term. There are multiple types of mites you might encounter
- Scavenger Mites
- Predatory Mites
- Parasitic Mites
Each type of mite plays an important role in different ecosystems and there’s a wide variety of species.
Types of Tarantula Mites:
1. Scavenger Mites
These mites are beneficial to a tarantulas’ home because they’re scavengers who feed on all kinds of foods. They can eat the insect leftovers from your tarantulas’ meal, rotting organic matter including coco fibers and they can also eat your tarantulas’ poop. Having them around helps to keep the enclosure clean which also means less work for you overall.
Scavenger mites fill the same role as springtails, however, scavenger mites may not eat any mold in the enclosure like springtails will. Having both of them in the enclosure is beneficial for a good clean-up crew.
2. Predatory Mites
The name sounds concerning but these types of mites are not harmful to your tarantula. Predatory mites eat smaller invertebrates such as scavenger mites, parasitic mites, and springtails. This means having predatory mites in a bioactive enclosure with springtails and scavenger mites is bad news. It shouldn’t damage the population too much unless the population of predatory mites explodes out of control.
3. Parasitic Mites
While parasitic mites are rare, they can be a big concern to tarantula keepers. The parasitic mites that target tarantulas are very rarely seen and will usually only be seen in wild-caught tarantulas since no one has been able to breed these mites in captivity yet. For an adult or larger tarantula, parasitic mites are harmless unless they have a lot of them. Small tarantulas and spiderlings should be fine as well but it will take fewer parasitic mites for them to be a risk.
These types of mites don’t take much hemolymph (invertebrate version of blood) so are only a problem in large numbers. Since breeding them is difficult they shouldn’t multiply much but there is still a risk they might move to other tarantulas in the same room as the originally ‘infected’ one. There is no confirmed way to get rid of them yet but some success has been had with using predatory mites.
Are Tarantula Mites Dangerous?
For the most part, no. It’s unlikely the mites in your tarantulas’ enclosure will ever harm your tarantula. However, keeping an eye on the situation is still advised to ensure the mite population doesn’t start to go out of control. Mites can be difficult to contain so if you’re worried about the number of them in one enclosure, some of them may migrate to another enclosure too.
If the mites are on your tarantula this doesn’t mean they must be parasitic or harmful. Mites are very small creatures and will hitch-hike on larger animals such as tarantulas to move around. When there is a lot of them doing this, it can cause problems though:
- They cause additional stress when they move around on the body of your tarantula
- Disrupting eating habits is a possibility if they block the mouthparts
- In rare cases, scavenger mites may start to eat a freshly moulted invertebrate
- In other rare cases, scavenger mites have been seen entering an injured area of the carapace
How to Spot Tarantula Mites
Mites are more obvious when they become phoretic. This means the mite has attached itself to another animal such as your tarantula which makes them easier to spot. You’ll be able to see them attached to your tarantula in various places such as around the carapace, on their legs, and other soft parts of their exoskeleton. Most of them will want to be around the mouthparts (chelicerae) because the mites can eat when the tarantula does or they eat any leftovers on your tarantula to help clean them.
However, mites can be seen all over the enclosure too. Most mites are too small for you to see unless there’s a lot of them. Mites can be mostly found living in the soil and among the leaf litter since that’s where most of their food is. Humidity is important for mites so only a small number of them can survive in a tarantulas enclosure.
If you suspect mites, here’s what to look for:
- A small, thin ‘raft’ of what looks like transparent granules of dust floating on the surface of the water bowl. These are mites that have fallen into the water and drowned. It usually indicates a high mite population.
- Small points of light slowly moving across the substrate, walls or decorations late at night when looking into the enclosure with a flashlight. This can be hard to see and requires patience but it’s the best way to check for mites.
- Mites may stay close to humidity sources and in high humidity areas, including large mites!
- Check the feeder tub or enclosure as well
- As a test, you can also place some organic food such as fruit or vegetable into the enclosure to see how many mites it attracts
What are Phoretic Mites?
A phoretic mite is not a species of mite, this is just the term used for a mite that has entered the life stage where it attaches itself to other animals for travel reasons. This doesn’t mean the mite is harmful, it just means the mite is looking to move to another area for some reason. There are many reasons why a mite enters this stage but the most common are:
- They don’t have enough food
- Humidity levels are bad for them
Phoretic mites will detach themselves from your tarantula and go back to their normal life once conditions become ideal for them again. Mites are not built for traveling a long distance so they’ve evolved to be able to attach themselves to other animals who can help them.
How to Get Rid of Tarantula Mites
1. Clean the Tank
Step one should be wiping the inside as clean as possible regularly. Only use water to clean the enclosure walls and ceiling. Using chemicals may harm your tarantula. This process needs to be repeated every few hours for multiple days at least.
2. Get Springtails!
Springtails and scavenger mites are natural competitors, they both eat the same foods so they usually balance each other’s population out. The amount of springtails needed depends on the size of the enclosure and how bad the mite overpopulation is. Predatory mites can also help but springtails are best.
3. Lure the Mites off the Tarantula with Rotten Food
Rotten food that your tarantula isn’t interested in will attract mites in the enclosure. Even just leaving a slice of wet cucumber in the enclosure for a few days will start to attract the mites in the enclosure. It can then be removed and swapped for another non-tarantula food to collect more mites.
4. Move the Tarantula into a temporary ‘hospital’ enclosure
The problem is usually the enclosure, not the tarantula. Even if the mites are phoretic. Moving the tarantula to a temporary enclosure will reduce the number of mites around them. This makes it easier to control the conditions and gives you more time to fix the mite problem in the enclosure.
5. Replace the Substrate
Mites live in the substrate and most likely came from it. Dismantle the enclosure and throw away the substrate or leave it bagged up for at least six months before using it again. Use new substrate for the tarantulas’ enclosure, consider sterilizing it using the oven or microwave to kill mites and eggs.
6. Improve the Conditions of the Enclosure
A change in the conditions will make it harder for the mites to survive. The fastest way to do this is to dry out the enclosure, remove anything that’s rotting such as leaf litter, wood, or food and remove the water bowl. It should be left alone for several months but this means the tarantula needs to be moved to a more suitable home. An extremely dry enclosure is bad for your tarantula.
7. Brand New Tank
Sometimes it’s easier to just move the tarantula into a new permanent home. This means setting up a new home away from the current enclosure and carefully moving your tarantula using a catch-up. Some mites will be moved into the new home as well but having a springtail population from the start will keep the mite population under control
Where do Tarantula Mites come from
Wild animals are exposed to all kinds of potentially harmful things such as bacteria, parasites, and mites. This is one of the reasons why buying wild-caught tarantulas is a bad idea since they can be vectors for diseases that could infect the other tarantulas you keep. Quarantine for new additions can be a good idea, especially if the tarantula is wild-caught.
Live food for tarantulas can also be a potential source of disease and mites. While it’s possible for any live food you buy to come with mites, wild-caught prey is much more likely to come with mites or disease. Getting ‘free tarantula food’ from outside can come with hidden costs.
Substrate mixes can often hide mites and mite eggs in them. Once the conditions are right for the mites, they reproduce and thrive in the environment which can then lead to problems with your tarantulas’ enclosure. Selecting a substrate from a well-known and trusted brand will help to reduce the risk of a serious mite infestation anytime soon but there’s no guarantee it will prevent it.
Using wild substrate from the garden or compost will be much more likely to contain mites but it will also come with other problems. Mites will not be the only hitch-hikers with the wild substrate, bacteria, viruses, and other tiny organisms will also come with it.
It’s possible to sterilize any substrate you plan to use which will drastically reduce the chance of a mite infestation coming from the substrate. Sterilizing is possible by baking it in the oven, microwaving it, or freezing the substrate. However, it’s possible to leave the substrate for several months so it completely dries out which will also kill any mites. Going through sterilization will make it impossible for the mites to survive and will kill them in addition to any other unwanted guest hidden in the substrate.
There are lots of ways for mites to end up in the enclosure. Real plants, cork bark, driftwood, and more can all come with unwanted additions to the tank. Not all of these can be prevented you can take steps to reduce the chance:
- Driftwood can be boiled
- Cork bark can be washed then baked in the oven
When it comes to sterilizing plants, this is harder to do without putting the tarantula at risk. However, if you’re using real plants in the enclosure then you should also add springtails which will keep mites under control.
How to Prevent Mites
Trying to prevent tarantula mites is easier than stopping them once the population has exploded out of control. Working to prevent mites is much less work and following these steps will help keep mites out of your enclosures.
1. Never get Wild
Trying to prevent mites is a lot less work if you never get wild animals, wild food, or wild substrate for the enclosure. While it’s possible to sterilize wild substrate collected from outside, bringing wild live food or tarantulas into the room increases the risk of bringing mites too.
2. Avoid excess moisture
Mites thrive in moist conditions so limiting the moisture will also limit how much the mites can reproduce. Tarantulas do need some moisture but this is different across species so always make sure the conditions are right for them. Misting as needed will keep your tarantula happy while also keeping the humidity levels under control.
3. Clean the tank regularly
Keeping the tank clean also means less food for the mites. This is an easy way to prevent mites and control the population of mites. Any scavenger mites in the enclosure will eat tarantula waste including their poop and food leftovers. Removing the uneaten food parts and cleaning up after your tarantula will make it harder for mites to overpopulate.
4. Add Springtails
Adding springtails to your tarantulas’ enclosure will add more competition for the mites which limits their growth. Both scavenger mites and springtails are beneficial for helping to keep the enclosure clean. Unlike mites, springtails will also eat mold which can also become a problem for tarantula enclosures.
5. Sterilize any new additions to the tank
Sterilizing any new additions to the tank will help to drastically reduce the chance of mites and the number of mites added to the enclosure. This might not completely prevent mites but it will reduce their population and slow their reproduction rates into something more manageable.
Tarantula Mite FAQs
Can I use Pesticides to kill Mites?
Technically yes but this is a terrible idea. Using pesticides and other chemicals can harm or kill your tarantula. It’s best to take a more natural route when trying to prevent mites or get rid of them.
Are Mites Dangerous for Tarantulas?
For the most part, mites are not dangerous for your tarantula. Most of them can even be beneficial! Mites can cause a problem if their population grows out of control so keeping them in check is essential. Parasitic mites are very rare and unlikely to occur in large enough numbers to hurt your tarantula in captivity.
Can I take the Mites off my Tarantula?
While some people advise using a paintbrush to remove mites from the body of a tarantula, this can be very difficult to do. It also stresses your tarantula further and might hurt them if the mites are stubborn. It’s best to let the mites detach themselves naturally.
While mites can become a problem, they’re mostly harmless to your tarantula. They can become a concern for the most experienced keepers when the population explodes and in some countries, parasitic mites may pose a greater risk. Keeping the mite population under control isn’t too difficult when you only use captive-bred live feeders, keep moisture under control and stay on top of tank cleanliness. Getting rid of mites from the enclosure is possible but a longer and more difficult process.