Melissa Kaplan's
Herp Care Collection
Last updated January 1, 2014

Small Oozing Bumps and Lesions on Reptiles

©2000 Melissa Kaplan


There are a variety of reasons why your lizard may have one or more small, oozing lesions (flat sores or skin-covered bumps) somewhere on his body. Because they all exhibit very much alike, there is generally no way a herp keeper can tell what the underlying cause is, so it is important to have these lesions and bumps checked out by a reptile veterinarian.

The fluid oozing from the skin in between the scales or from lesions themselves are a combination of the intercellular fluid and fluids from ruptured cells. This fluid acts as a carrier for the virus or bacteria causing the systemic or localized infection.

Organisms that can cause bumps, lesions or other dermatitis include:

  • abscesses
  • adenoviruses (lizards)
  • Salmonella
  • fungal infection (may also be dry - see Black Spot article)
  • herpesvirus (snakes, lizards, chelonians, amphibians)
  • papillomas (lizards)
  • papilloma-like viruses (Bolivian side-necked turtles, to date)
  • paramyxovirus (snakes; may cause caseous plaques in mouth like stomatitis, also RTI symptoms)
  • parasitic worms (see below)
  • poxvirus (caiman, lizards) 


Viruses With No External Signs
The follow viruses generally do not have any external physical manifestations - no bumps or lesions to indicate that there is something wrong. Often, a reptile may have one of these viruses and may appear to be health for some time before succumbing - often very quickly - to the virus. adenovirus (crocodilians, snakes, lizards)

  • herpesvirus (chelonians, lizards, snakes)
  • inclusion body disease (boids)
  • iridovirus (Hermann's tortoises only, to date)
  • reovirus (Chinese vipers)
  • retroviruses (snakes)


The route of transmission amongst reptiles is poorly understood. It is presumed to follow those models known to exist for the transmission of viruses in other organisms, such as humans, including airborne, fecal-oral, and contact of a contaminated surface with an existing lesion or exposed mucous membrane.


There are few blood tests available to diagnose viral infections; the best route to detection and identification is the use of electron microscopy to study tissue samples removed from the living or dead reptile. Since so many may die without having had any external signs of illness other than an acute terminal illness or longer term nonspecific"failure to thrive" signs, not doing a necropsy after death potentially puts all the other herps in one's collection at risk of dying from the same thing. While there is little treatment for these viruses, quarantine, isolation, and strict adherence to proper cleaning and disinfection routines can minimize the risk of the virus spreading through a collection.

In the case of boid inclusion body disease, it should be considered unethical for any breeder with this virus in his collection to sell any of his collection's offspring; breeders known to do this should be exposed and barred from selling at any herp society or expo venue.

In cases where the skin is the, or one of the, affected organ, a biopsy can be easily taken for electron microscopy examination. In large reptiles, organ biopsies may be taken for histological and electron microscopy studies. In some cases, negative staining of bodily fluids (urine, saliva, vesicular fluid) may be used in electron microscopy.

A virus should be considered a possibility when antifungal and antibiotics do not resolve a condition, even after fine-tuning the antibiotics used with a culture and sensitivity.


There is little in the way of treatment for viruses. In the human medical arena, there is an antiviral that is effective against certain human herpesviruses that may be of use in treating herpesviruses in reptiles (see Iguanid Herpesvirus IgHV-1). There are no vaccines that have been developed to protect reptiles from viruses (in one study, a paramyxovirus vaccine was given to Western diamondbacks, but the response was so variable as to make it inappropriate for use at this time).

Since these viruses can create conditions in which secondary fungal or bacterial infections flourish, the use of antimicrobials and antibiotics may be beneficial to reduce the overall immune load. Keeping secondary infections at bay, along with strict cleaning, disinfection and quarantine of all new animals and animals suspected of being ill, and providing the necessary environmental, fluid and nutritional support, is the most effective treatment at this time.


Parasitic Worms
In the case of parasitic worms who are completing their life cycle by migrating through the host's tissues to the outside of the host's body, the worm will be inside the bump. The skin should be cleaned with a topical antiseptic such as dilute Betadine (povidone-iodine) before being gently teased open with a sterile needle. The worm is then eased out, preferably without breaking or cutting its body, and then placed in a small jar of isopropyl alcohol to kill it for disposal or to take to the vet for identification.

Related Articles

Iguanid Herpesvirus

Index Virum

Iridovirus +tortoises +amphibians +snakes +lizards (Scirus)

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