Whether you’re a reptile rookie or an avid admirer, chances are you are at least familiar with the fact that snakes shed their skin. But do you know why?
Probably not, otherwise why would you be reading this article (not that I’m complaining)? Anyways, let’s get down to it before you change your mind.
Shar Pei/Human Hybrid
According to Reptile Knowledge, the
To better understand why snakes shed their skin, it’s helpful to think about your own skin. When humans are born, we don’t have a large amount of sagging excess skin to grow into (this gave me a really disturbing mental image of a shar pei/human hybrid). Instead, our skin grows with us.
On the other hand, a snake’s skin can only grow with them to a certain point. Wise Geek explains that once it has reached its capacity, the skin has to be shed in order to allow for further growth.
Shedding the skin also rids the snake of any parasites like mites or ticks (I had no idea snakes could get mites) that may have attached themselves to the snake.
No Lotion Needed
So just how does this whole skin shedding process work? Don’t worry, it isn’t a Buffalo Bill situation (it doesn’t put the lotion on it’s skin).
Firstly, the snake doesn’t technically shed it’s entire skin.
What is actually being left behind is the outermost layer of skin cells. Basically before the shedding process even begins to take place, a new layer of skin is actually being grown underneath the currently visible layer.
Once the new layer of skin and scales are formed, the outer layer will begin to prepare to slough off.
Wise Geek continues its explanation by detailing that a small amount of fluid will form between the two layers aiding in separation and allowing for more oxygen to penetrate and harden the lower layer.
At this point, the snake will usually opt to take a swim to allow the moisture and humidity to help loosen things up even further (kind of like peeling off wallpaper).
When it’s finally ready, the snake will create a tear in the old skin—usually somewhere near the nose or mouth—by rubbing its face on a log, rock, or other rough surface.
Then the magic happens.
The snake will begin to slowly inch out of his old digs to reveal his slithery new coat.
Unfortunately for the snake, this process isn’t anywhere near as instantly gratifying as say peeling off your socks at the end of the day. A complete molt can take a minimum of a week to complete, often lasting longer for larger snakes.
A Lifetime of Shedding
For some reason, I always thought snakes only shed their skin two or three times at most in a lifetime. I was way off.
Apparently, snakes will continue to shed as long as they are growing. And just how long do they grow? Oh, you know, only their entire lives.
Reptile Knowledge states that a snake will basically never stop shedding, but that the frequency of this painstaking task does decrease over time. For example, a baby snake might shed every other week whereas a larger and older snake might only shed once every 45 days.
I Saw The Sign…The Shed Sign
In case you are considering adding a snake to your household and want to know what the signs of an impending shed are, don’t worry we have you covered.
According to the reptile experts at Doctors Foster and Smith, your snake will display a very distinct and consistent set of physical and behavioral changes. The skin will become dull and the eyes will turn a cloudy bluish hue. This is due to the fluid forming to separate the two layers.
Your snake will also act nervous or aggressive as a result of their impaired vision (I’d be cranky too if I suddenly couldn’t see) and will display a decrease in appetite.
Make sure to provide a quiet area for your pal and avoid handling him during this time.
A few days to a week later, the eyes will clear and your snake will start to seek out objects to rub against to create an escape route out of the old skin.
Be sure there are branches or rocks in the habitat that provide a rough surface for him to utilize for this. You can also check out our “Ultimate Guide to Getting a Reptiles” for more tips.
Troubleshooting: Snake Edition
In some cases, the shed is incomplete. This means that there are patches of skin remaining that the snake was not able to slough off on his own.
Reptile Knowledge explains that this can happen as a result of improper nutrition/dehydration, or a lack of moisture in the environment.
Unfortunately when this happens in the wild, it can lead to blindness and ultimately death if, for example, the eye caps were repeatedly left behind.
Help Your Snake Undress
Should your snake have trouble completing his shed there are a few things you can do to help the process:
Increase humidity by misting your snake with lukewarm water on a daily basis or providing an area of damp moss or paper towels for him to rest on.
Allow your snake to soak in a pool of water, but make sure the water isn’t deep enough that he could drown. Also make sure to never leave him unattended while soaking.
Place your snake between damp towels and allow him to crawl through them. The friction and humidity will help to remove the leftover skin.
Whatever you do, never attempt to peel off any patches of skin yourself. If in doubt, have a vet check him out to make sure he is healthy and to give you some tips on proper nutrition.
Bonus Fact: Nicolas Cage once owned a pet Cobra named Sheba.