All animals shed their skins regularly. Some animals, like humans, shed their skins slowly, a few cells at a time, until they have an entirely new skin surface. Then the process starts all over again. Other animals, like snakes, shed their skins rapidly, climbing and slithering out of the old skin, leaving it behind in one, long piece. The snake's process of shedding is termed ecdysis.
Snake Shedding Facts
Snakes shed or slough their skin as often as once a month. The frequency and success of skin shedding in snakes is dependant on a number of environmental factors including humidity, ambient temperature, proper nutrition, reproductive condition of the snake and whether the snake is harbouring parasites or various harmful bacteria. The age and species of the snake also plays a role in the shedding process and the frequency of sheds. Different species of snakes need different environmental conditions for a successful shed. For example, desert species need drier environments to remain healthy and shed successfully where rainforest species need a more humid environment.
How to Tell When a Snake Is Ready to Shed Its Skin
When a snake is about to shed, its eyes become opaque and will look cloudy or have a blue tint to them. The snake's skin also becomes dull and greyish because the old skin is beginning to loosen from the new skin. Many snakes will become nervous and more aggressive when they begin to shed. They cannot see very much as their eyes cloud over and they are more likely to attempt to defend themselves from perceived threats. Pet snakes should not be handled during the shedding process as handling them when they can't see is a source of stress for them.
The Shedding Process
When the eyes clear in roughly three or four days, the snake is ready to shed its skin. The snake rubs itself against a rough surface to start the shed from the tip of its snout. It then uses the rough surface to help it pull the skin off from head to tail. If the snake is in a proper environment and does not suffer from malnutrition or other health issues, the skin will generally shed in one complete piece and turn inside out as the snake sheds it. Snakes will commonly not eat during the entire shedding process.
When a snake sheds improperly, it is referred to as dysecdysis. Poor environmental conditions, poor husbandry for captive snakes and poor nutrition are the main causes of dysecdysis, but other factors including stress, physical trauma, dermatitis and other skin conditions. For pet snakes, it is important to inspect each shed to be sure that the snake shed its full skin, including the eye caps. Incomplete shedding can cause serious health problems for snakes and result in infections that lead to the need for medical attention.
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