Why Do Snakes Shed Their Skin?

Why Do Snakes Shed Their Skin?

Snakes have the unique ability to shed their skin entirely. As they grow, their skin does not, and therefore it becomes too tight and worn, and a new skin awaits just below the old. Shedding their skin (ecdysis) allows snakes to grow and remove any parasites that may have attached to the old skin. This is a completely normal and healthy process, and occurs between four and 12 times a year.

In this blog post, I’ll explain what shedding is, how often it occurs, and how to spot the signs that your snake will shed its skin soon.

Dr Bobby Ortiz, small and exotic pet vet, posing with a bunny patient

Dr. Bobby Ortiz, M.V.B.

Dr Bobby Ortiz, aka 'Dogtor Bob', is a small animal and exotic veterinarian based in Dublin. He has a strong interest in Small Mammal (rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets) and Reptile medicine and surgery.

He grew up in a family of avid animal lovers, which led him to work as an Aquarist at the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific in California. It was there he decided he wanted to become a vet, and specialise in exotic animals, that needed the same care and medical attention that dogs and cats are given.

He lives with his wife and Brittany Spaniel Bodhi, and has dreams to build a new tropical marine fish tank in the near future!

What is Shedding (Ecdysis)?

Shedding (or Ecdysis) is the where your snake will shed its entire epidermis (skin). As humans grow, our skin grows with us; this is not the case for snakes, where they must shed their skin every so often to comfortably grow. A new is generated below the old skin, which is discarded. This process also helps remove any harmful parasites that may have attached to the old skin.

How Often Do Snakes Shed?

Snakes will typically shed between 4 and 12 times a year. It occurs more frequently in juveniles than adults as they are continuing to grow at a fast pace. As the snake gets older, they will shed less often. Snakes also frequently shed their skin prior to reproduction or after giving birth.

Signs That Your Snake Will Shed

Your snake will exhibit some signs that he will soon begin the shedding process. Just before  shedding, your snake’s skin will start to turn bluish; its eyes become opaque or clouded, which hinders their vision. They may also experience a decrease in appetite and become skittish or defensive, as they can’t see.

Due to their poor visibility during this time, they may find somewhere to hide. They begin shedding a few days later by rubbing its head on something abrasive such as a rock so they can slip out of the outer layer of skin. Once they are out, they will leave the old skin behind, along with any parasites that may have attached.

Snake with cloudy eye about to shed their skin

How to Avoid Shedding Problems

Although shedding is completely normal and natural, it can cause stress on your snake. To help relieve some of this stress, there are several things you can do, such as:

  1. Provide habitat accessories, like smooth rocks, to help your snake rub off its old skin. Ensure there are no sharp edges that could potentially harm your snake.
  2. Ensure your snake’s enclosure is humid and make sure there is a shallow dish of water where it can soak itself afterwards.
  3. Don’t handle your snake just before or soon after the shedding process. New skin is very delicate, so if you must handle them, make sure to do so carefully.

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