How Does a Snake Shed Its Skin?

By Amy S. Jorgensen

Ecdysis, the technical term for the reptilian skin shedding, is done by all types of snakes throughout their lives. As a snake owner, you should know how to tell that your snake is about to shed, how to take care of him during that time and what problems might occur that require your assistance.

Why Snakes Shed Their Skin

Snakes must shed their skin so they can continue to grow. Unlike humans and other animals, which have skin that grows along with them, snake skin is not as flexible. Instead, they must slough off the old skin so they can replace it with a looser skin that provides room for growth.

Because snakes continue growing throughout their lives, they never stop shedding their skin. However, young snakes will shed more frequently because they are growing at a more rapid rate than older snakes. On average, snakes will shed their skin four to eight times yearly.

Signs Shedding is About to Start

Watch for the signs your snake will soon start to shed. Snakes in this period are said to be "in the blue" because one sign of impending shedding is a bluish tint developing in their eyes. This eye change also hinders their vision, so snakes may seem more nervous before shedding. The existing skin will also become duller when shedding is imminent. Some snakes will change color before shedding. For example, the ball python's stomach turns pinkish before shedding.

Usually within three to four days, the snake's eyes will return to normal. When this happens, you know the shedding process is about to start. You will notice your snake moving against rocks, branches or similar abrasive objects in its environment. The snake does this so the old skin will hook onto those objects and as it moves the old skin will be pulled away.

Don't be tempted to pull off shedding skin from your snake because that can damage the new skin.

Snakes should not be handled while they shed. They are more agitated and can become aggressive during this period. Snakes may eat less or stop eating. This diet change is normal. Most snakes resume eating once the shedding is finished.

The Shedding Process

The shedding process usually takes one to two weeks. During this time, the snake will continue to rub on objects in its environment. If all goes well, the snake's old skin will be discarded in a pile in its cage. Remove the old skin and check your snake to make sure all of the old skin came off.

When you remove the old skin, wear gloves because the skin can contain salmonella.

Causes of & Solutions for Shedding Problems

When snakes are healthy and well-maintained, they usually have no problem shedding their skin. Snakes need to be in a humid environment to keep their skin moist and to make shedding easier. If the environment and/or the snake become too dry, the old skin will not come off easily. You can try several methods to help your snake:

  • Soak her with lukewarm water.
  • Spray him with lukewarm water.
  • Use a humidifier to increase humidity in the room where he is kept.

If adjusting the moisture does not help your snake, you should bring him to a veterinarian who specializes in reptiles. Shedding problems can by a symptom of infection, nutritional deficiency and other problems that need attention.