Now that Crabdip the milk snake and Darth Batman* the ball python have been with us for a few months (read about their introduction here), we’ve experienced many common snake behaviors and events. One process that all reptiles go through is the shedding of their skin, or “ecdysis.” A snake’s shed is particularly interesting because of his method of sloughing the skin in one continuous piece.
Both of our snakes have experienced multiple, successful sheds so far. With most snakes, a shed may happen about once every month or two, though younger snakes often shed more during their periods of rapid growth. In a proper environment, a healthy snake should have no trouble shedding in one long piece, with none left behind over the eyes or tail. Providing the right amount of humidity is extremely important to the shedding process. Our snakes have a water bowl large enough to soak in, as well as a “hide box” stuffed with damp moss, and will use them as needed to keep their skin healthy. They also have tiles and hides to rub against to help physically remove the old skin.
There are typically signs leading up to a shed, which is a 1-2 week process. The snake’s eyes will become cloudy, and his colors will become dull. During this time his eyesight is poor, so he may be jumpy and generally unfriendly, and it’s best to keep handling to a minimum. He may not be as active, and might not want to eat. We still offer their weekly meal if we think a shed is impending, and DB has always been hungry no matter what. Crabdip, however, has twice ignored his frozen/thawed hopper mouse, so we always offer it again after his shed is over and he’s feeling comfortable enough for a meal.
An incomplete shed (“dysecdysis”) is a symptom of another problem, like humidity being too high or low, poor nutrition, mites or other parasites, or other improper husbandry issues that must be corrected. Luckily, we haven’t had to deal with any of that! Purchasing your reptile from a reputable breeder who knows the animal’s background and can ensure its health, as well as provide proper care information for your species, is the best way to avoid trouble that leads to things like incomplete shedding.
After a successful shed, a snake will usually defecate, as well as be thirsty. Be ready to clean up and make sure his water bowl is full.
Interestingly, a snake’s shed skin is not a reliable measure of its true length! It can be noticeably longer than the snake itself.
*Yes, my husband’s choice of “Darth Batman” won out. As my mother once wisely advised me, “pick your battles.”