Snake Skin Shedding (Ecdysis)
Most snakes shed their skin 4 to 8 times per year. The actual frequency of shedding depends upon many factors, including environmental temperature, frequency of feeding, amount fed at each feeding, and activity level. Young snakes shed more frequently than older ones because growth is rapid in the first few years of life.
Healthy snakes usually have little or no difficulty with shedding and tend to shed their skins in one entire piece. Exceptions to this include snakes that have suffered injuries to their skin and/or scales resulting in scaring and snakes housed in enclosures with sub-optimal temperature and/or relative humidity levels.
The stresses associated with shedding can be substantial. Sick snakes, those suffering from malnutrition, or those whose health has been directly compromised by poor husbandry, experience delay, and incomplete sheds. These snakes tend to shed their skins in a piecemeal fashion. In fact, many of these pieces remain adhered to the underlying skin and eyes (retained eye caps).
The actual shedding process is preceded by a period of relative inactivity. This period usually lasts one to two weeks during which time the eyes begin to exhibit a dull, bluish-white appearance. It is during this period that the snake’s vision is impaired which causes them to be rather unpredictable and to sometimes exhibit aggressive tendencies. The skin during this period tends to possess an over dull appearance. Actually, the underlying new skin is soft and vulnerable to damage while the outer layers prepare to slough away.
The eyes clear after 7 to 15 days and shedding commences. A snake will make use of any and all rough objects or surfaces within its enclosure to facilitate the removal of the skin. Shedding commences with the skin of the head. Once the snake has loosened and dislodged the skin surrounding the mouth and overlying the rostrum (nose), it then will pass between rough objects that can trap the loose skin and hold it as the snake glides out of the “old” skin. The discarded skin will appear dry and tube-like or moist and crumpled in a solid heap. Many snakes will defecate after a successful shed. Prolonged drinking of water by snakes has also been reported at this time.