Snakes are a reptile, which means that they often have to shed their skin to rid themselves of the outer layer of dead skin cells and allow the newer top level to show. But why do snakes shed their skin, how often do they do this, and what does this mean for you?
Why do Snakes Shed?
Humans shed their skin continuously, with millions of dead skin cells shed every day. However, most reptiles shed a layer of skin in one continuous piece. This process is known as ecdysis.
The process is to allow the snake room to grow while the snake’s body continuously grows and the new skin can stretch into the correct size.
At the same time, the snake can shed skin to help remove harmful parasites from their outer layers.
Snake sheds can also help them to recover from scratches and cuts. With every shed, the injury will get smaller. However, it can take several sheds for a snake to recover from a serious injury. And some injuries can still leave scars, despite multiple sheds.
How do Snakes Shed?
The process for any snake shedding is really simple. It starts with the snake’s colouration getting duller. Their eyes, which have a layer of skin over them, also look more grey. This can restrict their eyesight, and this can be very troublesome. A snake in shed is more likely to strike out at a predator or someone who has disturbed them.
This can last about two or three days. Then the snake will find something where it can rip the skin around the head. The snake will then simply move out of the old skin, leaving the new skin intact.
When snakes are in shed they will not eat. And they are less likely to venture out.
The shedding process is helped with special body oil. Though the snake will often also find a more moist area to hide in as this can make shedding easier.
How Often Do Snakes Shed?
Snakes shedding can happen as frequently as is required by the individual. Typically younger or smaller individuals are going to shed more often. Some baby snakes will shed every three to four weeks, for instance. Which means they can shed up to 15 times in a year.
In contrast, some of the larger snakes may only shed three or four times a year.
While many species will shed in one continuous shed. However, larger species can struggle with one large shed, so sometimes they will shed in multiple pieces. But all the skin will be shed within a short period (in one day).
Shed Snake Skin Identification
If you find shed snake skin, then you might want to try to identify the snake. There are several ways that you can do this. Here are some of the points to consider.
1. Skin Size
One of the biggest problems with snake skin shed is that the skin is stretched as it comes off the snake. Therefore, the size of the shed can be very misleading. If a snake skin is very large, it is unlikely to come from one of the smaller borrowing snakes that live in Australia. However, you can’t measure the skin to determine the size of the snake.
And the amount that the skin stretches can vary from individual to individual. Some snakes won’t have much stretch, whereas other skins can be stretched so that the skin can be 33% larger than the snake is.
Most people expect the snake skin to be white. This is true for most snake skins, as the skin pales once the cells are beginning to die. However, there can sometimes be a tinge of the colour of the snake underneath.
For example, some species that have iridescent skin can often maintain a rainbow look to them. Or those that have strong blacks can maintain the colour. Likewise, patterns of the snakes can often be found on all snake skins.
The location of the snake's skin can tell a lot about the snake. Obviously, snakes aren’t going to shed in locations where there are none available. In addition, the choice of location can determine what snake it could be. If a snake has shed close to the shore, then it is likely to be one of the few sea snakes that live in the area.
It is important to note though that many snakes don’t like to shed in the open. Therefore, you will likely find snake sheds in crevices, caves, or in tree hollows. But these locations can help identify what snake species are around. Those found in tree hollows might indicate one of the arboreal species has left the skin.
What to do if you Find a Snake Shed
If you do find a snake has shed, then there are several things that you might want to do. The snake will not want the skin, so moving it is not going to be a problem. You can discard the skin if you wish. However, the skin can be a deterrent to mice and rats in the area.
You might want to try to deter the snake from staying in the area though. You can do this by removing elements that might attract the snake: like prey (mice, rats, etc.), hiding spots, and other elements. You might also want to add plants that deter snakes. Snakes do not like numerous plants because they interfere with their sense of smell, which is a prime way to locate prey items.
Finally, you might want to consider adding in Envirobug’s snake repellent that mimics the vibrations in the ground that a predator will make. Snakes will want to avoid this, so will not stay in the area. Two of these devices can normally deter snakes from the average property.
Final Word: Why do Snakes Shed Their Skin
Why do snakes shed their skin? It is a natural way to allow them to grow. However, the process is very stressful for them and they tend to be more agitated and defensive at these times. If you do find a snake in shed, it is best to avoid them and find ways to deter the snake from your property, if it is in your garden.