Skin Shedding

Often referred to as "sloughing", a well fed snake will shed about once every 1 to 3 months, younger (i.e. rapidly growing) snakes generally shedding more often than older ones. However, as you're probably sick of seeing me write, no two snakes are the same, and all shed at different rates. It's been my experience, for example, that adult burmese pythons shed about once every two or three months where an adult rainbow boa will shed monthly.

Look at your snake. The most obvious sign that shedding is imminent is a general darkening of the skin and the clouding over of the eyes. The general darkening of the skin which is evident in pythons is not so noticeable in boas as their colourations are so variable. Often there is an unexpected refusal to feed.
At this point, all contact with the snake is best postponed till after shed is complete Leave them alone. They can't see (as the eyes have clouded) and they can be quite bad tempered.

The eyes will clear, and a few days later the skin will be removed. The shed is accomplished by the snake rubbing on something until the skin on the nose comes loose. The skin is then pulled off like a sock. Your snake will normally now be quite hungry. Handling should be kept at a minimum during the shed period, as the new skin can be sensitive (or even damaged).

As snakes are fidgets, some keepers measure the length of the shed skin to measure how long their snake is. What you need to bear in mind is that the skin stretches as it comes off. The shed skin (left) is about six inches longer than the boa it came from (right)

And that's all there is to it... ? Well, ideally yes it is. But beware - one or two tips:


New skin can be sensitive


After shedding snakes are often hungry - don't get bitten


Skins soon smell - move them out of the viv stright away


Always check the "head" of the skin to make sure both eyecaps came off. The tail is another area that sometimes will not remove completely

If the skin comes off in lots of small pieces, the humidity is probably too low. However the royal you see here that had troble shedding shares a viv with royals that shed OK two days before. Also I've been told that reticulated pythons never have complete sheds.
Unshed skin can be removed by soaking the snake in water and then gently tickling it off. Some snakes sem to enjoy this, others put up a struggle. But be sure all the skin is off - unshed skin is an ideal breeding ground for bacteria, ticks and mites.

Now, I've just heard....

 I've heard about a few very rare cases where snakes seemed totally unable to shed - the skin would not come off, and when the keepers decided that it would come off with the next shed, it didn't. The first few cases like this died and at post mortem they were found to have grossly enlarge thyroid glands. Subsequent cases have been successfully treated with thyroxine injections, but thyroxine does cause hyperactivity.

Now it occurred to me that in humans, thyroid problems are often associated with a lack of iodine in the diet, so I've suggested to those conducting this research that they put small amounts of rock salt (which contains iodine in a form the body can use) into the gut of the prey animals fed to these snakes that aren't shedding.

If you have a snake that just can't shed, why not try a bit of rock salt. And do let me know if it works.