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Snakes: Growing and Shedding

Posted June 03, 2010 12:01 AM by Vi Pham

Like most animals, snakes continue growing throughout their lives. Their growth rate is very high during youth and much slower as an adult. And just like most animals, their heads are larger – relative to their bodies – while they are juveniles than when they are adults. Their bodies will increase greatly in both length and girth.

The shortest baby snake, offspring of the smallest adult snake, measures only 5 cm in length and will grow to 10 cm. A newborn anaconda, on the other hand, is 30-60 cm in length and will grow to be about 9 meters (over 29 feet). No matter the size, all snakes experience ecdysis – shedding their skin – as they grow.

In fact, all reptiles shed. What makes snakes unique is that their skin will come off in one piece, eye caps and all. By contrast, lizards will shed in separate sections - making them looking like victims of a bad sunburn.

Temporarily Blinded

There are several ways to tell when a snake is getting ready to shed. The skin will lose its shine and the pattern (if there is one) will look very dull. Often, this will make the snake look much darker. For snakes with white scales, they will actually acquire a pinkish-orange tinge. While this may not be true for all white snakes, it is what I have observed from leucistic Texas rat snakes and snow bull and corn snakes.

The modified scales covering the eyes – eye caps – will also be shed. The best indications that a snake is shedding are its light blue eyes. This happens because the older eye cap separates from the newer one behind it. The snake now has difficulty seeing, which is why many snakes are much more easily agitated right before they shed.

A few days before the snake actually sheds, the eye caps become transparent once again and the snake will seek out rocks and branches that it can use to help remove its skin.

Off with the Old

After rubbing its face on various surrounding surfaces, the snake can finally loosen the skin around its upper and lower jaws. Once this is completed, the snake will slither out of its old skin and boast its newer, shiner one.

To see a video of snakes shedding, click HERE.

Shedding Problems

Sometimes a snake will have difficulty shedding – dysecdysis. The most common cause of dysecdysis is improper humidity. When the environment is too dry, the shedding skin will become brittle and break apart before the snake can completely shed. Difficulty shedding can also be an indication of health problems and stress.

Common results from improper shedding are leftover skin on the tail and unshed eye caps. If the skin is not removed from the tip of the tail, it will restrict growth and not allow for continual shedding of that area. The snake will eventually lose the end of its tail if the problem is not corrected.

If the eye caps are not removed, they will dry out over the eyes of the snake, leaving creases in the new eye caps and obstructing the snake's vision. If the old eye caps are never removed and continually build up one behind the other, the snake will become completely and permanently blind.

Changing Color

Many species of snake will change in color slightly with each shed. Many corn and rat snakes, for example, will start life with very dark colors. This allows them to easily camouflage among small rocks, twigs, leaves, and other foliage. With each shed, some colors will become brighter while some may fade. After a few years, you may think you have found a completely different snake!

Some extreme examples are green tree pythons and emerald tree boas. Emerald tree boas start as bright orange or red babies with white and green stripes along their backs. Green tree pythons are born bright orange, red, or yellow, with red and white spots. Both species become a lovely green or blue-green with white marks as adults.

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#1

Re: Snakes: Growing and Shedding

06/03/2010 5:21 AM

Interesting stuff.
I just love that yellow fellah...how funky is that? Abstract modern art isn't so wacky after all!
Snaketastic
Del

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Guru
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#2
In reply to #1

Re: Snakes: Growing and Shedding

06/04/2010 12:01 AM

I just love that yellow fellah...

So you mean "I just love to eat that yellow fellah...", my cat.

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#3

Re: Snakes: Growing and Shedding

06/04/2010 10:43 AM

I had a Ball Python for 16 yrs. before giving her to a friend when I had to move cross country. She was only about 2 weeks out of the egg, and smaller than a pencil, when I got her. At age 16, she was over 6 Ft. That is large for this species.

That much growth took thousands of 'sheds' to achieve, with every problem stated here at one time or another. This meant that I had to help her with the rest on several occasions. I became sort of an expert in the area that I lived with removal of eye caps that were not properly shed on many different reptiles. They are not too friendly when they can't see!

'My' baby is now 21 yrs. old and still doing well.

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#4
In reply to #3

Re: Snakes: Growing and Shedding

06/04/2010 11:18 AM

I've seen some large ball pythons, but never one over 6 ft before.
That's great! I'm glad she's doing well in her new home.

I'll be getting a young ball python myself very soon. I'm looking forward to see how big he gets.

Thanks for reading!

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#5
In reply to #3

Re: Snakes: Growing and Shedding

06/04/2010 12:15 PM

Sooooo, that's <gulp> big enough <ulp> to eat a cat?
Del<scampers quickly away>

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#6
In reply to #5

Re: Snakes: Growing and Shedding

06/04/2010 12:34 PM

Only Kittens!

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