If you’ve ever wondered on a wild path and found a long, tubular, mesh-like substance, then what you just witnessed (if it wasn’t just evidence of someone else’s littering) is a snake’s skin!
What? A snake’s skin without the snake?
Don’t worry, the snake is bound to be nearby but yes, that is indeed the skin of a snake without the snake itself.
This is a process scientists refer to as ecdysis, sometimes called molting or shedding. This is a process by which many animals, but here in our case snakes, shed the outer layer of their skin and discard it periodically.
Is that not wild? But maybe it is not as crazy as you might think.
Snakes aren’t outliers here for this process. Not only is this a process undertaken by reptiles and many others in the animal kingdom, but we humans do it as well though we are admittedly much more subtle about it.
Thankfully, we don’t leave human-sized skin shells lying around, and our shedding process is much more slow and gradual, and happens bit by bit, as thousands of dead cells shed off ourselves every second.
Instead of it being a continuously ongoing process of cell renewal, for snakes, it is quicker and happens periodically.
We bet you have a million questions still – and here we are to answer them! Let’s get into the why what, and how about this fascinating process of shedding that snakes undergo.
Why Do Snakes Shed Their Skin?
Before anything though, it’s necessary to understand the why of it all. Snakes shed their skin for mainly two reasons.
The first of those reasons is a simple fact that their skins don’t fit them sometimes.
Unlike us humans whose skin stretches as we grow to accommodate our growth and development, the snake’s skin does not.
So it must shed its old, ill-fitted skin periodically and don new skin. Just like us changing out of clothes that don’t fit us anymore and into new and bigger clothes, so do snakes do but with their skins.
We should definitely be glad only our clothes get smaller and not our skin.
The second reason for it is for them to get rid of parasites like mites and ticks.
Parasites such as these usually clung to their skin, and an easy foolproof method to get rid of them is to simply shed their skin. There is no other way for snakes to get rid of these parasites either.
How Often Do Snakes Shed Their Skin?
There is no specific time period allocated for the shedding process to occur in all snakes. The one main indicator that plays a huge role in the time of molting is the age of the snake.
Young snakes, as they continue to develop and grow, shed their skin about once a week while for old snakes the period between their sheds is much longer.
Generally, snakes shed their skin throughout their lives and come to an average of shedding about three to six times per year.
As aforementioned, younger snakes shed more frequently than younger snakes, as younger snakes as constantly growing and developing.
How Does The Shedding Process Itself Work?
Before the process of shedding itself begins, there is first a pre-shedding period, that is marked by the snake becoming sluggish and inactive.
This period of inactivity lasts about one to two weeks and has some marked characteristics. Their skin becomes very dull and dry during this period.
Their eyes also develop a bluish-grey color, a little like cataracts in humans.
During this period, their vision becomes impaired and they are usually very aggressive and unpredictable as a result of that.
After about 7-15 days, the shedding process commences with the eyes turning a transparent color.
When the snakes are ready to shed their skin, they will make use of the surfaces of rough objects like rocks or log to create a tiny tear in the skin that is to be shed. Shedding begins from the face.
Once the snake slowly loses the skin and dislodges it, it passes again through rough caverns of rocks to fully remove it from its body.
The skin is shed inside out, and you can think of it like how we remove socks- it’s pretty identical.
How Long Does It Take For A Snake To Shed Its Skin?
The pre-shedding period, where the skin becomes dull and dry, and the eye slowly opaque lasts for about a week.
After which there is yet another week of slowly dislodging the skin from their bodies. So in total, that is about one to two weeks’ time for the process to complete!
How Many Times Do Snakes Shed Their Skin In Their Lifetime?
On average, snakes shed their skin about two to four times a year, though, of course, this average will vary with species and age.
Let’s take this number and calculate it with an average snake’s lifespan of about 10 years. That gives us a total of 20-40 skin shedding sessions in their lifespan.
Can You Pull A Snake’s Skin Off?
Nature rarely makes it so that it’s processes need a helping hand, especially a human helping hand.
If you think you are helping a snake by pulling on it, you are absolutely doing the opposite. Not only will you interrupt the natural progression of the process.
But the new skin developing is extremely soft and vulnerable and can get extremely damaged with an ill-advised helping hand.
Unless and until a snake is clearly stuck and struggling inside their shell, don’t try and help them – you will only hurt them!
What Does Finding A Snake Skin Mean?
Finding a snake skin has a lot of spiritual meaning for many. They believe it to be a message of rebirth, literally shedding of an old self for the growth of a new.
Some believe that finding a shed snake skin means your guardian angel is nearby and that you must take it home to offer yourself protection. Some even believe snakeskin to be a sign of spiritual wisdom!
Now if you don’t believe in any of this, that’s fine as well! We can all just agree that no matter the meaning behind it, finding a snake’s skin is cool regardless, and one hell of a souvenir to find.
That was the wondrously fascinating process of ecdysis. So the next time, you’re on a hike with friends, and you happen to stumble upon one – tell them all about this incredible process.
Hope this was not only interesting but that you walk with some fun facts about snakes up your sleeve as your next party favor. Thank you for reading!
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