Shedding is the process by which snakes periodically discard the outer portion of their skin. This activity is under hormonal control and associated with growth. Most snakes shed their skin 4-8 times per year. The 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 relatively 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 with injuries to the skin and/or scales resulting in scaring, and snakes housed in enclosures with suboptimal 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 or indirectly compromised by poor husbandry experience delayed and incomplete sheds. These snakes tend to shed their skins in pieces. In fact, many of the pieces remain adhered to the underlying skin and eyes (retained eye caps).
The shedding process is preceded by a period of relative inactivity. This period usually lasts 1-2 weeks, during which time the eyes begin to exhibit a dull, bluish-white appearance. During this period, the snake’s vision is impaired, which causes them to be rather unpredictable and sometimes aggressive. The skin during this period tends to have an overall dull appearance. The underlying new skin is soft and vulnerable to damage while the outer layers prepare to slough away. The eyes again become transparent after 7-15 days and shedding commences. A snake will make use of any rough objects or surfaces within its enclosure to help shed 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 passes between rough objects that can trap the loose skin and hold it as the snake glides out of the “old” skin. Discarded skin appears dry and tube-like or moist and crumpled in a solitary heap. Many snakes defecate after a successful shed, or consume large quantities of water.