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Shedding in Reptiles

Many people are familiar with shedding but usually associate it with dogs and cats. Since reptiles do not have hair, their shedding is quite different.

All reptiles shed their skin as they grow, and they will continue to shed periodically throughout their life. As the new skin forms, a separation occurs between the new skin cells and the old skin cells that migrate outward. As the shed begins, the skin appears slightly dull as the separation between old and new skin begins. Over the course of the next few days the skin becomes opaque and the eyes turn a whitish blue. This whitish blue color change to the eyes is due to lymph-like fluid between the old eye covering layer and newly formed layer.

The frequency of shedding varies from species to species, temperature, humidity, nutrition and growth rate. The medical term for shedding is ecdysis. Improper or incomplete shedding may occur because of mites, incorrect humidity or handling, malnutrition, dermatitis or trauma and is called dysecdysis.

Turtles shed in pieces. They will slough skin on their neck and legs as well as slough old scutes located on the carapace and plastron (top and bottom shell).

In lizards, as with turtles, shedding of skin occurs in pieces instead of one piece. Some lizards eat their sloughed skin. In rapidly growing lizards, shedding may occur every two weeks.

Snake sheds are a little different. Most snakes shed their skin in one piece except for giant snakes that may tear their skin. During the shed, the snake usually refuses to eat. Handling the snake at this time can damage the skin since the new skin is not fully developed. Also, snakes are irritable and temperamental during the shed and may strike if handled or harassed. When ready, the snake will seek out rough objects, branches or rocks, rubbing against them to start the shed. Once the shed starts, the snake will use cage furniture to continue to slowly pull the skin off, just like unrolling a sock.

A healthy growing snake typically sheds at least once a month. The average length of time it takes to shed skin completely is 7-14 days.