As reptiles grow their skin grows too small for them, so they shed their old skin in a process called molting or ecdysis. Shedding is a vital part of the growing process, and helps remove parasites.
Shedding is also a sign of good health. A healthy, well-fed reptile will shed regularly. It is important to leave a reptile alone during shedding, as pulling off the shed can be dangerous and even fatal for your snake or lizard.
As the reptile grows, its skin needs to shed. Shedding is an important process for a reptile that allows its body to grow and also removes harmful parasites. Shedding can take up to two weeks for a snake or lizard to fully shed. You can help them by making sure they have proper hydration, a comfortable environment, and gentle handling.
As a reptile gets ready to shed, its coloring becomes dull and its eyes may turn whitish. Shedding can be messy and the new skin is fragile, so it is best to leave them alone during this time. During this time, they may hide more and eat less. If they get irritable, it’s best to give them space and avoid handling.
To prepare for shedding, the reptile will rub its old skin against a rough surface to break the outer layer. Often, this is done by rubbing the head or any other area near its head against something rough like rocks or bark. Once a hole is created in the old skin, the snake or lizard then starts to pull off the old layer.
The lizard will then use its mouth and tongue to push out the rest of the old skin and shed it from its body. Shedding usually occurs annually or at certain times throughout the year as a necessary part of the reptile’s life cycle. Reptiles that are not shedding properly can experience infections, internal parasites, or internal abscesses.
While a reptile is molting it should be left undisturbed. The thin layers of skin that are being shed can restrict blood flow, and if they are not properly shed may lead to blindness or disease. The intact segments of the skin also harbor parasites and bacteria that can cause infection. If a snake is not able to complete its shedding process it can die.
Shedding is a normal part of growth in reptiles and amphibians, birds, mammals, invertebrates and insects. It is also a key part of the metamorphosis of some insects from caterpillar to butterfly and many amphibians from frog to toad. In reptiles, molting is known as ecdysis.
Reptiles that are healthy, well hydrated and not stressed will complete a successful shedding cycle. The proper environment is important, providing the right temperature and humidity, as well as ample basking spots for heat and UVB light to help encourage the shedding process. The proper diet is also essential to the success of a reptile’s molting process.
When a reptile is ready to shed it will rub its head or any other portion of its body against cage furniture or substrate to loosen the old skin. This can take several days to weeks, and it is critical that the animal is not handled during this time. Reptiles that are mishandled during the shedding cycle will be difficult to handle when they emerge from their molt, and it is very hard on their eyes and nervous system.
Many animals shed their outer layer periodically to grow larger or prepare for a change in life stages. Birds shed feathers, mammals shed fur and hair, reptiles shed skin (also called ecdysis) and some arthropods, including crustaceans, regularly shed their exoskeletons.
Shedding skin is a very delicate process. Reptiles are prone to infection during this time and it is important that they remain undisturbed. If the shedding isn’t completed correctly it can lead to blocked breathing and bacterial infections. It is recommended that you assist the shedding process by using tepid water on your reptile to loosen up the old skin and to lubricate the new underlying layer.
The heat used during shedding should not be too hot, as this can burn your reptile. The temperature needs to be around 60 °F (18 °C) and should be lowered after the reptile has finished shedding.
Reptiles can be flighty, cranky and even bity during the pre-shed period, which is when the shedding process begins. They may be more tolerant after the actual shedding is complete, but they are very vulnerable until then and need your help to get through this difficult stage. Reptiles that are undergoing a full body or full head shed may not eat at all during this time and will only start eating again once they have shed completely.
When reptiles molt their outer skin, or pelage, they shed it along with the old scales and any other external body parts. This is known as ecdysis and it occurs routinely at certain times of the year or the animal’s life cycle. Shedding is also common in amphibians, like frogs and toads, as well as insects and arthropods, which have shell-like exoskeletons instead of skin.
During this time, reptiles often hide during the day while their shedding is taking place and will soak in their water bowls more frequently to get extra humidity for easier removal of the new skin. They will rub against the objects inside their enclosure, like rocks or other abrasive surfaces, to break open and start peeling away the outer layer of their skin, which they will then crawl out of, much like removing a worn out sock.
The process takes a few days to a few weeks, depending on the animal’s size and body condition. During this time, they will look dull and may have a light bluish tone to their eyes as their eye coverings become opaque.
It is important to not pull or yank at any of the discarded shedded skin. Doing so can cause damage or prevent proper growth of the reptile. In addition, it can leave behind “stuck shed,” which can constrict blood flow to areas of the reptile’s body, including its tail or dorsal spines and could ultimately lead to loss of these appendages.