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Why Do Snakes Shed Their Skin?

Snakes are unique in the animal kingdom for many reasons. One of those reasons is their ability to shed their skin in one piece. We don't see this from other animals, so why do snakes shed their skin whole?

Snakes shed their skin in one whole piece. (Photo via Shutterstock)

Basically, snakes shed their skin because it doesn't fit anymore or it's old or worn out. When snakes grow, their skin does not, so they outgrow it. When this happens, they shed their outer layer of skin.

Snakes can shed their skin as often as once a month, but they usually only do it a handful of times a year at most. The process of shedding skin is called ecdysis. Many factors affect how and when snakes shed, including the species, their age, the weather and temperature, nutritional health and the presence of bacteria or parasites.

Younger snakes usually shed more than adults, because they are still growing. Snakes also often shed their skin before reproduction or after giving birth.

While shedding their skin is part of a snake's growing process, it has another purpose as well. It helps remove parasites that could harm the snake.

Before a snake sheds, it begins to look somewhat bluish in color and its eyes look clouded over, because the newly formed skin will cover its eyes. They can't see well during this time, so they sometimes find a safe place to hide out until they begin shedding.

Snakes start the process of shedding their old skin by rubbing against a rock, tree or similar hard surface. They typically rub a spot by their snout, so they can then slip out of the old skin by wriggling against rocks, plants and similar surfaces. Some snakes can shed their skin in water.

After a snake sheds its skin, it is left behind. Sometimes people find the skins. The skin is evidence of a snake that is or has been nearby, but it also shows a lot of detail, including the scales and where the snake's eyes were. You can even sometimes determine the species of snake from its skin because of banding patterns and other visible markings.

Shedding skin is normal in the animal kingdom. In fact, all animals do it — even you. However, most animals don't shed their skin all at once like snakes do. They do it gradually. Take us humans. We are always shedding skin cells — millions of them a day. But because skin cells are microscopic and it's a continual process, it isn't very noticeable.


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