Reptile Molting

Reptiles shed periodically to allow for somatic growth and to remove any parasites that might have attached themselves. They are very delicate during this time and should not be handled.

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You can help the process along by giving them a bath to loosen up the old skin. However, don’t pull off any shedded skin that isn’t ready to come off. This could result in a “stuck shed” which will ultimately cut off blood flow to the area and cause gangrene.

How It Happens

Most animals shed their skin, and it is called molting. This is a normal part of life and helps prepare the animal for a new stage or season. It is also a way to get rid of parasites.

Reptiles, amphibians, birds and some arthropods (like crabs) all molt. When these creatures are ready to molt, they stop eating, they may become flighty or cranky, and their body temperature drops. This is because the older layers of cells are dead and need to be shed.

The outer layer of a reptile’s skin is made of scaly, tough proteins called keratin. When a reptile’s body needs to grow, the keratin is replaced by a layer of new keratin. It is a very slow process, taking weeks or even months in some reptiles. The shedding of the old keratin is helped along by lymph being pumped through the area.

When the keratin layer is ready to be shed, the reptile will rub itself against a hard object like rocks or wood. This causes the old keratin to split. Then the lizard will pull itself out of its old skin, much as you would remove a sock from your foot. This process is called sloughing, molting or ecdysis.

Snakes are unique among reptiles in that their skin is often able to come off in one piece. This is known as a “full” molt.

Preparation

Shedding is a common and essential part of many reptiles’ lives. Shedding is a regular event that happens when old skin outgrows the new skin, or in some cases just becomes too worn down to continue growing. This is what is referred to as molting or ecdysis. Reptiles, amphibians, some birds and mammals, as well as some arachnids shed their outer layers periodically as they grow or get older. The shedding is usually of the hair, feathers or fur, or in some animals the wings or even the entire exoskeleton.

The shedding process is helped by the body secreting lymph between the layers of the old and new skin. The lymph allows the layers to break apart. This is also why it is so important for a reptile to have access to clean water and proper nutrition during this time.

Shedding is normally triggered by heat and light, but sometimes it may happen in response to a health issue or even diet-related issues. Some of the more common reasons for a reptile to shed include infections, internal parasites, nutrient deficiency, abscesses and dry skin. Some species of snake, such as some pythons and hognoses, can suffer from a condition called dysecdysis where they cannot shed properly. This can result in the old skin clogging up around an extremity like a toe or tail, which then cuts off blood flow and ultimately causes the affected area to die. In these cases the best thing to do is soak the snake in a tub of shallow lukewarm water for about 30 minutes and then gently rub the old skin off with your hands, working from head to tail.

Observation

The process of reptile molting, also known as sloughing or molting (American or British English) is the routine replacement of an animal’s outer layer with a new, better-suited one. Molting can be seen in amphibians, reptiles, birds, tarantulas and even mammals.

Reptiles that are scaly have the most visible molting. Snakes, in particular, shed their skin quite regularly, usually a couple of times each year. During the shedding process, the skin will lose its natural shine and become dull or hazy in color. The eyes will often turn a cloudy, blue-colored color as well. This is due to a lubricant that is secreted to help with the shedding process.

During the molting process, snakes will rub their heads on objects, usually a rock or piece of wood, to cause their already-stretched skin to break. This helps loosen the old skin, making it easier to remove. Typically, snakes will then simply crawl out of their own skin, as though it were a sock being pulled off.

Amphibians, like frogs and toads, will molt their entire skin as well during growth. They will then consume the discarded skin, as it contains vital nutrients for them to thrive. It is important to keep an eye on your reptiles during molting season. If they seem to be shedding too much, they may not be getting enough nutrients and may need to be fed more. If they aren’t shedding much at all, it could be a sign of health problems.

Care

Reptiles, like other animals who shed, require certain care while molting. This involves providing a hospitable environment, fostering a dietary shift and offering extra sprays of humidity in their cages during a peak period. The most important thing is that a pet owner is aware of the shedding process and monitors the reptile closely for any complications.

Shedding is a regular occurrence for most reptiles. Young reptiles that are growing rapidly shed every week or two, while full-grown reptiles typically only shed a few times per year. In addition to enabling growth, a reptile’s shedding is an effective way of ridding itself of parasites. The old layer of skin acts as a barrier between the internal body and the external world, so when it is replaced by new, healthy skin, the animal is free of mites, ticks and other hitchhikers that can cause disease and infections.

It is also a good idea to avoid handling a reptile during the shedding process. This can be stressful for them and may cause the retained skin to break apart or not come off. If a reptile’s shedding does not occur normally, it is considered dyscydysis and is a sign that the reptile is not well. In this case, the pet owner should consult with a reptile vet to find out the underlying reason for this. Oftentimes a few simple husbandry changes and some basic medical treatment are all that is needed to return the reptile to normal shedding.