The process by which a reptile sheds its skin is called ecdysis. This process may last from 9-14 days depending on the reptile. Unlike lizards that generally shed in pieces, snakes will shed in one single piece if provided the proper conditions. A lot of first time ball python owners may panic at the signs of their snake's first shed because they do not know what is happening to their animal. In the following paragraphs, I will cover some of the main shedding topics and present pictures to help keepers get a visual image of what shedding looks like. I also have a short video clip of a yearling female ball python that I caught shedding.
The process of shedding generally involves several steps. These steps will be outlined in the paragraphs and pictures below. I put times on these steps based on my visual observations and ball python records; however, the start of the shedding process may not be easily recognizable in some instances and the times may vary by a day or two. This is just a general guide and not a standard.
Day 1-2: Dull skin with a slightly pink belly
This step of the shedding process can vary from snake to snake. I have a few ball pythons that get the dull appearance but generally never show a pink belly; but, I have others that are dull with a very pink belly. Sometimes the ball python's eyes will become darker or dull in this step. Ball pythons get very shy during shedding time. It is not uncommon for ball pythons to remain in their hide throughout the entire process. The pictures below show the dull appearance and pink belly. Click on the pictures to enlarge.
This young female ball python is just beginning the shedding process. She appears darker than normal and the dulling can really be seen in her side at the top left of the photo.
This is the same female from above. Her belly has only a slight pink tint to it but the dull appearance is shown really well on her sides.
The very beginning of the shedding process may be subtle in some ball pythons. This is the same female as in the above pictures.
This is another female that is about to enter the next stage. Notice how her eyes have begun to get cloudy. This female also demonstrated a great example of 'pink belly'.
This is a belly shot of the female above. In both pictures, a wrinkle of skin can be seen around her neck. I have noticed that skin winkles may sometimes show in shedding ball pythons. This may be the result of dehydration, so make sure that clean water and proper humidity are provided.
Days 3-7: Opaque or In-blue
This step of the shedding process is the most easily recognizable. The eyes turn a grey/blueish color and the skin becomes very dull and faded. This step is caused by fluid buildup between the new and old skin layers. At this stage of the shedding process, handling or feeding ball pythons is not a recommended action. The opaque eyes may cause the ball python to strike defensively at both you and the prey item. During this time, the ball python is visually impaired and can also become stressed due to excess activity. Imagine yourself being tossed around and having animals running around near you, but you can't see. That could be a stressful situation for any creature. Below are several pictures of my ball pythons in this step of the shedding process. Click on the pictures to enlarge them.
This is a normal female that has just become opaque. Her eyes are slightly blue and she is developing the faded appearance.
This is the same female in the pictue above.
This is another female that was angry with me for opening her enclosure. I was changing her water, but the movement around her caused her to get very defensive. She actually struck at me several times. This is one of the reasons that ball pythons should not be handled at this time.
The same female as in the picture before. Like most ball pythons during shed, she is comforted by her hide and will remain there throughout the process.
This is my het pied male in his opaque stage. He usually has a very strong color to him but it is very dull in this stage.
This is a belly shot of the het pied male. His belly has a very pinkish look to it and the black pattern on the side of his belly appears to be blue. Again, I do not recommend handling during shed. I had to take him out because I tipped his water bowl over when I was filling it up (he struck at me and I bumped the side of the tub...LOL).
Day 7-10: Clearing up
During this stage of the shedding process, the opaqueness of the eyes clears up and the ball python is preparing to shed. The body will clear up slightly but may keep a dull appearance. At this point, it may be hard to recognize that your ball python is in shed. They generally look like they normally do, but slightly darker. I have never taken pictures of this step because it is not drastically different than normal. I will take some pics when a few of my girls get there this week.
Day 10-12: Getting rid of the old skin
This is the final stage of the shedding process. The 'sloughing' of the skin is generally a very quick process and it may take a new keeper a while before they witness the act. During this step, the ball python will rub its nose against the enclosure (or something in the enclosure) to loosen the skin. Once the skin has begun to 'peel off', the ball python will either use things in its environment like a water bowl or hide or simply pass over itself to pull the shed off. This is something that never gets boring to watch in my opinion. Also, if any problems occur with the shed this is generally the point where they become obvious. The pictures and video below show what happens in this process. Click on the pictures to view a larger image.
This is a yearling female ball python caught in the act of shedding her skin. Notice the color difference between the section already shed and the section left to be shed.
This is a closeup photo of the ball python above.
This is a picture showing the during shed and after shed contrast of my normal male ball python.
This is a 39 second video clip of the female ball python in the above pictures shedding. This clip can help someone that has not witnessed the act of shedding understand what takes place. Click on the link to view the video.
Absolutely excellent Daniel! Like I said to you before I'd have happily sold my good left kidney for an article like this when we went through our first shed with Rionach. Very informative and I am confident this will be a very well used educational tool for the site!
Very cool article! I reminds me too of a question my Mom asked the other day. She asked why snakes shed, and I told her that everything sheds, even we shed, it's just that they do it all at once and we do it so subtly we don't even notice (sunburns being the exception to that) and she said "Yeah, but *why* do they do it that way?"