Keeping Reptiles Newsletter
  Issue 4 April 2008
Shedding In this Issue

By Mark Chapple

There are many interesting aspects to keeping a snake or a lizard. The way reptiles eat their food, hibernate, mate and shed being a few that immediately come to mind. Information on shedding is often asked by people and I never really tire of dragging out a freshly shed skin and stretching it out. I still find it fascinating.

I noticed a large water python the other day in a local herp shop, moving around it’s cage and rubbing itself against a branch to remove it’s outer layer of skin to reveal the shining, new skin underneath. The skin looked like it was difficult to remove in parts. I couldn’t help but think, that no matter how used to it you became as a snake, it would have to have some degree of discomfort.

That said, shedding should not be too stressful as a process for a healthy snake. Snakes shed 4 – 8 times a year, but the frequency is dependent on a variety of factors such as growth rates, feeding frequency, amount fed at feedings, activity levels and their environment. Younger snakes will shed more often as they are growing more rapidly.

Snakes suffering from malnutrition or in poor health can find shedding stressful. They can have incomplete sheds or can delay their sheds by some time. Pieces of skin are often left attached to the snake, often around the eyes and the tail.

Ideally, your snake should shed it’s skin in one entire piece. If they are injured or ill, this may not be the case. Other factors that can alter this are the humidity of the cage, or if the temperature is too low.

You will notice when your snake is ready to shed, the skin becomes opaque and dull. Their eyes begin to become covered with a whitish blue coating as the old outer layer of skin prepares to be shed. During this time, the snakes vision is impaired and they may strike out at you, as they cannot see you very well. It is best to be wary of them at this time as they are more aggressive.

The eyes again become transparent after 7-15 days and shedding commences. Your snake requires rough objects or surfaces within its enclosure to help shed the skin. The shedding begins with the skin on the head. Once loosened and dislodged the skin surrounding the mouth and overlying the rostrum (nose) is pulled away. The snake then passes between rough objects that trap the loose skin and hold it as the snake glides out of the "old" skin. The discarded skin tube is left behind. Many snakes defecate after a successful shed, or consume large quantities of water, so it is important to make sure that they have plenty on hand.

Questions and Answers


Over the last couple days I have noticed the skin on my ball python getting a bit milky looking, now her eyes are hazing over. I know this means time to shed. My question is, how long does the whole process take? And, when and if I should worry about providing increased humidity or anything like that.


You're right, it sounds like it's shedding time. The length of the entire process can vary, and another problem in counting the exact number of days is that the starting point is subjective. (At what point do you start counting?) Since this animal is new to you, it had probably started the cycle a couple days before you noticed it. After more experience with this snake, you'll see it coming sooner. Basically, the short answer is that it takes a week to two weeks. Extra humidity during the entire shedding cycle can be very beneficial (even necessary), but I can't comment specifically on your setup since I don't know what conditions you are currently providing to your snake.

Offering a shedding box may be a good idea since you don't know for sure what this particular animal's needs are yet. You can use the experience of each shed to determine what your snake needs, and then you can attempt to provide better environmental conditions the next time it becomes "opaque". After a couple of cycles, you'll know what conditions this animal requires to ensure a trouble-free shed. Also, in case you don't know, you should refrain from handling and feeding this snake until the shed is complete.


My jungle carpet shed for the first time two days ago, since i've had him. The skin still remains on the last inch of his tail. I've tried soaking him, this worked for three inch section between the vent and the remaining section. Usually the soak works for my other boids but this one is being a bit of trouble.


It was good that you noticed the unshed skin because this can sometimes turn into a health issue.

Soaking the snake in water almost always works if you use the following tip. Crumple up some newspaper to make numerous newspaper balls about the size of golf balls, enough to cover the bottom of the soaking container. Wet them and add them to the water. There should still be a small amount of unabsorbed water in the bottom of the container. If you can keep the temperatures appropriate, you can leave the snake in there overnight, but try for at least a couple of hours. Very often the snake will be able to use the paper as it crawls around to pull off loose skin on its own. This is what we want because it's the least stressful to the snake. However, if the skin is still there after soaking, you can GENTLY restrain the snake and use a wet paper towel, wrapped around the snake's tail, to carefully pull off the offending skin.

  1. Reptile Shedding
  2. Feeding Tortoises - Part 3
  3. In the News
  4. Get Paid to write an article
  5. Tell Us What You Think
  6. Feedback and Updating

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Other Articles & Resources

Feeding Tortoises - Part 3

By A. C. Highfield

A practical guide to avoiding dietary disasters

Guidelines for:

Feeding Leopard tortoises - Feeding Mediterranean tortoises - Feeding Redfoot and Yellowfoot tortoises - Feeding Wood turtles and Box turtles - Feeding Russian tortoises - Feeding Hingeback tortoises - Feeding Desert tortoises


For large savannah species, such as Geochelone sulcata (African spurred tortoise) or Geochelone pardalis (Leopard tortoise), grasses and hays are a critical dietary component. Aldabra and Galapagos tortoises also do extremely well on this type of diet. Some other species also benefit from the inclusion of both fresh and dried grasses in their diet - although certain species, such as Redfoot, Yellowfoot, Hingeback and Mediterranean tortoises are ill-equipped to digest the high silica content of grass fodder. For species adapted to it, however, grass is not only nutritious, but its fiber content makes a significant contribution to digestive health. For leopard and African spurred tortoises, mixed grasses should comprise approximately 70-75% of the total diet.

A Geochelone sulcata enjoys a meal of mixed hays.Hay forms an important part of the diet of this and other grassland species.

Availability of grass types varies greatly according to location. The following list of suitable fodder grasses is based upon availability in the USA. In Europe, these particular species are rarely available - although local equivalents can usually be found. General “meadow hay” and “orchard hay” mixes are usually suitable, for example. Avoid hays that have excessively “prickly” seed heads - these can injure mouths or eyes. The use of coarse Timothy hay is excluded on this basis. Second or third cuttings of grass hays tend to have less spiny heads than first cuttings.

  • Buffalo grass
  • Couch grass
  • Kikuyu grass
  • Dallas grass
  • Blue Grama grass
  • Big Bluestem grass
  • Darnel Rye grass
  • Wintergrass or Bluegrass
  • Western Wheatgrass
  • Fescue sp. grasses

This grass-based primary diet should be supplemented with flowers as frequently as possible (Hibiscus, dandelion, petunia, Viola sp. etc.). De-spined Opuntia pads, clovers and other fodder ‘weeds’ listed previously should also be included on a regular basis.

Fresh green grass is also a favorite of Leopard and Sulcata tortoises


Indian Star tortoises (Geochelone elegans) have dietary requirements that fall mid-way between that of Mediterranean tortoises (Testudo species) and Leopard tortoises (Geochelone pardalis). In captivity, they should not be given fruit either in quantity or on a routine basis, or they will suffer serious digestive tract disorders. They need a diet which is very high in fiber, is low in sugars and easily digestible carbohydrates, and which is primarily based around coarse green leaves, mixed grasses, and flowers. Juveniles and egg-laying females require large amounts of calcium. Use a supplement - always. Good foods include:

  • Hibiscus leaves and flowers
  • Mulberry leaves
  • Fresh lawn grasses (this is a grazing species)
  • Petunia leaves and flowers
  • Clover
  • Dandelion
  • Plantain (the 'weed', not the similar sounding fruit)
  • Sanseveria sp.
  • Mesembryanthemum sp.
  • Crassula sp.

Try to avoid a diet based upon 'supermarket salad'. This will not offer adequate fiber, and tends to be very poor in essential trace elements and other nutrients. Thousands of baby Indian Star tortoises are sold each year in some parts of the world as pets: the vast majority die within 12 months because the basic feeding advice given here is ignored. If you keep this species, you must provide an adequate diet and must ensure that both calcium and vitamin D3 needs are met.


A wild Hingeback tortoise (Kinixys belliana) enjoys a meal of a live snail (photographed in the field, in South Africa). Snails and millipedes are a regular part of their diet.

These tortoises are basically omnivorous or a greater or lesser extent depending upon species. Include some low-fat animal protein in the diet of these species. Protein (or more probably, an amino-acid) deficiency has been noted in some Red-foot and Yellow-foot tortoises raised on entirely herbivorous diets. We recommend re-hydrating dried cat foots with additional minerals and vitamins as for turtles. Provide one meal per week containing animal protein. We now give about 25g (1 ounce) of moist cat food to a fully grown (10 kg/ 22 pound) Red-foot tortoise on a weekly basis (proportionally less for juveniles). Fruits are also part of the diet of these species in the wild - unlike Leopard or African spurred tortoises, their digestive tract copes easily with this richer, sweeter intake. The same frequency seems to suit Hinge-backs, which are also highly omnivorous in nature, but here approximately 5-10 g of animal protein per week is more appropriate (depending upon size). It is also important to note that these tortoises, if allowed access to a damp, moist garden or well vegetated tropical house will usually find slug, snails and night crawlers for themselves. This is both psychologically and gastronomically stimulating for them in addition to helping out with their owners' garden pest control efforts! Needless to say, never use slug pellets or other toxic chemicals in any garden where tortoises (of any sort) are kept. Millipedes and similar invertebrates constitute an important part of the diet of Kinixys sp. in nature.



These North American semi-terrestrial turtles are also omnivorous in their feeding habits. In the wild, they consume slugs, snails, earthworms and similar small prey as well as fallen fruits, mushrooms and some green leaf material. Juvenile box turtles are often almost exclusively carnivorous, their diet broadening out to include more vegetable matter with increasing age.

  • Slugs, snails
  • Earthworms, waxworm larvae, mealworms, night crawlers
  • Beetles
  • Fruit (most turtles prefer “mushy” over-ripe fruits rather than fresh)
  • Green leaf vegetables
  • Mushrooms
  • Small quantity (low fat) dog food, thawed pinkie mice (for T. ornata)

    It is a common myth that omnivorous turtles do not suffer from nutritional disorders to the same extent as herbivorous species. Not true. This poor box turtle (Terrapene carolina) was raised on a diet of canned dog food without adequate calcium supplementation....

As with all tortoises and turtles, great care must be taken to ensure a varied diet adequate in all essential trace elements. Regular supplementation of the diet with a multi-mineral powder is therefore recommended - extra calcium supplementation during their carnivorous phase is especially critical.


Reprinted with permission from The Tortoise Trust

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In the News

You’re not listening…

Finally someone listened…

Muzzling ‘em’s the hard part (check out the pics)….

Why we might need to love crocodiles…

And introducing tigers into Central Park would be fabulous too…

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