First-time snake owners need to know that they periodically shed their skin.
There is no reason to freak out when you see a whole snake skin in your ball python’s terrarium.
Ball pythons shed their skins regularly throughout their whole lives.
How Often Do Ball Pythons Shed?
Shedding isn’t a rare event for ball pythons.
Ball pythons shed their skin every four to six weeks, depending on their age.
Younger pythons shed more often than mature pythons. A recently hatched ball python may shed its skin as often as every three weeks.
Older pythons shed their skin less frequently. A 40-year-old python may shed its skin just once in two or three months.
Since shedding is so basic to the health of your ball python, it’s something you need to consider in selecting your snake, in setting up its housing, and in taking care of it.
There are decisions you can make early in your experience with your snake that make a huge difference in its healthy shedding for the rest of its very long life.
Skin Care Is Something You Need to Consider Before Buying Your Python
One of the reasons ball pythons are so popular is that they have been bred to come in over 100 colors and patterns.
The best breeders will invite prospective python owners to browse through a collection of color photos along with detailed information about the individual snake.
This information includes essential facts about its parents, when it was hatched, how much it has weighed at various times since it was hatched, and when it sheds.
You’ll need to know when, not just how often, your ball python sheds to provide it with good care.
But to make sure you are buying a healthy python, you will need to make sure it’s shedding in a healthy way before you ever take it home.
Look for obvious skin injuries
While you are holding baby snakes that you are thinking about buying, check their skin carefully.
There should be no cuts, sores, scars, or scratches.
There should be no visible mites or ticks. (Don’t forget to wash your hands with soap and water after handling a snake).
Check for complete shedding from the snake’s nostrils and eyes
Sometimes snakes will have a piece of skin hanging from one or both nostrils. This is skin that has failed to shed.
Don’t reject a snake just because it has a piece of skin hanging out of one of its nostrils.
This skin will come off the next time the snake sheds. Sometimes you can hear skin in a snake’s nostrils that you can’t see.
It will make a slight rattle as the snake breathes.
Pieces of skin stuck to the snake’s eyes, however, suggest a more serious problem.
You can remove a stuck eye cap with a piece of tape, but this problem in a baby snake suggests serious issues ahead. Let the breeder take care of that snake.
Check for mites and ticks
Another common skin problem in baby snakes is ectoparasites. These are parasites, like mites and ticks, that live on the outside of the snake’s body.
Mites and ticks are tiny eight-legged arachnids, in the same family as spiders and lobsters. Before they engorge themselves with snake blood, they lie flat on the snake’s skin.
They can camouflage themselves in the patterns and colors of the snake’s body.
Ticks and mites are only a problem on ball pythons that have been imported from Africa, or that have been housed with ball pythons that have been imported from Africa.
Ticks are easy to remove from a snake’s skin with a pair of tweezers—although you have to be careful around the eyes—but their presence on one snake suggests they will be on all the snakes that the breeder has been raising together.
What to Expect When Your Ball Python Sheds
Having selected a healthy snake, and set up a healthy enclosure, what can you expect when your ball python sheds?
The shedding process in ball pythons normally takes about two weeks.
During the early stages of shedding, your python’s belly will turn pink. As the process goes on, the skin will lose its vibrant colors.
Your snake’s eyes will turn gray or blue as it prepares to shed. A few days later, its eyes will clear up and the skin will begin to come off.
What Do You Need to Do When Your Ball Python Is Shedding?
In a good shed, all the skin comes off the snake. It can come off in a single piece, or in several pieces.
All the skin must come off, especially in a growing snake. Skin that stays stuck to your snake’s body interferes with circulation and movement.
In a bad shed, some skin stays on the snake. This can occur because the snake is dehydrated (did you forget to fill the water dish?) or because the humidity in the cage is too low.
When some skin is retained on your snake, you must remove it. However, providing your snake with a warm, damp washcloth to crawl through may do the trick.
Every time your python sheds, you will need to do some inspection.
Check Python’s Eyes After Shedding
Every time your python sheds, check its eyes to make sure that no scales are stuck.
A retained eye cap made of dead skin won’t look cracked or dented. These are signs of a different condition.
When a snake’s eye has retained skin, you will usually notice a piece of retained skin around the orbit of the eye.
Remove this skin with a damp cotton swab (not a Q-tip). Gently run the swab over the eye to remove the eye cap.
Eye caps usually pop right off. If they don’t, let your veterinarian remove them.
Always work gently on your snake’s eyes.
It is better to leave stuck skin on the eye and wait for a trip to the veterinarian than to accidentally remove the snake’s spectacle, the clear lens over its eye.
Damaging or removing the spectacle can leave your snake blind.
Check Python’s tail after shedding
Another part of your snake where shedding may be incomplete is its tail. Always check the tip of the tail for retained skin.
A band of skin can build up like a tourniquet around the tail, cutting off circulation, resulting in tissue death.
It’s not unheard of for a python’s tail to fall off after shed skin builds up.
Sometimes retained skin breaks the spurs, the organs on the tail that the snake uses to grasp the tail of another snake during mating.
Inspect this area carefully after every shed.
Always remove shed skin from your snake’s enclosure promptly. If your python consumes its own dead skin, it may not be able to swallow food.
If Your Python Has Frequent Shedding Problems, Build It a Shed Box
Shed boxes are containers with entrance and exit holes just large enough for your python to just barely pass through.
Make sure there are no sharp edges on the holes.
Fill the box with damp paper towels or damp sphagnum moss to loosen your snake’s skin when it is shedding.
Once your snake has finished shedding, remove the box, clean it, and store it away for next time.
Skin Care Is Also a Consideration for Setting Up Your Python’s Housing
It’s important to keep skin care in mind when you are setting up your ball python’s enclosure.
Chances are that you already realize that you need to keep your ball python at temperatures it will find comfortable (generally 75 to 80° F on the cool side of its cage and 80 to 85° F for the warm side, with 88 to 92° F in a basking area).
But you also need to provide appropriate lighting, humidity, and misting.
Lighting Your Python’s Cage to Make Skin Colors Visible
You will want to see the beautiful colors of your ball python’s skin.
Ball pythons look better under full-spectrum lighting.
They don’t need full-spectrum lighting to stay healthy like some other kinds of snakes, but they do benefit from a natural on-off lighting cycle to imitate day and night.
Maintaining Healthy Humidity for Your Snake’s Skin
Ball pythons come from parts of Africa where there is naturally high humidity. Maintaining the right humidity for healthy shedding and general skin health can be a challenge.
On the one hand, you don’t want the humidity inside your snake’s enclosure to be so high that drops of water collect on the glass.
Too much moisture will encourage the growth of mold on the substrate you place on the floor of the cage, and also puts your snake at risk of blister disease.
On the other hand, you don’t want your snake’s home to be so dry that its skin dries out.
There has to be a balance between humidity and ventilation.
Most ball pythons thrive at constant humidity between 50 and 79 percent. Measure humidity with a hygrometer, available at any pet supply store. Don’t rely on guesswork.
Keep in mind that forced-air heating in the winter and air conditioning in the summer lower the humidity in your ball python’s cage.
Misting When Your Snake Is Shedding
Misting to increase humidity can be helpful when your snake is shedding, but not every snake will need it.
It’s important to observe how misting affects your snake.
If your snake is having trouble shedding and your humidity gauge reads 50 percent or lower, then it’s a good idea to mist every day.
If your snake is having trouble shedding and the humidity gauge already reads 70 percent or higher, then adding still more humidity can also make shedding more difficult for your snake.
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