So, you know that your ball python is going to shed at different times throughout their life, but what are the sorts of signs you should be looking for? Well, for inexperienced owners, it’s best to know what will happen and also how to look after your python at this point.
I’ve owned ball pythons for years, and in this article I’m going to work through 11 different shedding signs to help you ascertain what is going on and how best to react.
Remember, your python will be going through a stressful time for them, so doing all you can to help them out is what is required from a loving owner.
Let’s get onto these signs, but first, a quick explanation as to what is going on when a ball python sheds.
Why a Snake Sheds
A snake is going to always be growing new skin cells. So, they need to get rid of their old ones, and that’s where shedding comes in.
When you think about it, we too constantly grow new skin cells, but we shed those cells on a regular basis. A snake doesn’t go about this in the same way. Instead, they shed them in one entire layer, and that’s what we see when they shed their skin.
How often they shed will depend on a number of factors. A young Python may shed every few weeks as they are going through the growing process quite quickly. As they get older, this shedding process will slow down to the point where it may only happen once or twice a year.
The entire process is known as ecdysis. Every snake in the world is going to pretty much shed their skin in the same way. It will affect them the same way, and even though the time span can vary, it’s all basically identical, no matter the size of the snake. [Source]
As the snake grows, it basically outgrows its old skin. It has to get rid of it in some manner, so that is where shedding comes into its own.
There are three phases linked to shedding. Clearly, the shedding part is at the end, but immediately before that you have what’s known as the blue phase. This is where their eyes take on a blue appearance, hence the name. The first phase is the precursor to shedding, where other changes occur.
If you want to see what the shedding process looks like in reality, then check out this video:
Now let’s go onto the signs that a ball python is about to shed:
Sign 1 – Look At Their Scales
The first sign to really look for, as it will be the easiest to see, is connected to their scales. You will be used to their scales having a certain color, and that also applies to how bright they are on a daily basis..
What you will notice when your python is coming up to shedding is that their scales will not appear as bright and colorful as they normally are. Instead, their skin will look dull, and some will even look slightly hazy. In other words, their markings are no longer as clear as they usually are, and that is pretty much a sure sign that the shedding process has started for your python. [Source]
Sign 2 – Look at Their Eyes
Another area to study is their eyes. As with their skin, their eyes will no longer look as clear as normal. Basically, they will look quite cloudy, and the scary part for your snake is that their actual vision is as cloudy at this point as it may look to you.
This is one of the reasons why a snake will feel more vulnerable when shedding. They just cannot see right, and it’s all because of the eye cap.
Their eye cap is a special scale that actually covers each eye. During the shedding process, this scale is also going to come loose, so it can be shed with the rest of the body. As a result, it is not flush against the eye and kind of acts like some sort of filter for the python, and that’s why they cannot see as well.
The good news is that this clears up as soon as they shed, so it’s nothing to worry about.
Sign 3 – They Don’t Want to Eat
While going through the shedding process, a python is going to largely lose their appetite, and some may not be interested in eating at all. Once again, this is all because they are using their energy going through the shedding process, and they feel very vulnerable when doing so.
When they feel so vulnerable, they have no interest in eating, as that would involve them getting out of their hide hole and putting themselves in danger. They don’t want to be doing this, so they have so many different bodily functions and needs that practically shut down, or go into a hibernation sort of mode, to help them get through the shedding part with minimal fuss.
So, if your snake is suddenly off their food, and you notice the difference with their scales, then you know what is going on with them, and that there’s no need to stress.
Sign 4 – They Hide More
This sign is not going to come as a surprise, but your python will end up hiding even more than usual when shedding. As we have mentioned before, this is all linked in with feeling vulnerable to attack. They are sluggish, and just want this process to be finished, so they will hide away until the shedding is complete.
You should leave your pet python alone as much as possible during this time. They are waiting it out until the process is over, and they are as content as they could be. However, spooking them and forcing them to leave the spot where they are hiding out could end up causing some problems.
Sign 5 – A Change in Character
Your Python is probably quite placid when it comes to their nature, but that is going to all change when it comes to time to shed. At that point, your python could strike out more often, and they will also become far more defensive.
However, this is not something that should come as a surprise. Let’s face it, we have spoken many times throughout this post about them feeling vulnerable when shedding, and the only way they know to react at these times is by acting out.
They feel that by attacking quicker than before, they will scare away any potential predators, even though they are not doing too well at that time. Of course, they will see you as a potential predator as well, so they will be prone to attack. Be careful and leave them to their own devices as much as you can.
Sign 6 – They Suddenly Love Rough Surfaces
As you grow accustomed to your pet python, you will start to understand the parts of their home that they love, and also where they spend most of their time. However, when you notice a change in their behavior in their tank, then you know something is up.
As they come up close to the end of the shedding process, your python is going to probably seek out rougher surfaces in their tank. They will do this as they want to use the rough surface to help them to remove the old skin.
This makes a whole lot of sense. They want this to be over and get back to a normal life, so your Python will understand that a rough surface is going to help.
Sign 7 – They Become More Skittish
Even though an earlier sign spoke of your Python hiding more, it may be the case that they will do the opposite and become more skittish. However, this is due to the uncomfortability they are experiencing at this time.
Remember that a python is going to generally sleep away most of the day, and they will conserve their energy as much as possible. If you suddenly see them moving around more, and also faster than they normally would, then this may very well be an indication that they are going through the shedding process.
Sign 8 – They Rub Their Nose
Remember when we said earlier on about your python looking to rub against rougher surfaces, well one other sign to look out for is when they appear to be taking more of an interest in things with their nose.
The reason for this is simple to understand. They are looking to effectively cut the old skin to start the process of sliding out of it and revealing their new one. They do this via their nose, so if you see them rubbing their face up against something, especially when they don’t normally do this, then it means they are in the last phase of the shedding process.
At that stage, it may just be a matter of hours before they are out of their old skin. If you notice them making these moves and want to watch what happens next, then pay close attention.
Sign 9 – It Spends Time in the Water Bowl
Even though they will normally look to hide away from everything, there may be increased activity around one part of their tank, and that’s their water bowl.
This is all because of one simple fact. During the shedding process, your python is going to want to drink more, so it makes sense that they will then end up hanging around the water bowl.
As you gain more experience in caring for your Python, you will begin to understand how much time they actually spend around their water bowl, so seeing a change in that behavior can be a clear indicator that something is changing for them.
Sign 10 – They Appear Wrinkly and Dehydrated
This follows onto the water bowl sign mentioned above, but there are times when your python may come across as appearing somewhat wrinkly and dehydrated compared to other times. This can be alarming when you are not used to seeing them this way, but don’t worry, as all is well.
It does act as a sign that they are going through the shedding process. Their old skin is indeed becoming wrinkly and dehydrated, as the snake is about to remove the skin. There is a liquid that forms between the old and new skin that will then make it easier for your python to shed the skin, so that is why it then takes on this new appearance.
The most important thing of all here is to not worry about the apparent dehydration. It will all sort itself out as soon as they are parading around in their brand-new skin.
Sign 11 – They Spring Back to Life
The final sign, aside from seeing the actual skin, is when your python springs back to life, and they resemble more of the snake that you know and love. Remember that the entire process may take a week, or sometimes it can take longer, so that is quite a length period of time where you need to leave your pet alone.
What you should see is your pet becoming more interested in eating. Their eyes are clear, they are more active, and they have bright scales. Basically, everything we mentioned in the previous signs should then be reversed when they are no longer in this shedding process.
At that point, you can get back to handling them like you used to, instead of needing to leave them to their own devices for such an extended period of time.
Finally, What About Shedding Problems?
Finally, let’s quickly look at what you do should your python have some difficulty when it comes to shedding their skin. A healthy python should be able to shed their skin almost in one piece. That means the perfect humidity is in their tank, and they have had the correct care up to this point.
However, the old skin coming off in pieces does not always mean something is wrong. It may be a simple case that they have become too restless when trying to remove the old skin, and it has effectively torn. Alternatively, they may have been slightly dehydrated, which would then make it that bit harder for them.
If you are concerned about their shedding ability, then there are a couple of things you can do that will help them along the way.
Increase the Humidity
The first thing is to up the humidity a bit. You don’t need to make that big a change, but the increased humidity has been shown time and time again to make a difference with helping your python shed their old skin.
Spray some water around everything in their habitat, apart from your snake, and especially in the face, and this will increase the humidity thanks to the heat in their home.
Remove Any Food
You should remove any food that’s still in their tank. While eating during the shedding process is not a problem from a health perspective, it stands to reason that the constriction process will then make it more likely that the old skin will rip.
By removing food, you also remove that particular problem.
When to Get a Vet
So, when would you be forced into taking your python to the vet? Well, if some old skin remains on their body, then they will shed it the next time. That in itself is not a problem.
However, if the skin over their eyes does not come off, then you have an issue that needs to be addressed. Keep in mind that your python is going to be largely blind at this time, so you need a vet to help.
The only other time when you may need to get some medical help is if the old skin wraps around their tail. This can potentially make it harder for blood to get to the tip of their tail, and that’s not the best situation for your snake.
Aside from that, there should be no real problem when your python is unable to shed their skin correctly.
So, those are the key signs to look out for that will let you know your Python is either entering, or going through the shedding process. Remember that this is an entirely natural process, and you will get used to the various stages that your snake needs to pass through in order to complete the shedding.
The best thing to do is to leave them alone and get on with it all by themselves. After all, they know what to do better than you, so don’t interfere with this natural process. Just know that they will be back to normal in a few days, but with brand new skin gleaming in their tank.