All snakes shed their skin (ecdysis). Ball pythons get rid of their skin all at once to accommodate new growth, whereas skin comes off other mammals in tiny pieces, so we don’t tend to notice. It’s vital to understand how the ball python shedding process works and adjust your care accordingly.
We’ll detail the ball python shedding cycle from start to finish. We’ll examine how your snake’s behavior might change during this time, and what you can do to expedite the process. Finally, you’ll find out how often ball pythons shed, and how to fix a stuck shed on a ball pythons head or eyes.
- 1 Why Do Ball Pythons Shed Their Skin?
- 2 Understanding the Ball Python Shedding Timeline
- 3 Will a Ball Python Eat While Shedding?
- 4 Are Ball Pythons Aggressive When Shedding?
- 5 How Often Will Ball Pythons Shed?
- 6 Why Is My Ball Python Not Shedding?
- 7 How to Fix Ball Python Shedding Problems
Why Do Ball Pythons Shed Their Skin?
Many animals shed their skin. Your skin cells are continually dying and being replaced with new ones every day. However, we usually don’t notice this because it happens so gradually.
Snakes, on the other hand, let go of all their skin at once. In scientific terms, this is called ecdysis. It’s a process shared by many other reptiles, including lizards.
But why do snakes have to shed? Unlike many other animals, snakes do not stop growing once they reach adulthood. Their bodies continue to increase in size throughout their lives. They grow quickly while they’re young, and slow down once they reach maturity.
A snake’s skin isn’t very stretchy. So, to make room for the new growth, they must cast off their old skin and start afresh.
Growing continuously gives wild snakes an advantage. The bigger they are, the less likely they are to get eaten by predators. For female snakes, being bigger allows her to carry more eggs (or babies), helping her bloodline to survive.
Shedding also helps with parasites. Snake mites and ticks are a particular problem with wild snakes, though they can affect pet snakes too. According to a study in Proceedings (Biological Sciences), shedding the skin after a parasite attaches can help to remove it.
Understanding the Ball Python Shedding Timeline
There are four stages to the ball python shedding process. The whole process usually lasts between 1 and 2 weeks, culminating in the removal of skin.
1) Color Change
The first of the ball python shedding signs is quite subtle. When it’s time to shed, you’ll notice your ball python’s colors becoming darker and more faded than they normally are.
You may also notice your snake’s eyes becoming darker at this time. Depending on what morph your ball python is, they may look almost black, or have a dull appearance.
Finally, some ball pythons’ undersides display a pinkish hue during this stage. This is referred to as “pink belly.” During this stage, your ball python may lose her appetite. This is normal. We wouldn’t recommend feeding your snake until after the shed is complete.
2) Blue Phase
The second pre-shed stage is called “blue phase,” also referred to as “being in blue.”
During the blue phase, your ball python’s eyes will appear a cloudy, milky blue color. This is due to a layer of fluid building up between the snake’s old skin, and fresh new skin. Their skin will also appear much duller than it did in the previous stage. It may even have a blue tint to it.
This stage can be quite stressful for your ball python. You may notice a typical ball python shedding behavior: hiding. Do not attempt to handle your snake from this point onwards, as it could become defensive.
It’s a good idea to increase the vivarium’s humidity to 60-65% at this point. The extra moisture will help your snake to shed. You can also introduce a “humidity box,” filled with damp sphagnum moss.
3) Pre-Shed Clear Up
After your ball python has been in blue for around 3-5 days, they will all of a sudden look normal again. The fluid between the old and new skin will clear up. You’ll no longer see a milky blue tint to their eyes, and their skin may regain some of its color.
Some ball python owners worry during the pre-shed clear up that something has gone wrong. They may wonder whether the snake has decided not to shed after all. However, the pre-shed clear up is entirely normal. It’s a clear sign that shedding is about to begin.
4) Shedding the Skin
Finally, your ball python will start to shed its skin approximately 24 to 72 hours after the pre-shed clear up. Ball pythons tend to shed their skin during the night, so you may not even notice this happening.
To begin the process, your ball python will nudge her nose up against something in her enclosure. This could be a rock, a piece of wood, or even the side of the tank. This will create a rip in the skin.
When the skin has begun to peel, your ball python will start moving around, rubbing up against anything it can find to encourage the skin to come away. If you manage to catch your ball python in the middle of a shed, you might notice what looks like a rolled-up sock halfway down her body.
After 1-2 hours of shedding, the process is complete. Your ball python will look shiny, glossy and bright again. You’ll find a long piece of skin somewhere in the enclosure. It should be in one piece, complete with eye-caps and a tail tip.
Will a Ball Python Eat While Shedding?
Often, your ball python’s shed will coincide with her feeding schedule. You may wonder: should I attempt to feed her anyway? Can ball pythons eat while shedding?
This will vary with each snake. Some ball pythons will not eat at all, from the first stage of pre-shed until the skin has come off. Appetite loss is very common during shed, and you should not worry about it.
Some ball pythons will take food during the shedding process. However, we would personally not recommend feeding while in a shed, for the following reasons:
- Poor eyesight. During the blue phase, your ball python cannot see very well. Introducing food at this point can be stressful, as they won’t be able to see the prey. If you feed live prey, this can come with a risk of injury to the snake. Feeding frozen-thawed is safer, but your snake could mistake your hand for food.
- Regurgitation risk. Sometimes, ball pythons fed during the shedding process will regurgitate its food. This is because shedding requires a lot of movement. Regurgitation is not pleasant for your snake and can cause health issues from inhaling stomach acid.
Ball pythons can go for several months without food before they start to lose weight, according to a study in Zoology. The entire shedding process takes less than 14 days. If you wait until your snake has finished shedding before feeding them, they won’t suffer.
Are Ball Pythons Aggressive When Shedding?
As you know, when ball pythons go through the blue phase, they’re virtually blind. The layer of opaque fluid between their old and new skin covers their eyes, so it’s hard to see. As you can imagine, it can be stressful for your snake to lose its sight.
You’ll notice your ball python behaving differently when it goes into a shed. It’s common for snakes to become reclusive, and remain in their hide boxes all day long.
During this process, your ball python probably won’t want to be handled. If you try to handle him or her, it may become stressed. Imagine how you’d feel if you couldn’t see, and a giant animal several times your size picked you up out of your home.
Handling your snake when it’s shedding may prompt her to recoil away from you, hiss, or even strike. It’s purely out of fear, and a sign that you should leave her alone. Some snake owners also theorize that handling a snake during the shedding process can interfere with the shed. Though this hasn’t been proven, we feel it’s best to leave your snake alone until the skin comes off.
How Often Will Ball Pythons Shed?
Now that you know how the shedding process works, how often should you expect this to happen?
This depends on two things:
- The snake’s age. Ball pythons shed as a result of growth. The larger body size requires a larger skin, so they slough off the smaller skin to make room. Juvenile ball pythons grow much faster than and adults, so as a result, they’ll shed more.
- How fast the snake grows. The more your ball python eats, the faster it’ll grow. If it’s a good eater, it will shed more often than a ball python that eats less often. Also, some snakes will naturally grow faster than others, regardless of how often they eat. It’s all down to genetics.
Juvenile ball pythons (under 1-year-old) tend to shed quite regularly. If you’re wondering “why is my ball python shedding so much?” it’s probably due to its age. Up until your ball python is around a year old, it’ll probably shed once every 3-4 weeks.
Once your snake reaches around 700 to 1000 grams in weight, their growth will slow down considerably. Adult ball pythons usually shed once every 6-8 weeks.
If it’s more often than this, you probably don’t need to worry. As long as your snake seems healthy, and the shed skin comes off without issue, there shouldn’t be a problem. Just make sure you aren’t feeding your snake too much. Watch out for the signs of obesity.
Why Is My Ball Python Not Shedding?
If your snake doesn’t seem to be shedding anymore, there may be several factors at play.
- It may be age-related. As previously mentioned, older snakes tend to shed much less often than younger snakes. If your snake is coming up to the one-year mark, it’ll naturally start to shed with decreasing frequency.
- The vivarium may be too cold. Wild ball pythons tend to go into a state of reduced activity during the winter months. They don’t quite brumate, but they do move and eat less. It’s not unusual for ball pythons to stop shedding in the colder months. Use a thermometer to ensure that the vivarium does not drop below 78 degrees Fahrenheit.
- You may not be feeding it enough. As a general rule, you should feed your ball python a prey item which is just slightly wider than your snake’s width at her widest point. Feed it at least once a week while she’s young, and every 2-3 weeks as an adult.
Keep track of when your ball python sheds, and how long she goes between shedding. If you are concerned, take it to an experienced veterinarian.
How to Fix Ball Python Shedding Problems
If you have followed our advice, your ball python should shed with no difficulties. Increasing the humidity is generally all you need to do. The python’s old skin should come off in one continuous piece, complete with eye caps and tail tip.
Sometimes, though, ball pythons have trouble shedding. If you notice stuck pieces of old skin clinging to your snake, the vivarium’s humidity was probably too low. Luckily, this is easily remedied.
To encourage the stuck shed to come away, run your snake a bath. Fill a plastic tub with about two inches of water at around 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Set your snake inside the tub and leave it there for 20 to 30 minutes to soak.
After her bath, take a warm, damp washcloth and run it over your snake from head to tail. You should notice the stuck shed starting to come away. To remove the eye cap, use a damp cotton bud and gently wipe it over the eye.
Don’t worry if you can’t get every little piece of shed off. It will naturally come off the next time your snake sheds. Just make sure to keep a check on the humidity next time, and provide a moist hide.