As we enter the winter season, you might start to experience incomplete or poor sheds from your ball python. As the weather gets colder, the humidity or amount of moisture in the air lowers and has less water vapor in it. Ball pythons should have 60-65% relative humidity in their enclosures to help with the shedding process in addition to providing a good degree of moisture in the air. Lower levels of humidity will often times cause incomplete or poor sheds in ball pythons. You should have a humidity gauge in your ball pythons’ cage so you’ll know what the relative humidity is at all times.
Why do Ball Pythons Shed?
Shedding or Ecdysis is a natural phenomenon that ball pythons undergo for a varied number of reasons. As ball pythons grow, they shed old skin that’s replaced by new skin. Younger snakes shed more times than older snakes because they’re growing at a faster pace. It’s not uncommon for your ball python to shed at least one time per month. They can also shed due to an injury or if their skin is extremely dirty. Shedding is healthy and natural and should come off your ball python in one piece. Ball pythons do not consume their shed as some reptiles do in order to take advantage of the added calcium. They simply shed their skin and crawl away from it leaving it to harden and blow away in the breeze.
Ball pythons usually defecate and urinate right after they complete the shedding process. As they start to enter the shedding phase, they will darken up and become dull looking. Their eyes will start to darken up and have a dark gray or blue color to them. It’s extremely challenging for them to see during this stage of the shedding cycle so they can become nervous or startled very easy. It’s best to leave them alone when they’re entering their shed cycle and make sure the relative humidity in the cage is conducive to a complete and proper shed. The shedding cycle can last anywhere from seven (7) to fourteen (14) days on average. Although some ball pythons will eat in shed, it’s not advisable to offer them food during this time.
Ball python entering a shed. Photo courtesy of GingerValentine
After three (3) to five (5) days, the eyes and skin will start to clear up but it will still look somewhat dull. They will often soak in their water bowl prior to shedding and will seek rough surfaces in the cage to rub against in order to help with the shedding process. You can put sterile rocks or branches it its cage during the shedding cycle to help it shed. They typically crawl around their cage pressing their face against the side of the tank or against hard surfaces in order to get the shedding process started. When they shed, they literally crawl out of their skin and as it rolls backwards on top of itself as the snakes continues to crawl. It’s analogous to placing a sock on your forearm and rolling it backwards towards your hand. The result will be a ball of shed or it might be completely stretched out.
Complete ball python shed
Incomplete or Poor Sheds
Low humidity is just one cause of incomplete or poor shedding by ball pythons. Incomplete sheds can also be the result of less than adequate husbandry practices on the part of the keeper, parasites or bacterial infections, trauma, over-handling and malnutrition. If the cage has proper humidity and your ball python still has incomplete sheds, you might want to look at some of the reasons just mentioned as a possible cause for the incomplete sheds.
There are several things you can do to help with the shedding process if you experience incomplete sheds. Soaking your ball python in luke-warm water for 15-30 minutes will help loosen up the dry skin in order to make it easy for the ball python to remove. It will often rub its body against rough areas in its cage in order to free itself of the old skin. You can help this process by lightly rubbing your fingers over the loose shed and rolling it off your ball python.
Incomplete or poor ball python shed
Never try to force your ball python to shed by peeling away skin if it hasn’t shed in a while. I recently heard of a horror story where a lady thought her ball python should shed “just because” so she took it upon herself to force her ball python to shed. She literally ripped the skin off her ball python and attached to the skin were chunks of meat and blood. She later cried asking for help after she realized the atrocity that she just committed. I guess after seeing bones and blood pouring from her ball python she realized the damage she had caused to her beloved pet. I cannot stress enough that you should never ever attempt to force your ball python to shed “just because”.
If your ball python has an incomplete shed and you feel uncomfortable rubbing the old skin off yourself, you can often times leave it alone and wait for the next shed cycle to clear it. If your ball python has incomplete shedding on its face or tip of the tail, it’s best to try and assist with removing sheds in those areas. Retained eye caps or “spectacles” can harbor dangerous bacteria and make life miserable for your ball python because it won’t be able to see. You should restrain your ball python behind the base of its head and attempt to lightly rub the retained eye cap off. If it still does not come off, you can use the tape technique. Take a piece of tape and gently place it on the eye cap of your ball python. Gently press the tape on the eye cap but don’t press too hard. You just want to make sure the tape adheres to the dry eye cap. Next, gently pull the tape away from the eye cap and the retained eye cap shed should come off with ease. This will not injure or harm your ball python.
Incomplete or poor ball python shed
Tips for Raising Relative Humidity
There are a number of things you can do to help increase the overall relative humidity in your ball pythons’ cage. You can mist the cage every other day to help increase moisture in the tank. Cypress mulch and repti-bark are very good substrates that have excellent water retention properties. They fare much better than newspaper or turf-like substrates during the cold winter season. You can also increase the size of the water bowl in the cage to help raise the relative humidity. Placing a heat lamp or UTH (under tank heater) over or under the location of the water bowl will help raise humidity levels in the tank as well.
Large cages often times creates a challenge because of the actual space in the cage. You can help keep humidity from escaping by placing a towel or plastic bag on the top of the cage covering it ¾’s of the way. Another technique is to add damp sphagnum moss inside a plastic hide box to create a humidity chamber that your ball python can enter when it's nearing its shed cycle.
Incomplete or poor ball python shed
You should have a happy ball python that has complete sheds if you follow some of the techniques listed in this blog. If your ball python is relatively new to your collection and has incomplete or poor sheds and you’re not too sure about where it came from, you should consider taking it to your exotic animal vet in order to have some fecal tests performed just to rule out low humidity as the culprit. Many pet store ball pythons harbor deadly parasites that could be a cause of poor sheds. Please read my recent blog entitled The Truth behind Pet Store Ball Pythons for more information.
As always, please feel free to discuss this topic in greater detail at our ball python forum.
python...I've had her about a month,
she's eating well, is very
comfortable with me and other people,
and has a healthy living enviroment.
She shed a few weeks ago and was
having trouble. I left her alone for a
while then decided that she's not
really getting off anymore shed, so I
took action and started helping her by
soaking her in warm water and using
the scotch tape method. I managed to
get the caps off of her eyes which
was my main concern, and some of the
larger pieces. The end of her tail
however was the last part to shed-
for a while it was really hard and
tight and I couldn't get it off. I
decided a few days ago to give it a
try and finally get it off and I did.
However, when it did come off the
area was very red, and almost looked
like it was bleeding. A few days later
it's now cold, hard and looks really
irritated...I'm not sure what's
going on ?
We got it right before Christmas.
The problem is this:
It's started to shed, eyes fogged up...everything seemed normal until we were told not to feed him.
The last time this snake ate was 12-17-08. We were told to feed two weeks from that date. Well, he started to shed and hasn't eaten due to this process.
Now, he's SUPER skinny!!!!!! He looks very sickly and helpless. Should we offer food everyday till he eats??
he only shed about 4 - 5 weeks ago
and he has got milky skin and milky eyes already
is he shedding?
She's got a heat rock right now (I didn't have the money to buy new lights and heating pads at the time), but I'm definitely sure it hasn't injured her in any way. Making changes tomorrow when I head over to see her. A trip to the pet store to get some humidity/temperature gauges, and a heating pad or lights. Thanks again.
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