Reptile Molting – Ecdysis and Dysecdysis

Reptiles like snakes and lizards periodically shed their skin. This is called ecdysis.


When your reptile is preparing to shed you will see their skin becoming dull and their eyes will look whitish. You should avoid handling them at this time.

You may also notice them rubbing against things in their habitat to help loosen the old skin. They will also be reluctant to eat during this time.

Pre-Shedding Period

Snakes, like lizards, reptiles and turtles, shed their old skin as a regular part of growth. The process is known as Ecdysis. Shedding is an important and healthy process that protects reptiles from UV rays, evaporation, parasites and other threats. It is also a very effective way to remove old, dry, worn-out skin and replace it with fresh new skin.

As the shedding process begins, your snake will begin to rub against objects in their enclosure. This is not because they are trying to break off pieces of their old skin; rather, they are simply using this action to loosen the adherence of the remaining skin layer so that it can be discarded (or eaten, if they choose).

Your snake may also stop eating during this time. This is a normal behavior as your pet goes into the “pre-shedding period.” They will eat again once they have shed, but it’s best to leave them alone until then to avoid any accidental chomps on the new skin that could cause irritation.

You can help them along the shedding process by providing them with a humid hide box or rearranging their enclosure to include someplace cool and damp where they can lay and wait for the rest of their body to shed. You can also gently rub their heads against your hand or another surface to loosen the adherence of the skin and speed up the process.

Post-Shedding Period

Reptiles shed their skin regularly, sometimes up to 12 times a year. The process is known as ecdysis or shedding. It is necessary for two reasons; the first being that a snake’s skin does not grow at the same rate as its body so a new, roomier layer of skin must be generated and the old layer discarded. The other reason is that a shedding reptile’s old skin can harbor harmful parasites that must be removed before the next molt.

When a reptile goes into a shedding cycle it is generally very irritable and cranky. It is best to avoid handling it during this period. Depending on the reptile, it may also refuse to eat during this time. Some reptiles can be a bit odd looking during this period as their colorings seem duller or faded. They may even appear a bit rough to the touch. Many snakes will rub themselves against objects to help loosen their old skin and speed up the shedding process.

If you have a pet reptile that you know is in pre-shed, try giving them a bath with tepid or warm water (be sure to keep the water level low for reptiles that cannot swim) this will help loosen some of the older skin and make it easier to come off. You can also spritz them down with a spray bottle of warm water. Once the bath or spraying is done, dry them thoroughly and place them back under their heat lamp.

Problem Shedding

Snakes that are healthy and properly acclimated to captivity shed easily, quickly, and in one piece. In contrast, reptiles with health or husbandry problems experience delayed and incomplete shedding, also known as dysecdysis. This can be the result of a multitude of things, including nutritional deficits, improper temperature and humidity levels, bacterial or fungal infections, parasites, and more.

During the shedding process, snakes exhibit low activity level and lethargy, while their skin becomes dull in color and soft to the touch. They may also look to hide more than usual, which is a natural instinct in this sensitive time of their lives.

In addition, if they have not yet completely shed their old skins, snakes’ eyes may appear cloudy or gray. Sheds that are not completed properly can lead to bacterial and fungal infections, especially if the ragged pieces of the old skin cling to the underlying new skin or the tail and mouth (retained eye caps). The latter can cut off blood supply, leading to tissue necrosis and potentially death.

As a pet owner, it is your responsibility to learn about your herp’s normal shedding habits and behaviors, and to monitor them closely for any abnormalities. You can assist the shedding process by providing rough surfaces in your herp’s enclosure where it can rub its ragged skin against, such as a rock or log. However, be careful not to pull off ragged pieces of old skin, as this can damage your reptile and lead to further shedding issues.


While normal shedding is a sign of good health, it doesn’t always go smoothly. When a reptile sheds unevenly, the process is called dysecdysis. This is an important warning that something may be wrong.

Dysecdysis manifests as a buildup of the skin your pet should be shedding in dried patches on its body. The buildup often occurs around the eyes and in other areas with a lot of folds or indentations, such as the neck or tail. It may also occur along the limbs and dorsal spines. It may also cause the lizard’s skin to dull and the eyes to take on a milky color.

There are many reasons for dysecdysis, including low environmental humidity, skin parasites, bacterial infections, nutritional deficiencies, and infectious diseases. In addition, a high dose of vitamin A at the time of molting can cause dysecdysis by inhibiting the breakdown between new and old epidermal layers.

The easiest way to treat dysecdysis is with a warm water soak. Soak your reptile in a tub of warm water for ten to thirty minutes or so until the skin softens and begins to shed. In general, the less water a reptile is in during this period the better, as too much water can drown it. During the soaking, a non-toxic, antibacterial moisturizing spray like Vetericyn can help loosen and remove the buildup of dry, stuck on skin.