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SNAKE COUNTRY: Well fed, it’s time to shed

A recently sloughed skin. The snake exited right, with the skin coming off inside-out.

Getting to know the neighbours: Working toward a stress-free co-existence with snakes

By Pat McKrill

It’s February, but welcome to the new year anyway.

I trust you all behaved well and told each other how much you loved one another and, after the traditional hugging and kissing, made the right noises while unwrapping the presents.

That’s always a trick.

I remember that every Christmas we’d get a wooden tray from our favourite uncle – a woodwork master at a boys’ school. I still have about 14 of them in the cupboard, family heirlooms, all different, some still in the original wrapping, unopened.

Speaking of unwrapping, I’ve been asked by a few people recently: “How come we’re seeing more shed snake skins than usual?”

The days of snakes parking off in winter are a thing of the past

I can’t honestly say why, but it could be that we’re becoming more observant, which is good.

It makes sense to me, as a snakey person, that because there’s a lot more food on their table at this time of the year, some snakes would be growing a tad faster than usual, thereby needing to shed more often.

Another factor we can’t dismiss is population growth and the spread of human settlement, often into areas that were once the exclusive preserve of all the creepy crawlies we fear so much.

A sign of growth

Some of these, for example snakes, might have taken longer to adapt to the changes in their lives and could be returning to historic hunting grounds, now with enhanced food resources – more rats, mice, frogs and birds.

You might recall from previous articles that in the world of the cold-blooded creatures, the shedding of a skin is a sign of growth.

I’ll remind you that prior to the actual shed (or slough, as it’s termed), over a period of a week or so, an oil is produced that separates the old skin from the new, and the snake then needs to “peel” off the old skin.

The day Pat McKrill welcomed 25 little puff adders

Now here comes the fascinating part.

Older snakes will often shed odd bits and pieces of skin as they move around, but the younger, healthier, faster-growing snakes do it in one planned action, leaving behind one long, often complete, inside-out skin.

Stage one of the shedding process is the cutting of the skin along the front of the upper jaw by rubbing against a rough surface.

‘Killer snakes’

As the snake moves in a slow and steady forward movement, the now-loose and slightly tacky old skin adheres to outside objects, sometimes initially bunching up near the head, as seen in the picture, ultimately allowing the snake to exit the skin.

The next day, there could be those who, upon seeing the discarded skin, might contemplate putting the house on the market, assuming they’re surrounded by “killer” snakes.

But the shedding process can take place anywhere within the snake’s regular hunting area, which could be far from the garden gate where it was found.

It won’t be lying around for long, however, as it has protein and nesting material properties that make it a valuable find for others.

Contact Pat McKrill at herpet@eastcoast.co.za or 083 303 6958.

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