and more about snake scales
snake species has a unique scale pattern: Experts can often tell
the species of a snake just by looking at an intact
shed skin of a snake (slough). A healthy snake sheds its skin in one piece.
The shed skin looks like a discarded nylon stocking and retains all the
What are the uses of scales?
help in snakes move and to grip prey: Belly
scales are broad, to grip the surface. Seasnakes
have tiny granular scales for a sand-papery skin that grip slippery fish.
Burrowing snakes have small smooth scales for quick tunnelling. Desert snakes
have rough scales for gripping loose sand.
protects from wear and tear: Snakes' eyes are covered by transparent
spectacle scales. They have no movable eyelids, unlike lizards. The desert
dwelling Horned Viper (left) has horny scales
its eyes to protect it from the sun--serpent shades! Some
burrowing snakes have large tough scales on their noses to protect the head
as they dig.
also protect snakes from predators:
The scales form designs which camouflage the snake or to scare off predators.
Can you find the TWO Gaboon Vipers in the photo on the right?! The Rattlesnake
has dried scales at the end of its tail to make its typical warning noise.
Some snakes have rough (keeled) scales which they rub together to make warning
Why does a snake moult its skin? Snakes
moult because the old skin gets worn out and not because the skin gets tight
(after all, a snake's skin can stretch enormously to accommodate the prey
that is swallowed!). Moulting also gets rid of parasites like mites and
In fact even humans shed old skin, we just don't do it in one piece like
Before a moult, the bottom layer of the old skin liquidates and separates
from the new skin forming below. This makes the old skin appear dull and
causes the eye scales to cloud. As the snake's vision is affected and it
generally feels uncomfortable, it will hide in a safe place and stop eating.
When moulting, snakes get grumpy and can be unusually aggressive.
get out of the old skin, a snake breaks the old skin around its lips
by rubbing against a rough surface. It then crawls out of the old
skin turning it inside out like a long sock, usually moving over a
rough surface which catches on the old skin. Marine
snakes that float on the ocean all their lives get the old skin
off by coiling their bodies into complex knots. So the old skin is
often found all knotted up!
Unlike lizards, snakes shed in one piece and don't eat their shed.
It can take several hours to complete a moult. Sometimes
a moult doesn't progress properly and small patches of the old skin
stay stuck on the snake. If these eventually come loose there is no
problem. But if they don't, infection may set in leaving permanent
How often do snakes moult? Young
snakes moult more frequently than old snakes. An injured snake may
moult sooner and more frequently to renew damaged skin. Moults can
be as frequent as once every 20 days, and as rare as once a year.
What are snakes?
Are snakes cold?
Why are snakes long?
What do snakes eat? Do they drink?
How do snakes swallow?
How do snakes hunt?
Why and how do snakes kill?
Snake predators and how do snakes protect themselves?
Snake mating, eggs
Where are snakes found? Fascinating snake adaptations to various
Snake bites and first aid
Snakes in danger: role
and conservation and
snakes in human culture
biggest, smallest, deadliest and more