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Jessi explains what is most likely happening when a reptile retains its shed, why it happens, how to fix it, and how to prevent it from happening in the future. (this does not include information on how to treat sick, injured, or malnourished reptiles)

*snake warning*

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Hey! Welcome back to Animal Wonders! I'm Jessie, and today we're going to meet some visitors and talk about retained shed in reptiles.


Alright, so one of our friends needed someone to watch their three young corn snakes while they were gone on winter break and we were happy to help out.

Here's the little cuties!

When we went to go pick them up, the owner was concerned how one of them didn't seem to be shedding very well, but he was confused. Because the other two seemed to be doing just fine.

Now, this brings us back to how every animal is an individual. What might be a perfectly good environment for one might not meet the needs of another, even if they're the same species.

When a reptile has trouble shedding their old scales, it's called retained shed, or dysectysis. Retained shed is a visible symptom that tells you that something isn't quite right with the reptile or their environment. Sometimes it can mean the animal is sick, injured, or malnourished but today we're going to figure on the most common and least serious reasons for retained shed: low humidity and lack of furniture.

This little guy is the one that had retained almost all of his shed. You can see he's rubbed some of it off over the last week, but he's still retaining quite a bit of it.

Normally, I would have immediately treated it, but I wanted to wait so I could show you how I did it. A single layer of retained shed on a reptile's body isn't going to cause them harm. But if it's located on their eyes, tip of tail, or toes, it can start causing irritation and any retained shed that's left untreated can lead to serious harm.

Alright, I'm going to put these guys back and I'm going to bring out another reptile.

This is Blueberry, the Northern blue-tongued skink, and she's an example of a lizard whose retained shed on her toes was left untreated. If you look closely, you can see that her toes don't look quite right. She's actually lost most of them due to build-up of retained sheds.

What happens is the old skin dries out and sticks to the new scales growing underneath. The old skin remains the same size, so when the reptile grows or it starts to build up, it can constrict the toes. Soon, it cuts off the blood flow completely and that part of the body will eventually die.

Blueberry will sadly never grow her toes back, but we provide her with special reptile carpet to keep her happy and comfortable.

Okay, back to the corn snakes! I examined the other two corn snakes that seemed to be doing just fine shedding and I discovered that they actually have some retained shed on the tips of their tails as well. So it's not just the one that's having some difficulty with an improper environment.

This actually quite a common mistake for new reptile owners and it's also quite a simple fix. The immediate treatment is to fill a tub with lukewarm water to the depth of about the animal's chin. I like to use a clear container with a lid so I can still see the animal but they can't escape.

Let them sit for about 15 minutes in a warm area and when you remove them, let them rub against your fingers while applying gentle pressure to help remove those scales.

For toes and tails, it's a little trickier. You have to get in there and manipulate the retained shed a bit more without causing injury to their fragile tips.

Once you've dealt with the immediate treatment, the next step is prevention. You need to modify their environment to promote healthy shedding.

First, add some furniture! By furniture, I mean larger objects in their enclosure that they can climb on or under. Make sure there are several textures available, like a branch, a rock, a fake plant, or a rough sided bowl.

Prepare a moss hut. The next time you see your snake getting ready to shed, you're gonna put the moss hut in their enclosure until they've completed their shed.

A moss hut can be made several different ways. A reusable hut can be made out of plastic like an old Tupperware or yogurt container. If you want to do a one-time use hut, you can use a cardboard box and just toss it when you're done.

Carefully cut a small opening in the side, and then fill your container with sphagnum moss. Make sure the opening is small enough that it keeps the moisture inside all day, and then mist it down once every day to make sure it doesn't dry out.

And there you go! You have your moss hut ready for the next time your snake is shedding.

It should be fairly obvious that your snake is about to shed. This is Carlos the Sinaloan milk snake and he is blue! Blue is just what herpetologists call an animal that's about ready to shed and you can see that he's kinda this foggy color. His colors are muted and if you look closely, his eyes are gonna give you the telltale sign. The fogginess is caused by the outer layer of scales starting to separate from the new layer of scales growing underneath.

So when your snake turns blue, put in that moss hut and don't forget to mist it down every day. When your snake is done shedding, remove the moss hut to prevent over-humidifying and mold growth.

Thanks for watching and I hope that you learned how to prevent retained sheds in your reptile future! If you'd like to go on an adventure with us every week, subscribe to our YouTube channel, Animal Wonders Montana.

If you have any questions for me you can leave them in the comments below or find me on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, or Snapchat, or Instagram, or any of the social medias.

Bye, guys!


And the first question we usually get is "Why is she not in the wild?" Well, there's three reasons. One: She was born in captivity to be used as a falconry bird.

(Back to corn snakes)

What's the temperature of the inside of a tauntaun?