Why Do Snakes Shed Their Skin?
Snakes are one of the oldest and most widely known animal species on Earth. They turn up in myths, stories, and even scientific studies, and they are capable of fascinating and sometimes disturbing behaviors, including shedding their skin. But why do they do this?
A Protective Mechanism
At its simplest, skin shedding is a protective mechanism. Snakes have a sequence of skin layers, with the innermost layer forming a semiflexible, protective barrier between the snake’s organs and the elements, which are constantly threatening to harm or dry the vulnerable creature. In order for the snake to stay healthy it must periodically shed this protective barrier, and the result is the shedding of the skin itself.
Growth and Regeneration
In addition to the protective quality, skin shedding is a means by which snakes can grow. As the snake grows, the old skin, having reached its full capacity, must be shed to allow room for the new layer to form.
Skin shedding also serves a regenerative purpose. Aside from providing a protective barrier, the layer of skin is the one that receives the majority of the wear and tear of a snake’s life. The process of shedding allows the snake to shed the entire layer of skin, and thus regenerate and restore it to its original state.
Adaptations and Specialized Behavior
Some snake species have further adapted to better shed their old skin. Some species, such as the king cobra, will actually rub their entire bodies against rough objects such as tree bark, to help peel off the old skin. Others have specialized behaviors, such as the Tokay Gecko, which will curl up in a ball in order to shed the skin from its entire body.
List of Benefits
To summarize, there are a number of reasons why snakes shed their skin:
- Protection: to form a protective layer to defend against the elements and other harmful agents.
- Growth: to grow and accommodate the new layer of skin forming.
- Regeneration: to discard the worn-out layer and restore the snake to its original state.
- Adaptations: to better shed the old skin, with some species having specialized behaviors like rubbing or curling up into a ball.
Skin shedding is an essential behavior for all snake species, and it is crucial for the health of the animal and its long-term survival.