Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Shedding Not Just For Dogs

OK, people…get a grip. Yes, it’s a snake skin. Gives us cause for pause…right?

As wildlife biologist John S. Powers, of Alabama put it, “ Few creatures inspire a thrill or, for many, a chill more readily than snakes. The snake's public relations woes are well documented in the writings of many early civilizations, most prominently in the Christian Bible.

He continues:  "Though more common worldwide than most people realize, snakes tend to be secretive by nature and are relatively rarely seen. This "out of sight, out of mind" arrangement works out well for the majority of people (and the snakes) the majority of the time. However, it can intensify the shock when "out of sight" is brought sharply to mind by indisputable evidence that snakes are among us and are often closer than we think.”

Right on, Mr. Powers!

Now, I am not a “snake person." Thankfully I have a husband who does not suffer from herpetophobia and who doesn’t berate me for mine, and who, with the sound of my screaming “ssssnnnnnaaaake!!!” will come to my rescue and cart the critter off.  My point, here is that despite my dread, I still can appreciate the elegant design of the snake’s exterior. Sans snake, it’s safe to hold the shed skin in your hand and marvel at its beauty.

Living out here JOTOLR, we have a good partnership with Black snakes.   Some say Black snakes and Copperheads won't occupy the same territory.  I've not found any evidence to support that claim other than the fact that we've never had a copperhead on our farm here, after 35 years of living a mostly outdoor life on it.

I found this medium-sized snake skin on one of our oak lumber piles day before yesterday. It was obviously a Black Snake—non-poisonous, and consumer of vast quantities of mice and other pesky rodents that annoy and anger a farmer. Shorthand for the fact that a Black snake is one of the "good guys.” The flipside is that it is also a consumer of chicken eggs and baby chicks if one isn’t watchful, and a heart stopper if one isn't particularly fond of snakes. In fact, MM had just removed one from the chicken coop which I discovered about a week prior to my finding this skin.  Back to skin-shedding:

Animals all “shed” their skins. Just differently. In snakes, it’s called ecdysis. It's shed all at one time.   Humans, on the other hand, shed approximately 1.5 MILLION dead skin cells every HOUR, and at the end of 28 days, we’ve shed our entire skin! Snakes shed their skin four to eight times during each year in response to their need to grow.

Back to John Powers: “Shed snake skins turn up in the darnedest places. Often, people are unsettled by finding an abandoned snake skin in the woods, field, garden or yard. Though unnerved, most are simply being reminded of an unpleasant fact. They know snakes are around, whether they like it or not, but they are comforted to know that the one that shed the skin in question is probably where it belongs--outside. Unnerved does not begin to describe the effect the discovery of that same dry, empty skin can have when it is found in the basement, in the attic, or, Heaven help us, in the closet, under the bed, or in the back of the sock drawer.”

Back to Elora: I had a friend whose husband when getting into bed one night in their old farmhouse, thought her feet were especially cold at the foot of the bed, under the covers. You guessed it, and I won’t go any further! Gives me the shudders every time I think about it.

But take a moment to observe the elegant design of the papery covering. It’s quite beautiful if you can free yourself from the shivers racing up and down your spine. I also was drawn to the fact that even the eyes shed! And the teeth!  What an amazing feat! Several days prior the snake isn’t able to see clearly and can become, understandably more aggressive (dangerously so in the case of poisonous snakes).

The snake will do a head-shed first, freeing its nostrils so it can breathe and then the eyes come next. Once the head is basically free, the snake finds some rough object against which to rub “out of” the rest of its soon-to-be-discarded exterior. When done, it leaves behind the odd calling card, letting us know, its been here.


  1. Elora -- what a fascinating post! The skin photo at the top is absolutely beautiful. Snakes don't bother me all that much. However, I do worry about my dogs curiosity about all critters when out in the yard. Why I worry is last week I ran into a five foot copperhead close to my house. I do respect snakes and give them room but they certainly are beneficial and beautiful. -- barbara P. S. can you send me some of those black snakes to chase out my copperheads?

  2. That last photo is amazing. I've never seen a snakeskin with the head intact.

    Further evidence of the idea that black snakes and copperheads do not co-exist in the same area: My Grandpa was a farmer with lots of black snakes on his farm, including one in the barn to eat rodents. I don't recall ever seeing a copperhead there in all my years of wandering through the woods behind the farm. Also, the area we live in is a long-time farming community where people know the value of black snakes. So they thrive here (for the most part) and the copperhead population is low to non-existent. We've never seen a copperhead here on our three and a half acres, though we do have some huge black snakes.

    Another wonderful post, Elora!

  3. Barbara! Think of the poor postal clerk handling the package were I to ship you a "heavy duty" black snake! Reminds me of the time we ordered a package of honeybees from North Carolina. For whatever reason, they managed to get loose in the P. O. We emptied the entire post office of personnel! Be careful of those copperheads!! Five feet long??? No thank you!! Thanks so much for your comments! I do love them!

    Beth, thank you for ratifying my observations on lack of copperheads in black snake proximity. We haven't had as many BIG ones lately, but several medium-sized ones (black snakes) and no copperheads. I remember a telephone repairman who came to check on an extension phone we'd installed in the grainery. Walking up to the doorway, he said he saw the biggest blankety-blank snake he'd ever seen, describing it as draping across one window, winding into the grainery and back out across the sill of another window! He estimated it to be about 9 feet long...but I'd take off at least two feet for the repairman's big eyes! Thank you so much for your heartwarming comments!