The skin of a snake
Snake skin has three layers. Only the outer, thinner layer is peeled away when the snake sheds. The middle layer grows a new outer layer to take the place of the peeled-off layer. The scales are thickened parts of the middle and lower layers, and they are never shed. The bottom layer contains the colour of the skin, which shows through the upper two layers
The skin-shedding process is called molting. For a short time before molting, a snake is less active than usual. The animal's eyes become clouded and then clear again just before it molts. The snake loosens the skin around the mouth and head by rubbing its nose on a rough surface. The snake then crawls out of the skin, turning it inside out in the process.
Why do snakes shed their skin?
While other creatures may simply shed skin cells or hair, a snake actually rids itself of its skin in one continuous piece, like removing a sock. The purpose is to allow for growth. The frequency of shedding depends upon many factors, including environmental temperatures, frequency of feeding, amount fed at each feeding, and activity level. Older snakes will shed 4-8 times a year where babies will shed on a monthly basis for the first year and then less frequently as they mature.
The shedding process usually last 1-3 weeks depending on the species. Signs and behaviour indicating a shed are about to take place:
The animal will be relatively inactive
skin becomes dull
Eyes will exhibit a dull, cloudy or bluish-white appearance
Increase in nervous behavious because they cannot see well at this stage
Could be unpredictable or aggressive because they cannot see
Underlying new skin is soft and vulnerable to damage while the outer layer prepare to slough away
The eyes will become transparent again and then shedding will commence.
The shedding is not without purpose. Snakes shed their skin to allow for growth, as well as to remove parasites along with their old skin. Snakeskin shedding is not always without incident. It is possible for things to go wrong for the snake. For example, if snakes shed when the humidity in the air is too low, the skin can be too dry to shed. Portions of the old skin that remain attached can harbor parasites or provide a breeding ground for diseases. Furthermore, if the tip of the tail fails to shed correctly, it can cut of the snake's blood flow over time and actually cause the end portion of the tail to come off.
Problems with shedding
There are many reasons why a snake may have difficulty shedding. In captivity it could mean that the animals living environment is not suitable and needs to be adjusted. Shedding issues can cause stress in a snake, and stressing can lead to health issues. Shedding problems would be when the shed skin is too dry preventing the snake to shed it in one piece, ending up shedding skin in many pieces, with some or most remaining stuck to the new skin. Sometimes pieces remain on the eye cap, which can led to aggressive behavior due to being visually impaired by the retained eye cap. If a pet snake has such issues, the skin pieces need to be removed with assistance. If you are not familiar with the process lets break it down and you will see it is fairly easy and nothing to fear if you know your pet well.
When you notice a snake looking completely dry and shriveled, it might be dehydrated as well and need a longer soak as explained above.
The snake will have to soak for a few hours or even over night and you need to maintain the water temperature to ensure that the animal are comfortable and can get out of the water onto some sort of perch if it wants to. We have a simple yet effective method. Same as above we only fill a third of the tub with luke warm water and place it on top of a heat source that will maintain the current warmth of the water and not increase it. this must be tested long before you ever think of using it. There are several air vents all around the tub and the lid should of course be secure to prevent the animal from opening it. This will also help the animal to re-hydrate and will look moisturised the next time you see it as the shed always comes off for us using this method. The Green Tree Python's seem to enjoy the sona treatment very much.
When you notice that a snake has shed in pieces, merely place it in a tub filled 1/3 with luke warm water for about 30 minutes and let the snake slide through your fingers and gently help it remove any retained skin. It should come off very easy. If it doesn't repeat the process...sometimes it just needs that few more minutes of soaking to re-hydrate the skin for shedding. Don't stress if it looks like they don't want to go into the tub. Just be gentle but persistent. You are actually being kind by helping and the animal will settle down fast enough if it doesn't place a small towel in the water to give it something to hold on to and it would settle down. If you are not sure about anything rather call someone with experience to show you the first time.
Don't panic when you see your pet submurged under water. They know what they are doing and yes they can all swim. Just leave them alone and let them do some soaking.
A snake will soak in water for a number of reasons and therefore it is important to know your pet and monitor it's behavior in order to understand when they have a problem or when they are attending to nature. Something you definitely need to monitor is cage temperature.
If a snake is not in its blue or near shedding, and clear of any parasites they will mostly swim to cool down. So keep and eye on them as they might be telling you they are overheating. If you are unsure about anything contact someone with experience to show you.
Soaking can be done in any bowl that has a broad base and will heavy enough to prevent the snake from tipping it over and soaking the enclosure in stead.
Milky eyes and dull skin indicates that the snake is in the process of shedding aka "in the blue" and by now you should know some swimming will be done to aid in shedding.