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Scratch that Itch-The Gray Rat Snake

November 8, 2010

Helping a turtle cross a road is easy. Placing a starfish stranded at low tide back in the ocean is simple. Removing a fishing line from the beak of a pelican is somewhat problematic. Helping a wild snake shed its skin? Sometimes it’s better to let them take care of their wardrobe changes.

I nearly stumbled upon a Gray Rat Snake (Elaphe obsoleta spiloides) at the lighthouse in the St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge in Florida’s panhandle. Seemingly unaware of my presence, the six-foot long, foggy-eyed snake was busy scraping its head and neck along the freshly painted foundation of the early 19th century structure.

Snakes shed several times per year depending on frequency of feedings, environmental conditions and age. This was a relatively large snake, although they can grow to seven feet in length.

During shed, the skin cell that covers the eye pops up from the lower layer of skin giving it the foggy appearance and preventing the snake from seeing very well. Snakes tend to be more defensive during this period. Pick a snake up during shed and you very well could get bitten. Over the course of the next week or two, a milky fluid loosens the two layers of skin. Typically the outer skin peels off like a sock, starting from the head and ending with the tail.

The weather in the panhandle of Florida had been very dry over the last few weeks which may have led to this snake’s difficulty freeing itself from a dry and itchy situation.

Gaining little progress from scraping the wall, the snake slid across the grass, turned its head over and rubbed it on the sandy ground, eventually making its way to a rough, pebbly sidewalk that helped relieve the hang up.

As the snake slithered along the ground, the skin slowly rolled itself off, revealing a vibrant, colorful skin. No thanks to me.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Amanda permalink
    November 9, 2010 9:33 pm

    Great post, Pete. The description made my skin crawl. I’ll be sure to stay away from these slithering guys!

  2. November 10, 2010 3:25 pm

    That would have made a great video! Though I’ve helped a few (captive) snakes shed, having been bitten by the Gray’s testy Texas cousin (E. o. lindheimeri) I’d also just watch from a respectful distance.

    • December 15, 2010 8:16 pm

      I do have video of it – I need to upgrade to a better video camera though – it didn’t do the shed process justice.

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