All Reptiles Shed Their Skin – But Why Do They Do It?

reptiles shed skin

A snake skin that has been shed. Photo via Flickr.

It is true that all reptiles shed their skin, but do you know why?  Interestingly, the different kinds of reptiles in the Rocky Mountains do this in their own way.

Have you ever been out on a hike or walk in the mountains and come across an old snake skin lying on the ground?  That is always super neat to find, especially if the skin is intact and fresh.  Snakes and all reptiles shed their skin as they grow.  It is one of the characteristics that all reptiles share.  Here is an explanation of why and how the different Rocky Mountain reptiles shed their skin.

What Is Molting?

For all animals, molting is the process by which they get rid of or shed old feathers, hair, or skin to make way for new growth.  Birds molt on a regular basis to keep feathers fresh and change their coloring.  Mammals routinely shed their winter coats to grow their lighter weight summer fur that is not as heavy.

reptiles shed skin

Photo via Flickr.

Why Do Reptiles Shed Their Skin?

Reptiles shed their skin because their skin does not grow larger. This means that as the snake, lizard, or turtle grows larger the skin simply gets tighter. At some point the reptile needs to molt or shed its old skin in order to grow new skin that is bigger.

How Do The Different Rocky Mountain Reptiles Shed Their Skin?

reptiles shed skin

Wow! Look at this snake crawling out of its skin. Photo via Flickr.


  • They shed their skin all at one time.  They simply crawl out of their skin, leaving their old skin where it was.
  • On average snakes shed their skin two to four times year.  Younger ones are growing faster and will shed more frequently, as often as every few weeks.
reptiles shed skin

A turtle preparing to shed scutes (parts of its shell). Photo via Flickr.


  • Turtles are a bit different because most of their outer body is their shell.  They shed both their skin like other reptiles and their shell.  Turtles shed their skin in patches throughout the year.
  • Their shell is made up of about 60 individual bones that comprise the entire shell.  Those pieces of the shell do not grow with the turtle.  So, the turtle will sometimes shed the outer layer of those shells in patches, losing pieces at a time as opposed to the entire shell all at once.
reptiles shed skin

A lizard shedding its skin. Photo via Flickr.


  • Lizards actually shed their skin in a couple of different ways.  Most of them simply shed patches of skin at different times.  But, there are some (alligator lizard) that shed their entire skin at once just like snakes.
  • Lizards shed their skin multiple times every year.  Younger ones are growing faster and shed their skin more frequently than older ones.