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Old 08-08-2017, 09:29 PM   #1
Why are snake sheds clear?

This is a companion thread to my "book recommendation" question, because this is the type of information I'm interested in and can't necessarily find through Google. Someone asked me this week why snake skin sheds are clear, and my response was....uhhhhhhh. Which is pretty embarrassing for someone who works in environmental education (in my defense, the fine details of herps are somewhat new to me).

I assumed (?) that the keratin scales of a snakes are embedded with pigment deposits. Is there a clear layer of skin that lies tightly over the scales themselves? I had thought that the scales actually lay over the skin. Could someone explain this to me?
Old 08-08-2017, 09:43 PM   #2
Scales are not over the skin, they are part of the skin. Snake sheds are only clear on lighter colored snakes; dark snakes such as my Argentine boa constrictors have darker sheds. However, the true reason why sheds are so much lighter than the animal, is that they are merely one layer of skin with the tiny amount of pigment found on one layer. All the layers on top of one another create the darker look of the snake. Sheds are also darker on snakes with more heavily keeled or otherwise rough scales.
Old 08-08-2017, 09:49 PM   #3
So hypothetically, if you looked at a shed (say of a classic corn snake) under a high-quality microscope, you would be able to see color / pigment?

Follow up questions:

1) How many layers of skin does a snake have?

2) If scales are individual, why them are they "joined" (so to speak) in a shed?
Old 09-30-2017, 09:25 AM   #4
My Mexican Black King snake's skins are always dark grey / light black in colour ...

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Old 09-30-2017, 05:29 PM   #5
You wouldn't see colors like red and yellow. That is on the tissue below the scales. You would see shades of black and grey.

Scales are not individual, they are all "one big skin" folded into scales.
Old 09-30-2017, 05:29 PM   #6
They placement of the red and yellow colors in the tissue below the scales explains why scaleless snakes still have color.
Old 09-30-2017, 06:11 PM   #7
I have snakes with quite high contrast patterns and they are visible in the sheds, although lighter than on the snake. I'll try to take some pics for you in a while.

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