Heat and dry weather can drive snakes into basements and other cool and moist areas of houses and other manmade structures, where their presence is sometimes detected by skins they shed.
The frequency of shedding ranges from more than once a month to once or twice per year. It varies, depending on the species and age of snakes, as well as access to food because that impacts growth rate.
For many people, the only thing worse than finding a snake skin in their house is finding the snake. It might make some folks rest easier if they could tell if the snake that left the skin was venomous.
I did a little research and learned that you can identify a snake by its skin after finding a “shed” recently.
Identifying snakes by their sheds is a process of elimination based on size, remnants of color patterns and features of scales (similar to fish scales) and other factors.
The first thing most people want to know when they find a shed is if it came from a venomous snake. The only two venomous species native to Wilkes County are copperheads and timber rattlesnakes.
The shed isn’t from a rattlesnake if it obviously has a complete tail because a rattler’s shed ends abruptly near the tail since it doesn’t cover the rattles. If it’s not obvious how much of that end of the shed is missing, it can be hard to use this as an identifier.
The shed I found had a complete tail so it wasn’t from a timber rattler. They tend to stay clear of residential areas, so there wouldn’t likely be one near our house.
We’ve found several copperheads around railroad ties in our yard, which I think is because they wait for mice running along the ties. This is why you should be careful stepping over logs in the woods.
Sheds cover more than just the top of the scales, so a shed’s length can be a good bit longer than the snake it came from, plus scale size in relation to body size varies with species. In addition, snake skins are stretched during ecdysis and a shed could be from a hatchling or juvenile that will grow much larger.
The shed I found was about 2 ½ feet long, just a little more than a copperhead’s average length.
Timber rattlers average about 3 feet long and can grow considerably longer. A recent Wilkes Journal-Patriot issue with news from 1979 said a 4.8-foot-long timber rattler that had just been killed on the Little Brushies was unusually long.
Copperheads and rattlesnakes have wider bodies than non-venomous species found in Wilkes. Our two venomous species also have a single row of scales under their tails while our non-venomous snakes have a double row of scales.
Some snake species have slight keels on their dorsal scales (those on the top and sides of the body) and some are smooth. A keel is a ridge running lengthwise down the center of the scales, like the keel of a boat.
Rattlesnakes, copperheads and water snakes have distinct keels. Rat snakes have slight keels, but racers don’t have them.
Patterns on a snake’s body are often preserved in its shed, but without color. These are most visible in newly-shed skin.
If you find a shed with an intact head and its shape is triangular or you see a small pit between the eye and nostril holes, it came from a copperhead or rattlesnake.