Juvenile Red-bellied Black Snake, Pseudechis porphyriacus at Genoa, Victoria
Image: Peter Robertson
Source: Museum Victoria
Question: I went into the Discovery Centre, and Murray the Python had really cloudy eyes. Does he have cataracts?
Answer: No, Murray does not have cataracts - however, he was about to shed his skin!
Adult snakes shed their skins a couple of times a year. Juvenile snakes will shed more frequently as they grow. Unlike you and me, they don’t continually shed microscopic bits of skin, but do it all at once.
As well as the cloudy eyes, the rest of the snake’s skin will look dull. This cloudiness and dullness is caused by the release of a milky fluid under the outer layer of skin (including the scale that covers the eye). This fluid is reabsorbed before shedding, and acts to release the top layer of skin.
When a snake’s eyes go cloudy, they can’t see very well. A snake which is about to shed will not eat, become reclusive, and feels quite vulnerable. Murray refused his last feed, his eyes clouded, and he spent a lot of time curled up at the bottom of his enclosure. His eyes cleared up again a couple of days ago, so we knew it wouldn’t be far away! When we came into work this morning, he was shiny and beautiful once more, with a papery length of skin wrapped around the lower branches of his enclosure. No doubt he’s looking forward to his next meal!