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Aussie scrub python Big Ronny starts to shed skin this World Snake Day

Diana Jenkins, July 15, 2021 6:30PM News Corp Australia Network

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Big Ronny being measured by zoo keepers at Wild Life Sydney Zoo. The zoo’s largest snake, he measures 5m and weighs 20kg. Picture: Wild Life Sydney Zoo media_cameraBig Ronny being measured by zoo keepers at Wild Life Sydney Zoo. The zoo’s largest snake, he measures 5m and weighs 20kg. Picture: Wild Life Sydney Zoo

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This Friday is World Snake Day, the annual global celebration of slithering snakes and their remarkable diversity* – and one Australian snake is celebrating by shedding his skin.

Memorably named Big Ronny, the celebrity reptile at Wild Life Sydney Zoo is currently in lockdown with the rest of the city – but that isn’t stopping this 5m long, 20kg scrub python from delighting his fans.

The largest resident snake at the zoo, Big Ronny is preparing for his shed with the fascinating natural phenomenon* known as “turning blue”.

“The natural process of turning blue is truly impressive to witness in a snake of Ronny’s size,” said Wild Life Sydney Zoo keeper, Lauren Hughes.

“The reptile’s eyes foreshadow* the change of skin that’s about to occur. When a snake’s eyes turn a milky blue colour, it signifies their spectacles* are about to shed, which starts the process of their entire body shedding.”

Snake skin doesn’t grow, which is why the shedding process is such an important part of a snake’s development: they literally outgrow their skin.

“A snake who is growing – a young snake – will shed more,” Ms Hughes said. “As they age, they will shed fewer times. Big Ronny is an old snake, so he won’t shed as often as he has in the past.”

media_cameraBig Ronny is preparing to shed his skin right in time for World Snake Day on July 16. Picture: Wild Life Sydney Zoo

Keepers also use the shed skin as part of Big Ronny’s health checks, as it provides valuable information such as signs of dehydration*.

“It’s amazing to see Ronny’s skin shed in one entire piece, so we often keep it as a way to help educate guests, who can touch and hold the five metre long shed skin when they visit,” Ms Hughes said.

It is not clear exactly how many times Big Ronny has shed his skin, because sheds rely on a few external factors. ​

“Big Ronny sheds on average once every eight to 12 weeks. Every 12 weeks is around four times a year. He is 24, so he may have shed up to 100 times in his lifetime,” she said.

Snakes begin shedding their head first, all the way down to their tail. From turning blue to completing his shed, the process takes Big Ronny between one to two weeks and typically two to four hours to physically remove the skin. It is a longer process for him because he is so big and old.

“Younger or smaller snakes may only take 10 to 30 minutes,” Ms Hughes said. “Ronny is slow and a very large python, so it takes him a bit longer to physically shed his skin.”

Finding a rough surface nearby also helps his shedding process – but finding a place to retreat* comes first.

“He will find something abrasive* in his enclosure: a log or a rock, and rub his face and body up against it to assist it to peel off,” Ms Hughes said.

“Prior to this, when he is ‘blue’, it is a vulnerable* state for a snake as they cannot see. In this stage, they will try to find a safe place or refuge to stay until they are ready to shed.”

Along with cloudy eyes, there are other physical indications that a snake is shedding.

“They may lose their appetite,” she said. “They also develop a pinkish hue* on their underbelly, and their entire body goes quite dull, with some flaky scales loosening from the body.”

media_cameraZoo keeper and snake handler Lauren Hughes at Wild Life Sydney Zoo prior to the city’s winter lockdown. Picture: Wild Life Sydney Zoo

Different snake species can also have different shedding patterns.

“It depends on how often (and) how much they eat, their geographic location, the temperature and humidity,” Ms Hughes said. “Scrub pythons are native to coastal North QLD, which for most of the year, has climates ideal for a shedding snake.”

Food also plays a part. The more frequently a snake eats, the larger they will grow and the more often they will shed.

Then there is their immediate environment. According to Ms Hughes, snakes don’t typically shed in colder climates, because they don’t eat while their metabolic* rate is very slow. Instead, snakes spend most of the winter months hidden, so the current Sydney lockdown likely suits Big Ronny just fine.

“They may only shed once or twice during winter,” Ms Hughes said. “Humidity also assists with a snake’s shed, as it helps to moisturise the skin and makes it easier to peel off.”

While Big Ronny enjoys the VIP treatment at Wild Life Sydney Zoo, snakes in the wild shed almost as an in-built parasite* control.

“When snakes shed their scales, they are also shedding any nasty bacteria or parasites,” Ms Hughes said. “Snakes may also shed prior to mating, and most females will shed once they’ve laid eggs.”

While it is not possible to visit Big Ronny this World Snake Day, kids can always stop by the Wild Life Sydney Zoo online activity hub for super snake and other animal fun.

GLOSSARY

  • diversity: a full range, variety
  • phenomenon: a remarkable thing, person or event
  • foreshadow: a sign or warning of a future event
  • spectacles: eyecaps, the scales that covers a snake’s eyes
  • dehydration: harmful loss of water in someone or something
  • retreat: hide, withdraw
  • abrasive: coarse, rough
  • vulnerable: exposed, at risk, defenceless
  • hue: a colour or shade
  • metabolic: chemical processes that provide energy in living creatures
  • parasite: sometimes harmful, an organism that lives in or on a host

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. What kind of snake is Big Ronny and how much does he weigh?
  2. How old is he?
  3. On average, how often does Big Ronny shed his skin?
  4. What does “turning blue” signify in a snake?
  5. What kind of surface will Big Ronny look for to assist the shedding process?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Design a Card
Design and perhaps make a special greeting card to give a snake when they shed their skin. Your card should have a picture on the outside and words – a special message or a poem on the inside. The purpose of your card is to celebrate this special event and say why it is so important.

Time: allow 25 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science

2. Extension
Plan a special celebration party for World Snake Day. Write a menu of snake snacks and a plan for activities and games that celebrate and help other kids to learn more about snakes.

Design an invitation and a poster welcoming everyone to your special snake celebration.

Time: allow 45 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Design and Technologies, Visual Communication Design

VCOP ACTIVITY
Adjectives
An adjective is a describing word. They are often found describing a noun. To start with look at the words before the nouns.

Search for all the adjectives you can find in the article. Did you find any repeat adjectives or are they all different?

Extension:
Pick three of your favourite adjectives from the text and put them in your own sentences to show other ways to use them.

Have you used any in your writing?

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