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Snakeskin may either refer to the skin of a live snake, the shed skin of a snake after molting, or to a type of leather that is made from the hide of a dead snake.

Skin of a living snake

Display

The large scutes on the right side cover the ventral, or belly side of the snake. The smaller scales cover the rest of the snake. Note how the scales overlap.

Pattern formation

Snakes can be ornately patterned. They can be striped, banded, solid, green, blue, yellow, red, black, orange, brown, spotted, or have a unique pattern all their own. These color schemes can serve many functions, including camouflage, heat absorption or reflection, or may play other, less understood roles. Melanin cells in the skin often overlap and form complex patterns and sheets that are highly recognizable.[1] Sometimes the soft integument of a snake is colored differently than their hard scales. This is often utilized as a method of predator determent.[2]

Color

Coloration of snakes is largely due to pigment cells and their distribution. Some scales have lightly colored centers, which arise from regions with a reduced cuticle. A thinner cuticle indicates that some sen

Snakes can be ornately patterned. They can be striped, banded, solid, green, blue, yellow, red, black, orange, brown, spotted, or have a unique pattern all their own. These color schemes can serve many functions, including camouflage, heat absorption or reflection, or may play other, less understood roles. Melanin cells in the skin often overlap and form complex patterns and sheets that are highly recognizable.[1] Sometimes the soft integument of a snake is colored differently than their hard scales. This is often utilized as a method of predator determent.[2]

Color

Coloration of snakes is largely due to pigment cells and their distribution. Some scales have lightly colored centers, which arise from regions with a reduced cuticle. A thinner cuticle indicates that some sensory organ is present.[3] Scales in general are numerous and coat the epidermis, and they come in all shapes and colors. They are helpful in identification of snake species. Chromatophores in the dermis yield coloration when light shines through the corneal layer of the epidermis.[3] There are many kinds of chromatophores. Melanophores yield brown pigmentation, and when paired with guanophores, yield grey. When paired with guanophores and lipophores, yellow results, and when guanophores and allophores are added to melanophores, red pigment results.[3] Carotenoids also help produce orange and red colors.[1] Dark snakes (dark brown or black in color) appear as such due to melanocytes that are active in the epidermis. When melanin is absent, albino individuals result. Snakes do not possess blue or green pigments. These arise from guanophores, which are also called iridocytes. These reside in the dermis.[3]

Iridescence

Iridocytes are also responsible for the iridescent appearance of many dark-colored snakes. Males and females may show varied coloration, as might hatchlings and adults of the same species.[3]

Structures and function

Exposed integument of the garter snake after the overlying scales have been removed.

Snakeskin, or integument, is more than just patterns and scales. Scales and patterning are features of snakeskin, and they are derived from a soft and complex integument. These scale patterns are unique to species, and the scales themselves help in locomoting by providing a friction buffer between the snake and the ground[2]

Organization

Reptiles, including snakes, possess extensive keratini

Coloration of snakes is largely due to pigment cells and their distribution. Some scales have lightly colored centers, which arise from regions with a reduced cuticle. A thinner cuticle indicates that some sensory organ is present.[3] Scales in general are numerous and coat the epidermis, and they come in all shapes and colors. They are helpful in identification of snake species. Chromatophores in the dermis yield coloration when light shines through the corneal layer of the epidermis.[3] There are many kinds of chromatophores. Melanophores yield brown pigmentation, and when paired with guanophores, yield grey. When paired with guanophores and lipophores, yellow results, and when guanophores and allophores are added to melanophores, red pigment results.[3] Carotenoids also help produce orange and red colors.[1] Dark snakes (dark brown or black in color) appear as such due to melanocytes that are active in the epidermis. When melanin is absent, albino individuals result. Snakes do not possess blue or green pigments. These arise from guanophores, which are also called iridocytes. These reside in the dermis.[3]

Iridescence

Reptiles, including snakes, possess extensive keratinization of the epidermis in the form of epidermal scales.[4] A snake's epidermis is composed of four layers. The outer layer of a snake's skin is shed periodically, and is therefore a temporary layer, and is highly keratinized. Beneath the outer layer is the corneal layer (stratum corneum), which is thickened and flexible. Under the corneal layer is intermediary zone (stratum granulosum) and the basal layer (stratum basale), respectively. The dermis of a snake resides beneath the epidermis.[3]

Reptiles, including snakes, possess extensive keratinization of the epidermis in the form of epidermal scales.[4] A snake's epidermis is composed of four layers. The outer layer of a snake's skin is shed periodically, and is therefore a temporary layer, and is highly keratinized. Beneath the outer layer is the corneal layer (stratum corneum), which is thickened and flexible. Under the corneal layer is intermediary zone (stratum granulosum) and the basal layer (stratum basale), respectively. The dermis of a snake resides beneath the epidermis.[3] The dermis of snakes is generally fibrous in nature, and not very prominent.[4]The dermis houses pigment cells, nerves, and collagen fibers. Nerve fibers extend into the snake epidermis and anchor near scales, generally at the rostral, or head, end of the snake. Specifically, nerves anchor to sensory spines and pits, which are touch and thermal detection organs, respectively. The hypodermis is below the dermis. This layer mainly stores fat.[3]

Molting

Molting is common, and results in the entire outer layer of epidermis being lost.[4] For more about molting, see the Snake page. For more about the epidermal scales of the snake, see the Snake scale page.

Protection and friction reduction

Not many glands are present in snake skin. Most snake glands are holocrine glands, meaning that the gland's cells are secreted along with the substance the gland makes. These holocrine glands in snakes do not have their own blood supply, and thus lie closely with vascularized connective tissue. Snakes also possess glands that aid in attracting mates, and some marine snake species possess a salt gland that helps remove excess salt that they have consumed.[3] Most glands in reptiles are poorly understood due to their scarcity.[4]

Movement and flexibility

Snakes belong to a group of reptiles calle

Snakes belong to a group of reptiles called the Lepidosauria, which are reptiles with overlapping scales. They further are grouped down into the Squamata, which includes all snakes and lizards, and all but two species of Lepidosauria that belong to the Rynchocephalia (the tuatara). The species belonging to both of these subgroups likewise share similar skin features with snakes, with unique adaptations and features, respectively.[4]

Shed skin

The molting of the skin occurs regularly in snakes. This is when old skin is outgrown. In the case of snakes, it is called shedding or ecdysis. Snakes will rub against rough surfaces to shed their skin. A shed skin is much longer than the snake that shed it, as the skin covers the top and bottom of each scale. If the skin is shed intact, each scale is unwrapped on the top and bottom side of the scale which almost doubles the length of the shed skin. While a snake is in the process of shedding the skin over its eye, the eye may become milky. This impairs the vision of the snake and may result in aggressive behavior.[2]

Leather

Close-up of a patterned beige and brown snake skin used to make a cigarette case

Snakeskin is used to make cl

Snakeskin is used to make clothing such as vests, belts, boots or shoes or fashion accessories such as handbags and wallets, and is used to cover the sound board of some string musical instruments, such as the banhu, sanxian or the sanshin.

Snake leather is regarded as an exotic product alongside alligator, crocodile, lizard, ostrich, emu, camel, among others. With crocodile and lizard leathers, it belongs to the category of reptile leathers, with a scaly appearance.

  • Art Deco snakeskin cigarette case, ca 1925

  • A Texas straw hat with the ornament made of a rattlesnake's skin

    A Texas straw hat with the ornament made of a rattlesnake's skin

  • Chinese sanxian with snakeskin-covered sound board

  • Chinese sanxian with snakeskin-covered sound board

    Gallery

    References

    1. ^ a b