What is Molting and Why is it Done?

A goose molting on its face.

A goose molting on its face.

You may have never heard the term “molting” before, but chances are very good that you have encountered it before and are familiar with a few examples, whether you know it or not. In fact, whether you were even aware that it was happening, you yourself take part in various forms of molting periodically throughout each year, and have your entire life. Any time that you shed skin or hair in order to make way for fresh, new growth, you are taking part in the act of molting, an event that is quite common within the entire animal kingdom.

While you may not be able to recognize the molting on yourself, if you’ve ever had pets, then you are certainly familiar with the concept. Depending on the breed of dog or cat, some pets will go through heavy periods of molting once or twice a year, while others will seemingly be in a constant state of shedding. While, as a homeowner, the process may seem like a giant nuisance that you are constantly cleaning up after, it is an important natural process that your pet, just like you, must go through to stay healthy.

Molting, however, isn’t limited to the elimination of dead skin and hair, but refers to any act in which an animal casts off a part of its body periodically throughout its life. For insects, this can mean the shedding of and replacement of their wings, while for birds, it means the shedding of old feathers so that they can be replaced with vibrant, new ones. Probably the most well known example of molting is that of snakes shedding their skin, because unlike many other species that cast off skin when molting, snakes generally shed their skin in a single piece, leaving behind an eerie reminder of their presence.

Other species that shed their skin, such as amphibians, have been known to shed in multiple pieces, and oftentimes will consume the parts of their body that they have cast. In perhaps what are the most extreme cases of molting in the animal kingdom, some specials will go through what is considered a complete metamorphisis. In these instances, the end result of the molting process is almost completely unrecognizable from the creature that existed before it started. One such prominent example is that of the butterfly – it enters the molting process as a catepillar, and emerges from its cocoon sometime later as something much different, so different in fact that one might assume it was a completely different insect.

Without molting, animals would not be able to grow or change as they get older and it would result in some serious complications – many would not be able to survive at all. So while it may annoy you the next time you are picking up your dog’s hair around the house after their most recent molt, remember that without this important process, your dog would be unclean, unhealthy, and uncomfortable, and, because human beings molt too, so would you!

While you are unlikely to catch an animal or insect in the act of molting itself, you can observe many of the beautiful results of a successful molt while taking an airboat tour through the Everglades. On an Everglades swamp tour, you’ll see lizards, snakes, ambiphians, and birds, and plenty of other fun creatures that molt too!