Friday 4 August 2017

Found Art: Framing Shed Snake Skins

In June 2017 I found a complete snake shedding in the garden of my parents' summer home. 

If you don't know what a snake shedding is; snakes regularly discard their skins to accommodate their growing bodies. This process, known as ecdysis in biology, has been fascinating people since ancient times, and is responsible for legends associating snakes with immortality.

I'd encountered shed snake skins before, but always in bits and pieces. Finding a complete skin prompted me to mount and preserve it. But how? I took a piece of heavy-grain paper and affixed the skin on it with little loops of masking tape.

I then took the it to the local framers', who, after an initial reaction of shock and extreme interest, did a great work at preparing it for display. The mounted skin looked like a vintage herpetological engraving.

Here is a close-up of the skin in its mounted glory. 

A close-up study of its head scales and consulting the extremely helpful website revealed the owner of the skin to be something of the Dolichophis genus; either the Caspian whipsnake, Dolichophis caspius; or the black whipsnake, D. jugularis. Both were harmless "garden snakes" that regularly occurred in our neighbourhood.

The elegant snake shedding now stands in my parents' summer home as a nice memento, a true work of "found art", and ecologically friendly to boot.

A few months later, this viper (possibly Montivipera xanthina) skin, which I'd collected while trekking in Bodrum and completely forgotten about, fell out of a sketchbook I'd used in the early 2000s.

I had it framed too.

Here is the framed viper skin. While clearing my archive I also found this long, one-piece skin of an amphisbaenian, Blanus strauchi: a strange, burrowing reptile that looks like a blind snake, but actually belongs to a distinct group of lizards. I'd collected it way back, in 1998. It's amazing and a little depressing to think that that was over 20 years ago.

The viper and the amphisbaenian have now joined the whipsnake on the walls of our summer home as eye-catching decorations. I'm always on the lookout out for more serpentine sheddings.