What is Moulting?

When an animal sheds its skin or feathers and replaces it, we call that “moulting”. Amphibians, reptiles, birds, and even insects moult. Birds grow a whole series of feathers during their lifetime. When they reach the adult stage, they have the plumage that is typical of their kind of bird.

Then adult birds change this plumage from time to time as old worn feathers moult (drop out) and new ones grow in their place. If a feather is pulled out, it begins to replace it self at once.

In addition, some birds grow bright, new feathers for the breeding season by moulting. So most birds moult twice a year, once before and once after the breeding season.


Since most birds do not shed many of their flight feathers at the same time, the are able to fly all through the moulting period. Also, flight feathers are often shed in pairs, one from the right and one from the left wing, so the flying balance is not upset.

Ducks, swans, and geese are exceptions to this. They lose all their flight feathers when they moult, so they cannot fly. But since they are water birds they do not have to fly to escape from danger. They just take to the water.

During the moulting season the brightly coloured males often take on a drab-coloured set of feathers. This gives them added protection of camouflage and makes it easier for them to hide.

Snakes have an interesting way of shedding their skin. A snake does not shed its entire skin, just the thin outermost part. The snakes rubs its snout against something rough to loosen the old skin around the lips.

Next it manages to get the loose parts caught on a rock or twig. Then the snake crawls out through the mouth opening of the old skin. It leaves the old skin in a single piece and wrong side out. 

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