Cicada molting

In biology, moulting or molting[1] (both pronounced /ˈmoʊltɪŋ/), also known as sloughing, shedding, or for some species, ecdysis, is the manner in which an animal routinely casts off a part of its body (often but not always an outer layer or covering), either at specific times of year, or at specific points in its life cycle.

Moulting can involve the epidermis (skin), pelage (hair, fur, wool), or other external layer. In some species, other body parts may be shed, for example, wings in some insects. Examples include old feathers in birds, old hairs in mammals (especially dogs and other canidae), old skin in reptiles, and the entire exoskeleton in arthropods.



Species Item shed Timing Known as Notes
Chickens Feathers Usually autumn Moulting Chickens generally stop laying eggs before their moulting begins until their new set of feathers has grown back.[2][3]
Dogs and other canids Hair (Fur) Semi-annually, spring and fall (autumn) Shedding
Moulting in canids, as in all mammals,[4] is thought to be due to fluctuations in the amount of melatonin secreted by their pineal gland in response to seasonal sunlight variations. It has nothing to do with seasonal temperature variations. This seasonality in shed pattern is most preserved in Arctic breeds of dogs that shed twice a year,[5] other breeds now shed year round.
Snakes Skin Regularly, when old skin is outgrown Moulting Snakes will rub against rough surfaces to shed their skin.
Lizards Skin Regularly, when old skin is outgrown Moulting Lizards consume their shed skin for calcium, grooming, and other nutrients
Hermit crabs Exoskeleton Regularly, when the carapace is outgrown Moulting Land hermit crabs bury themselves for many weeks while they moult and consume their exoskeleton.
Amphibians Skin Regularly Moulting Salamanders and frogs shed their skins regularly, and often eat it.

Specific order notes


Loggerhead Shrike moulting Loggerhead Shrike with normal plumage
A Loggerhead Shrike in mid-moult (left) compared to one with regular plumage (right).
A moulting yellow-eyed penguin.

In birds, moulting is the periodic replacement of feathers by shedding old feathers while producing new ones. Feathers are dead structures at maturity, and they become gradually worn down and need to be replaced. Adult birds moult at least once a year, though many moult twice, and a few three times.[6] It is a comparatively slow process, as a bird never sheds all its feathers at once; it must keep enough of its feathers to regulate its body temperature and repel moisture. The amount of shed feathers varies. In some moulting periods, a bird may renew only the feathers on the head and body, shedding the wing and tail feathers during a later moulting period.[6] Some species of wild bird become flightless during an annual "wing moult" and must seek protected habitat with a reliable food supply during that time. While plumage may look thin or uneven during moult, the general shape is maintained despite the loss of apparently many feathers; genuine bald spots are typically signs of unrelated illnesses, such as gross injuries, parasites, feather pecking (in commercial poultry), or (in pet birds) feather plucking.

The process of moulting in birds is as follows: First, the bird begins to shed some old feathers, then pin feathers grow in to replace the old feathers. As the pin feathers become full feathers, other feathers are shed. This is a cyclical process that occurs in many phases. It is usually symmetrical, with feather loss equal on each side of the body.[6] Because feathers make up 4-12 percent of a bird's body weight, it takes a large amount of energy to replace them. For this reason, moults are frequently timed to occur right after the breeding season, but while food is still abundant. The plumage produced during this time is called postnuptial plumage.[6]

Forced moulting

In some countries, flocks of layer hens are force moulted to reinvigorate egg-laying. This usually involves complete withdrawal of their food (and sometimes water) for 7-14 days or up to 28 days under experimental conditions[7] which presumably reflect standard farming practice in some countries. This causes a body weight loss of 25 to 35%,[8] which stimulates the hen to lose her feathers, but also reinvigorates egg-production. Some flocks may be force moulted several times. In 2003, more than 75% of all flocks were moulted in the US.[9] Other methods of inducing a moult include low-density diets (e.g. grape pomace, cotton seed meal, alfalfa meal)[10] or dietary manipulation to create an imbalance of a particular nutrient(s). The most important among these include manipulation of minerals including sodium (Na), calcium (Ca), iodine (I) and zinc (Zn), with full or partially reduced dietary intakes.[11]


Dogs shed their fur twice a year, in the spring and fall(or more often), depending on breed, living environment, and temperature. The shedding of dogs is never called "moulting". As dogs live with humans, the topic of dog shedding is of more immediate interest to the average pet owner than the shedding cycles of wild canidae. Wikipedia articles on individual dog breeds may contain more information on the shedding cycle of a particular breed.

The following is a list of breeds that are alleged by a pet website to have little or no shedding, but no proof or research is cited. Such breeds are often claimed to be hypoallergenic, but relying on such information can prove dangerous to an allergic person.[12] The same pet website page from which the following list was obtained clearly states "All dogs shed".[13]

Breeds alleged to shed very little
Affenpinscher Basenji Bedlington Terrier Bergamasco Bichon Frise Bolognese
Brussels Griffon Chinese Crested Chinese Shar-Pei Coton De Tulear Dandie Dinmont Terrier Giant Schnauzer and Standard Schnauzer
Havanese Irish Water Spaniel Lakeland Terrier Lhasa Apso Maltese Miniature Schnauzer
Polish Lowland Sheepdog Poodle Portuguese Water Dog Puli Pumi Shih Tzu
Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier Komondor Welsh Terrier West Highland White Terrier Wirehaired Pointing Griffon Yorkshire Terrier


Moulted snake skin
Close up view of snake's moulted skin

The most familiar example of moulting in reptiles is when snakes "shed their skin". This is usually achieved by the snake rubbing its head against a hard object, such as a rock (or between two rocks) or piece of wood, causing the already stretched skin to split. At this point, the snake continues to rub its skin on objects, causing the end nearest the head to peel back on itself, until the snake is able to crawl out of its skin, effectively turning the moulted skin inside-out. This is similar to how one might remove a sock from one's foot by grabbing the open end and pulling it over itself. The snake's skin is often left in one piece after the moulting process, including the discarded brille, so that the moult is vital for maintaining the animal's quality of vision. Conversely, the skins of lizards generally fall off in pieces.


A Northern Leopard frog moulting and eating the skin.

Both frogs and salamanders moult regularly and consume the skin, with some species moulting in pieces and others in one piece.[14]


In arthropods, such as insects, arachnids and crustaceans, moulting is the shedding of the exoskeleton (which is often called its shell), typically to let the organism grow. This process is called ecdysis. It is commonly said that ecdysis is necessary because the exoskeleton is rigid and cannot grow like skin, but this is simplistic, ignoring the fact that Chelonia do not shed even the rigid external keratinous shell, and that most Arthropoda with soft, flexible skins also undergo ecdysis. The subject is far more complex than a matter of skin rigidity; it includes considerations such as nature of metamorphosis, the differences between the morphology of successive instars, and the fact that a new skin includes new external lenses for eyes etc (compare this with the replacement of a snake's brille in sloughing). The new exoskeleton is initially soft but hardens after the moulting of the old exoskeleton. The old exoskeleton is referred to as "exuviae".

Moulting phase of a Southern Hawker


While humans do not strictly molt, an important part of the skin's defense against fungi is stratum corneum turnover that removes the microbes by shedding the old skin surface. This is increased by the immune system detection of dermatophytes (skin living fungi) such as Trichophyton rubrum.[15]


  1. ^ "Molting" vs. "moulting" – see spelling differences.
  2. ^ Harold Alvah Nourse. A Book Of Complete And Reliable Information On The More Profitable Production Of Eggs On The City Lot, The Village Acre And The Farm. ed. 11. Webb publishing company, 1908. pp. 95-97.
  3. ^ Nicole Faires. Deliberate Life: The Ultimate Homesteading Guide. p. 116.
  4. ^ Characterizing a Mammalian Circannual Pacemaker
  5. ^ Hair Loss in Dogs - Why Is My Dog Loosing It’s Hair? Alopecia X [sic]
  6. ^ a b c d Terres, J. K. (1980). The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds. New York, NY: Knopf. pp. 616–617. ISBN 0-394-46651-9. 
  7. ^ Molino, A.B., Garcia, E.A., Berto, D.A., Pelícia, K., Silva, A.P. and Vercese F., (2009). The effects of alternative forced-molting methods on the performance and egg quality of commercial layers. Brazilian Journal of Poultry Science, 11: 109-113
  8. ^ Webster, A.B., (2003). Physiology and behavior of the hen during induced moult. Poultry Science, 82: 992-1002
  9. ^ Yousaf, M. and Chaudhry, A.S., (2008). History, changing scenarios and future strategies to induce moulting in laying hens. World's Poultry Science Journal, 64: 65-75
  10. ^ Patwardhan, D. and King, A., (2011). Review: feed withdrawal and non feed withdrawal moult. World's Poultry Science Journal, 67: 253-268
  11. ^ Khan, R.U., Nikousefat, Z., Javdani, M., Tufarelli, V. and Laudadio, V., (2011). Zinc-induced moulting: production and physiology. World's Poultry Science Journal, 67:497-506. doi:10.1017/S0043933911000547
  12. ^ Nonallergenic Dog? Not Really by Denise Grady, New York Times, February 5, 1997
  13. ^ Go Pets America: Dogs that do not shed - Retrieved September 7, 2008
  14. ^ Frost, S. W. (1932). "Notes on Feeding and Molting in Frogs". The American Naturalist 66 (707): 530–540. doi:10.1086/280458. JSTOR 2456779. 
  15. ^ Dahl MV. (1993).Suppression of immunity and inflammation by products produced by dermatophytes. J Am Acad Dermatol. 28(5 Pt 1):S19-S23. PMID 8496406

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Moulting — Molt Molt, Moult Moult, v. i. [imp. & p. p. {Molted} or {Moulted}; p. pr. & vb. n. {Molting} or {Moulting}.] [OE. mouten, L. mutare. See {Mew} to molt, and cf. {Mute}, v. t.] [The prevalent spelling is, perhaps, {moult}; but as the {u} has not… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • moulting — šėrimasis statusas T sritis ekologija ir aplinkotyra apibrėžtis Periodiškas paukščių plunksnų ir žinduolių plaukų iškritimas ir naujų augimas. atitikmenys: angl. moult; moulting vok. Federn, n; Haaren, n; Mauser, f rus. линька, f …   Ekologijos terminų aiškinamasis žodynas

  • moulting — məʊlt n. periodical shedding (of horns, skins, feathers, etc.) to make way for new growth (also molt) v. shed periodically (horn, skin, feathers, etc.) to make way for new growth (also molt) …   English contemporary dictionary

  • moulting — noun periodic shedding of the cuticle in arthropods or the outer skin in reptiles • Syn: ↑molt, ↑molting, ↑moult, ↑ecdysis • Derivationally related forms: ↑moult, ↑moult (for: ↑ …   Useful english dictionary

  • Moulting Lagoon Important Bird Area — The IBA is an important area for Black Swans …   Wikipedia

  • Ecdysis — For other uses, see Ecdysis (disambiguation). Series of pictures showing the progression of ecdysis in Callinectes sapidus, the blue crab Ecdysis (from Ancient Greek: ἐκδύω – ekduo – to take off, strip off …   Wikipedia

  • Moult — In biology, moulting (or molting, [ Molting vs. moulting see spelling differences.] also known as shedding or for some species, ecdysis) signifies the manner in which an animal routinely casts off a part of its body (often but not always an outer …   Wikipedia

  • Insect physiology — includes the physiology and biochemistry of insect organ systems. Although diverse, insects are quite similar in overall design, internally and externally. The insect is made up of three main body regions (tagmata), the head, thorax and abdomen.… …   Wikipedia

  • Arthropod cuticle — Beetles have hardened cuticle. A caterpillar has leathery, unhardened cuticle. The cuticle forms the outer skeleton of arthropods, includ …   Wikipedia

  • Insect morphology — Legend of body parts Tagmata : A Head, B Thorax, C Abdomen. 1. antenna 2. ocelli (lower) 3. ocelli (upper) 4. compound eye 5. brain (cerebral ganglia) 6. prothorax …   Wikipedia

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.