My excitement in seeing the first Rat snake on the land was indeed short lived. It was lying still, so i first thought it was shedding its skin, but then saw some flies sitting on it, which indicated it was actually dead….

sigh !

Reading up on this led me to this :

Many animals, including humans, shed their skin. Snakes will normally shed their skin in one piece. If they have difficulty in removing all or part of this skin serious problems and even death may result.  Normally, when a snake starts the shed (slough, dysecdysis) process, its pattern and colors become dull with a grayish-blue overcast.  When this happens the eyes cloud over to the point where you may not even be able to see the dark pupils.  This condition is called by herpetoculturists “being opaque.”  It is caused by a secretion coming between the outer and under layers of skin loosening the outer layer of skin.  When the skin layers are prepared for the shed, the opaque condition subsides and the skin pattern and colors look normal again.  Within a few days after this clearing of colors, the snake should shed, hopefully in one piece.  If the snake does not shed soon after the clearing of the colors, the secretion between the two layers of skin will dry and virtually glue the old skin onto the snake’s body.  If the entire body is covered for an extended period of time, the snake will probably die.  If parts of shed skin remain, the snake may be able to survive until the next shed, which will probably occur sooner than normal.  If just a portion on the end of the tail remains, it will probably constrict that section of the tail as the skin dries, cutting off circulation, and causing that part of the tail to dry up, die, and eventually break or drop off.   Snakes do not regenerate their tails, so the animal will be mutilated for life.

As a rule, skin problems including wounds, diseases, etc., will increase the frequency of shedding. Presumably this is part of the healing process.

Why does a snake have problems shedding?  There are theories suggesting a number of factors including poor health, dehydration, low relative humidity, keeping the environment too dry, etc.  It could be one or all of these plus some other unknowns in any given situation………