Snake Breeding Problems
While breeding snakes varies from species to species, most need a cooling period to get their biological clock ticking. Consider this article an umbrella for basic snake breeding. Always have an understanding of where your snake originates from, including captive-bred specimens.
Such information comes in handy when breeding. Sometimes one must replicate certain conditions for success.
Snake breeding gives a great sense of accomplishment
Successfully breeding snakes gives a person a great sense of accomplishment. Especially if you successfully breed something considered rare.
While snake breeding isn’t quite comparable to performing brain surgery, it still takes some skill. This skill takes some time to develop. Expect good seasons and bad seasons. Trial and error will be your guide. Starting off with a live-bearing species might be the way to go.
After all, boa constrictor popularity has come back in a big way. Still, don’t allow egg-laying species to intimidate you. Successfully hatching eggs isn’t difficult.
Properly sexing snakes is vital for successful breeding. While it’s sometimes tricky, it usually isn’t very hard. Some snakes are sexually dimorphic and are easily sexed by eye while others aren’t.
Generally speaking, females usually have a thinner, shorter tail which gradually tapers off. Males have longer, thicker tails which quickly tapers off. Males have two hemipenes.
Sexing boas and pythons
While both genders exhibit spurs near their vent, males have larger spurs than females. Females are larger and thicker than males.
Three methods of sexing snakes
Three methods of sexing snakes include popping, probing, and feeling for ‘speed bumps’. All these methods take some experience. Popping and feeling speed bumps are the two most popular means of sexing young snakes. Probing is technically the most accurate, but can also injure the snake if done incorrectly.
Probing (be very gentle)
Lube an appropriately sized sexing probe, then gently stick the probe into one side of the vent towards the tail. Contrary to what you’d expect, the probe goes deeper in the case of a male. This is due to the inverted hemipenes which the male has two of, on each side of the vent.
The probe will drop nine to fifteen scales with a male, but only one to three scales with a female. When probing is complete, gently pull the probe back out of the snake. You can buy a probe set online, or at snake shows. Remember to use some lube and be extremely careful.
Feeling for the ‘bump’
While applying light pressure, slide your fingertip from the vent towards the tip of the tail. With a male, you’ll feel two small bumps that are absent in the female. This is the safest way to sex snakes aside from relying on sexual dimorphism.
Popping is primarily done on hatchlings and younger snakes. With the popping method, always take proper care to prevent injury. Once you get the hang of it, popping is safe and easy.
Firmly apply pressure with one finger on the snake below the vent.
When done correctly the inverted hemipenis (remember there are two) usually both pop out. If nothing pops, it’s a female. Because of possible injury to the snake, find someone experienced to show you how to do this in person for your first time.
Snake morphs and mutations
To be perfectly honest, I’ve never been interested in any kind of snake morphs. I understand morphs are what moves the industry and people pay higher prices for these rarities.
While I intend to fully address this issue in a future blog post, I’ll just say for now that I’m not a big fan of morphs or the extravagant prices they sell for. In my opinion, snakes are most beautiful when they are the way nature created them.
Deformities and congenital issues
Have you noticed that more captive-bred snakes today become afflicted with spinal deformities and other congenital issues? It seems as though two-headed snakes are becoming more common. This is due to years of inbreeding to score costly morphs. Today, many breeders are reverting back to wild-caught specimens to reestablish exhausted bloodlines.
One must remember that while a two-headed snake may sell for more money than a brand new sports car, such an animal isn’t usually healthy. It cannot be considered hardy even if the species normally is. Mortality rates are extremely high and I wouldn’t be comfortable spending a large amount of money on such a risky animal.
I’m not certain how other people in the hobby look at crossbreeding these days. I’ve never been mainstream with any of my interests in life. From where I come from, we avoided crossbreeding different species and even different localities.
While some intergrades do occur naturally in the wild, keeping blood-lines as pure as possible is proper snake breeding etiquette. Just my opinion of course.
Not all snakes will breed for you, but when healthy and set up properly most will. Certain species are very difficult to breed in captivity. The ones targeted on this website are usually not.
Generally, snakes should age at least three to four years before breeding. Egg-bound females may result when proper age requirements aren’t met. This often results in the death of the snake. Patiently wait it out.
The hibernaculum – cooling snakes down for winter brumation
Let’s start with the cooling period of snakes. The climate of where a specimen originates from decides the temperature and duration of the cooling period. For example, most boa constrictors only need a slight drop in temperature while raising the humidity.
Accomplish this by simply adjusting the heating of the enclosure with a thermostat. Snakes such as the northern pine snake need lower temperatures during their winter cooling period.
This is successfully achieved by different means. A basement or garage that falls to the desired temperature is great. Several breeders in Florida keep their snakes in outdoor sheds during winter. It’s easiest to execute this during the winter months in all cases.
If such means are not available, keeping them in a wine cooler or refrigerator does the trick. Simply open and close the door once a day to allow air to circulate.
How to prepare your snakes for brumation
- Stop feeding at least two weeks before you begin to cool them down.
- Make certain they defecate their last meal before cooling. Their system is should be completely void of food. A warm (not hot) bath can help speed up the process.
- Only put down snakes of optimal weight, especially the female. Do not put underweight or unhealthy snakes through the stress of brumation. Instead, keep them warm and continue feeding throughout the winter. There’s always next season! Patience is a virtue when keeping and breeding reptiles.
Lowering the temperatures – put ’em to sleep
Begin to gradually lower the temperatures, especially with species kept at the lower end. Different breeders have different opinions on how long the cooling period should last and it varies from species to species. For example, an Arizona mountain kingsnake should go down for at least three or four months at about 45 to 50°F.
Know the climate of the specimen that you’re attempting to breed. Make sure the snake always has water available throughout the entire period. Smaller snakes are kept in a plastic shoebox. With larger snakes, one needs more creative when choosing a winter enclosure. The required temperature for brumation varies depending on the geographic location of the snake.
Snakes coming out of hibernation
Time certainly goes by quickly and before you know it, a new season has begun. Gradually raise the temperatures for snakes kept at lower extremes. After a few days of being reintroduced to normal temperatures, offer them food. You can feed them every four days to quickly bulk them up.
After the female’s first post-hibernation shed, introduce her to the male’s enclosure and allow nature to take its course. The amount of time they spend together depends on the specific species. In the case of a kingsnake, one may decide to eat the other and not mate. Stick around while copulation takes place but stay back in the shadows. No, you’re not being a voyeur, but some species of kingsnakes are expensive.
Keep a record of dates of all occurrences, especially when it comes to the next step.
Laying eggs or live-bearing snakes
Your snake is either an egg-layer or a live-bearer. Live-bearing is easy. Egg incubation isn’t too hard but requires more effort. When the time draws near, prepare your egg-laying female with a shoebox that she easily fits into.
Make an access hole for going in and out of the box. Add moistened vermiculite to the bottom of it. Avoid drenching the vermiculite, it only needs moistening with a spray bottle. Check back daily.
Once the snake lays her eggs
Take them out as soon as possible. Take care in ensuring the eggs are in the same upright position they were laid. Do this with a water-based magic marker. Remove any yellow, moldy, deflated eggs. These are duds referred to as, slugs.
Healthy eggs are full-bodied and usually white. While a collapsed egg is a sign of trouble, see if it hydrates itself in the vermiculite or a product like HatchRite. If it doesn’t look any better the next day, dispose of it. Sometimes yellow eggs can hatch too, but if they’re crusty or moldy, be sure to remove them from the healthy eggs.
Incubating snake eggs
You can choose from many ways to incubate the eggs, as long as the temperature is kept consistent. I’ve always incubated my eggs in a warm room and not an incubator. Some say to leave them on top of the refrigerator, but I’m not comfortable with this method.
The bedding should either consist of moistened vermiculite (again, moistened, not drenched), or HatchRite. Vermiculite might need daily moistening while HatchRite takes the guess-work out of it. HatchRite is pre-moistened and added watering isn’t necessary. Some old-schoolers still prefer their vermiculite and that’s okay too.
Cutting snake eggs?
Some breeders cut a small opening on top of the eggs in case the potential hatching is unable to emerge due to an absent egg tooth. If you decide to do this, be very careful. Most use a razor blade cutting only a sliver at the top of the egg after the allotted number of days has passed.
Is this completely necessary? No, but it could save the life of one or two snakes. Just be extremely careful until you get the hang of it. Like anything else, it takes some practice.
Successful snake breeding all comes down to proper cycling. It’s really not that hard. This is also another case where having patience is important. Some seasons are good while others might be less productive. Just make sure the conditions are right and research the particular species you’re trying to breed.
If you’re dealing with an egg layer, make sure you have a plan set and ready for when they arrive. You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on an incubator. While having all bases covered, try not to overthink things since that might be counterproductive.
Do you have breeding tips to share when it comes to certain species of snakes? Other might find help from your knowledge if you add your thoughts to the comments section below.