Have you lost your mind?
Okay. Let’s talk ball python breeding, then. This page will go over the basics of breeding, setting up an incubator, your egg tub, and everything in between. It is by no means a comprehensive “this is the only way to breed” file; it is simply a way to help someone who is new to breeding get their feet wet. There’s tons of ways to do it right, after all.
- 32 to 41 qt rack (for the females; 41 is ideal, but 32 can work for smaller animals)
- 6 qt rack (for the babies; essential)
- Incubator (DIY or purchased)
- Hides (for the babies, RBI’s “small” hides work well)
- Access to LIVE mouse hoppers
- 6 qt latching tub (or larger)
- Light Diffuser Crate, or my new favorite, Easy Hatch reptile incubation trays
Generally speaking, breeding in tanks isn’t advisable. Enclosures can and do work fine, but the problem with glass is the inconsistent heating and humidity. Females need higher humidity when they’re building and laying (or they risk eggbinding); they also need adequate privacy. While it is possible to breed in tanks, we generally recommend a rack.
Breeding females usually need a 41qt tub (or similar size one); the reason for this is that females often “cool seek” or try to deliberately cool down during the follicle building process. Toward this end, you will also sometimes see veteran breeders actually do a temperature drop. Full drops are not required, but the female does need to have adequate ways of cooling herself. Larger tubs afford the female more room to cool off. Additionally, you want to have a very large water dish, big enough for the female to partially soak in and wrap her body around. Do not be surprised if she does both, including flooding her tub. This is a normal part of the breeding process.
Baby ball pythons are very shy. Most of the time, they need almost complete and total privacy in order to acclimate and eat. 6 qt tubs are more than sufficient for a small ball python and will serve your hatchlings well. It is recommended to over-estimate how many eggs your female might give you: if you think you’re likely to get 6-8 eggs, try for a 12 slot rack, just in case. Extra room is never a bad thing. More shy babies can sometimes be very insecure, so having access to hides in case of an issue is always good as well.
Most ball pythons must be started on live, and mouse hoppers move more than fuzzy rats. On average, most baby balls won’t accept a fuzzy rat off the rip; you want the mice to stimulate that first feeding response. Live is not optional. Do not breed going in expecting to be able to feed your babies frozen/thawed off the rip. While some will take it for their first meal, most will not.Incubators can be purchased or made, depending on your needs. It is always cheaper to make your own than it is to purchase them.
Maturity: Is My Snake Ready?
Probably the most frequent question people ask about ball python breeding is “What does my ball python have to weigh in order to breed her?”
The answer is: Weight is not as important as age.
There is no arbitrary weight that makes a ball python breeding ready regardless of age. So the first thing you need to ask is “How old does my female ball python need to be in order to consider breeding her?”
And the answer is 2.5 to 3 years minimum. The reason for this is that a snake that is fed at a healthy rate will begin to fill out around this size, growing less in length and more in girth. A long and skinny ball python female is not an ideal breeder; you want one that has begun to fill in and get… for lack of a better word: thick.
In addition to age, there IS a general weight standard. Most people recommend between 1400-1600g in weight for your females, which most will begin to reach around two years (some exceptions do occur). Animals fed heavily may reach these weights sooner, but just because your snake is fed heavily does not mean it’s physically mature enough to breed safely. Keep this in mind.
Male ball pythons are considerably more simple, but there are still a few things worth noting. Males usually begin reaching maturity at around a year old, and while some can be bred younger, it’s not recommended because of the fact that some males will go off feed when breeding. Ideally you want your males to be at least a year old and somewhere north of 600-700 grams, so that if they do go off feed, they don’t quickly become emaciated. Generally speaking, though, if you pop him and he has sperm, he’s probably ready to go. Use your best judgment here: too small of males can breed themselves to death – so you do want them to have some size to them!
The Breeding Process
LOOK AT MARKUS JAYNE’S PICTORIAL.
There’s no sense in reinventing the wheel. Markus Jayne already made a fantastic and very helpful pictorial on this. So to start, check this link:
Seriously, check it. There are pictures and everything that explains things step-by-step that will teach you arguably more than anything short of first hand experience will.
Now that that’s out of the way – breeding ball pythons is actually very simple. Most breeders elect to start pairing in the winter (usually around November or just after Thanksgiving) and pair through until June. Pairing is typically done by introducing for a few days, then separating to feed, and reintroducing until you see an ovulation.
How long/often to pair is subjective. Some say pair for three days once a shed cycle. Some say pair for three days, then off for another three. The truth is, there’s a lot of ways to do it right and not a whole lot of ways to do it wrong.
Probably the best advice to give a new breeder is this: Pair for three days, then give them around two weeks off. So if you pair Monday through Thursday – don’t pair the next Monday, but the one that follows that. This gives you plenty of time to give your snakes food and clean around them, while still getting plenty of breeding action in. If you see a lock, you can separate as soon as they are unlocked again. More locks doesn’t necessarily mean the female will go, but it sure can’t hurt!
If you notice your female spending more time on the cool side of her enclosure, or soaking, this is an extremely good sign that she’s building. Most females who are building also eat like they’ve never seen food before. Shy feeders become tub launchers; live-only feeders will sometimes switch to frozen/thawed eaters; mousers may eat rats. Females act like they’re voracious during the building stage. This is normal and will continue until close to ovulation.
Some breeders elect to ramp up their feeding schedule once females begin to build. This is because before ovulation and through laying, females usually don’t eat at all (rare exceptions occur). After a female lays eggs, she will lose a lot of weight and body condition, as a result of both being off feed and, well, laying eggs, so it’s usually a good idea to have your female have a little extra pudge to help recover. This is optional and not required.
My male went off feed! What now?
This is a… tricky subject. If your male is small or particularly thin, you should stop pairing him and begin troubleshooting. Bigger males can go slightly longer off feed (it’s not uncommon for most to refuse food except for once a month while actively breeding) but if they start losing weight, you should start troubleshooting that, too. Most breeder males will actually either stay on feed or come back on food if you offer live mice: consider it.
They’re fighting! What now?
When I’ve seen this, they look like two hockey players slamming each other into the walls.
Double-check the sexes of your snakes. Seriously, do it. You probably have two males. 9 times out of 10, this is a result of two males.
If it’s genuinely a female, remove the male and consider introducing at another time… or try a different male. Female/male territorial fights are very rare, but not unheard of; if they happen, it’s almost certainly because the female was not interested in breeding (yet).
I paired for 3 days and I got no locks
Congratulations. Welcome to breeding. Feel free to accuse your male of being gay or your female of being a shrew. We won’t judge you. We’ve all done it.
Some tricks you can use to try and make a shy breeder more interested is by pairing right after the female sheds without cleaning (leave her shed) so the smell of female is stronger. You can also throw another male’s shed in, or another male (somewhat supervised – don’t leave them a long time), in order to try and get the female more interested. Thunderstorms can sometimes inspire them to breed more (lower barometric pressure) as well. But sometimes, you just have to wait until she’s in the mood.
And if she’s sitting on the male, she’s not in the mood. Just so you know.
They made a massive mess!
This is common. Females will usually defecate before allowing males to breed them; they also will usually pass urates. Don’t bother cleaning it until they’re done. Leave ‘em alone and let them do their thing.
They’ve been locked for like 24 hours!
This is normal as well. Ball pythons often lock for long periods of time. Don’t stress it.
“Is she gravid yet?” and “AHH SHE’S LAYING EGGS!”
Typically leading up to ovulation, a female ball python will begin laying in weird positions: on her side or partially inverted. She will also begin to swell in her lower body in a very noticeable fashion and most likely will begin to go off feed. When held up, you will be able to see her stomach have noticeable paunch and it will look like her body is “raised up” off the substrate when she lays still. Most importantly: she will glow! Her color will look brighter than usual, sometimes very dramatically so!
When she ovulates, she will look like she swallowed a football, her body will look raised up off the substrate and very rigid in the lower third (and very straight as well), and her tail will suck in. You will see a noticeable crease when this happens, leading up from her vent. The crease and ovulation itself last about twenty four hours. This is the process where her follicles become eggs: from this point on, your snake is gravid.
Two weeks after this (roughly) she will go into shed. After she sheds, so begins the count down until eggs.
Most female ball pythons will lay around thirty days after they shed. Some will lay earlier; some later. There are also rare examples of them going on to shed again before laying. It’s uncommon but it does happen.
After their prelay shed, females will usually stay on the hot side of their enclosure, and will typically move around a fair bit in order to adjust the eggs in their body. Laying inverted is normal. As they get close to laying, they will usually lay in tight coils with their tail at the center of their body, and many females become hyper defensive. Eggs usually follow.
The egg laying process can take several hours and the female should be left undisturbed during this process. When finished, the female will usually curl around the eggs completely, gathering them into a nice little nest at the center of her body, and she will defend them. Not all females do this, and sometimes a stray egg or slug gets booted out. Give her time to finish and make sure she is 100% done before you try to pull eggs. Remove the female from the enclosure before taking the eggs away.
Aftercare for Mom: Pamper Your Lady!
Some female ball pythons go on to feed right after you take the eggs away – but some need special care.
As a rule of thumb, it’s usually a good idea to wash the female’s enclosure out with brown Listerine (which has a very strong smell) in order to eliminate the smell of eggs, then wipe the mother down and leave her alone for a few days. Offer her food as normal on your next scheduled feeding day and most females will come back on feed with a vengeance. Should they refuse, consider changing it up; if they eat f/t, try leaving it next to them or live; if they eat rats, try mice. Most come back on feed normally and go about their day-to-day lives.
It’s important to clean after the eggs, as not doing so can lead to the female searching for them and refusing food while she thinks she has a nest to defend. You want the smell of eggs gone completely.
Eggbinding is a medical emergency and can be fatal. Sometimes you can palpate an egg out by gently massaging the female’s belly; other times, soaking her in warm water can help her pass an egg. If neither of these things work, take your snake to the vet for emergency treatment.
Females becoming eggbound is usually caused by overheating or dehydration, but can be associated with certain morphs.
(Anecdotal: It is rare, but also not unheard of, for females to go on to pass bound eggs later without assistance from a veterinarian. This should only be considered if you are experienced and understand the risks associated. Our official advice is go to a veterinarian.)
Sperm Retention, Who’s Your Daddy, Parthenogenesis & Null Allele
Ball pythons (and indeed, some other snakes) actually can retain sperm from previous breedings. It’s relatively uncommon but not unheard of. That means that a female can be bred one year, and go on to lay – without ever being paired – the next. Keep this in mind when planning your projects; it is usually advisable to begin recessive projects with virgin females for this reason.
Who’s your daddy clutches are clutches where a female has been bred to multiple males. It is usually a poor idea to breed a recessive gene into a who’s your daddy (Example: female normal, male piebald, male pastel hypo, male bumblebee) because it leads to it being impossible to determine what the babies are het for. This is not true in reverse when the female is the visual (because no matter what, the female will pass on their genetics — example: female pied, male pied, male bumblebee, male pastel; everything will minimum be het pied).
Parthenogenesis is a rare phenomenon in reptiles where the dam of a clutch essentially clones herself. All babies will be female and carry the dam’s genes. IE: A female lesser having a partho clutch will have all female lesser, or super lesser, babies. This is extremely rare, but not impossible.
Null allele refers to a bizarre occurrence where a baby looks visually to be a super version of a gene passed on from the mother – while technically only carrying a single copy. Null alleles are usually failure to thrives. (Example: A female lesser paired to a male normal produces a blue-eyed leucistic – visually it looks to be the “super” lesser, but genetically, it will function like a single gene lesser in breeding.)
Buying an Incubator
There’s several places that sell incubators, but truthfully, the best one is the CSerpents Hot Box, which comes assembled, with a fan, an LED light, and its own thermostat, as well as a false wall; these hold temperatures better than most and are well-worth their price.
If you are desperate or on a budget, you can technically buy a LittleGiant Still-Air Incubator for about $50 from Tractor Supply, but be advised: they do not hold temperatures anywhere near as well as the HotBox or a homemade incubator and this should only be done as an emergency.
Making an Incubator
There’s half a dozen videos and tutorials out there for how to make your own incubator. Here are a few different guides.
RUN YOUR INCUBATOR FOR AT LEAST 24 HOURS BEFORE PUTTING EGGS INTO IT!!!
(Longer is better! But 24 hours is MINIMUM!)
This stabilizes the temperatures inside of the incubator, so that your eggs are not exposed to fluctuations while it reaches its core temperature. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP.
Egg Tub Setup
There’s a million different ways to set an egg tub up correctly. Some people elect to put their eggs directly in the substrate; some prefer a more indirect method. This particular guide will discuss the indirect but know that there are other ways to go about doing this. You will need light diffuser egg crate, which can be bought at most home repair stores in the lighting section. I now prefer the Easy Hatch Egg Tray.
Setting up the tub is simple. You want to aim for around 90% humidity. One example of a way to accomplish this is by putting around 4 pounds of aquarium gravel in the bottom of a 6 qt tub (your goal is to have the gravel be about an inch thick) and then filling it with water until it just barely rests on the surface of the gravel. Place the light crate on it and then the eggs on top of the light crate.
To prevent the eggs from rolling, use a non-molding small object between the holes in the crate. Some use plastic straws; others use glue sticks. Pick what appeals to you as long as it does not mold.Your tub should have no holes in it, as most 6 qt tubs are not air tight. Generally, latching 6 qt tubs hold humidity better than the ones that do not latch. You do not necessarily need a thermometer/hygrometer in your egg tub, if you are using a standalone incubator. It is usually enough to test the tub before you put the eggs in.
(Side note: CSerpents hotbox is designed around Iris modular 6 qt tubs. They are linked at the bottom of this file.)
Candling: Fertile? Infertile? Slugs? It’s a Boob!
When eggs are first laid, you can candle them to see if they have veins. Infertile eggs appear bright yellow, while fertile will have veins (sometimes localized to one side – this isn’t unusual and is nothing to panic about) that will improve and strengthen as they incubate. Candling is really never “necessary” and if you’re going to do it, the only time it’s worth it is at the beginning of incubation.
Sometimes when females are laying, they may pass slugs. Slugs are dramatically smaller than healthy eggs and are bright yellow. Slugs will never hatch and should be disposed of. Generally, slugs are caused by extreme stress or by too high of temperatures; one or two slugs is not that worrisome, but as slugs are harder to pass than healthy eggs, it is usually a good idea to give a female who has slugged out completely a year off to recover (but not mandatory).
Boob eggs are eggs that look like they have a nipple and are bright yellow on one end. The yellow side will literally always mold, so you can be proactive by treating it with foot powder. Many boob eggs hatch out healthy babies (albeit usually on the smaller side), so don’t discount the boob!
“Okay, what temperature do these things bake at?”
Stop baking eggs, everyone knows you should be frying them —
Wait, wrong article.
Generally speaking, ball python eggs are incubated at 86 to 90 degrees. Higher temperatures leave much less of a margin of error for fluctuation, while lower temperatures increase incubation time. On average, most ball python breeders elect to go about 88 to 89F. Convert that to Celsius, I’m American.
The biggest thing is: pick something and stick with it. That means if you pick 86 and decide you want to go with 88 later… too bad. Do not change the temperature you incubate at. Consistency is the most important part of incubation, with fluctuations in temperature being one of the leading cause of hatchling birth defects. Around one degree is fine in either direction but you want to stay as close to consistent as possible.
Ball python eggs generally pip anywhere from day 58 to 62, with some exceptions in either direction. It is not unheard of for them to pip much later for lower temperature incubation.
Maternal incubation is challenging. It can be done, but it requires you to keep your parameters in check: you need to keep your female with 60-80% humidity at all times (many breeders elect to use sphagnum moss as substrate, but reptichip would work fine for this as well) and the warm end of your tub needs to be between 88 and 90 at all times. Your female also likely will not eat on eggs (but some do), so this can lead to northward of 90 days where your female has not eaten anything (between post-lay shed and egg hatching).
Babies begin pipping around the same time as an artificially incubated clutch. Generally speaking, artificial incubation allows you greater control of the parameters of the clutch (temperature and humidity) and is less stressful on the mother over-all, but there’s nothing wrong with maternal if you can meet the temperature and humidity needs.
The most frequent mistake people make when they have eggs is to be over-obsessed. Candle them once, check on them every few days, but otherwise: set it and forget it. Every time you open the incubator and egg tub, you’re letting the humidity out and dropping the temperature. Let your incubator do its job!
Help, It’s Moldy! & Other Egg Issues
Sometimes eggs that are exposed to too high of humidity may mold but still be good. You can address these by treating them with athlete’s foot powder; specifically, you want foot powder with the active ingredient of 2% miconazole nitrate, which is often sold in stores under either Desenex or Gold Bond brands. Do not buy foot powder with menthol; this won’t kill the mold on the eggs. You want the medicated kind.
Another issue eggs may run into is dehydration, either from being exposed to too high of temperatures, or from your egg box not having enough water, or too much airflow. Your best bet in dealing with this is to take a paper towel, wet it, and then wring it out very very well (you want it to be faintly damp). Place it on top of the eggs, making sure it doesn’t touch the substrate, and repeat this process for a few days; most eggs plump right back up after this, but not all will do so.
On the bizarre off-chance that one of your eggs ends up being torn (either from separating the eggs, or something else weird), you can use liquid bandage to close the egg back up to great effect. This can also be purchased at just about any pharmacy.
To Cut or Not to Cut
Egg cutting is a subject that a lot of people feel strongly about. Let’s address a few of the common reasons people cite as why they cut.
“My snake didn’t have an egg tooth.”
This actually does happen, albeit very, very rarely. Most of the time, when a snake doesn’t have an egg tooth, it’s because it’s been cut before the egg tooth formed.
“My snake didn’t have an egg tooth.”
More often than not, cutting causes these versus preventing them. Exceptions do occur. And some of the most zealous people who feel strongly against cutting tend to cite the following as their reasons:“It weakens the gene pool.”We are breeding morphs. Nothing that we are breeding is going to be released to the wild. This is a silly argument.
“My snake didn’t have an egg tooth.”
Done correctly, cutting is harmless.
So why do people cut, knowing these facts? The answer is impatience, truthfully: most people just want to know what’s in their eggs. And at the end of the day, if you decide to cut, there’s actually nothing wrong with that – as long as you do it correctly.
The first thing you need to understand is that you should never, ever be cutting your eggs before day 55. Period. No ifs, ands, or buts. You do not touch those eggs before day 55. It’s better to wait until closer to day 60, or until one snake pips, before you do it, but if you must cut before a pip, wait until day 55.
Here at Northwest Reptiles, we try to wait until have the clutch has pipped on their own.
The second thing you should know is that you need to sterilize your scissors (which need to be very tiny – the best ones to use for this are cuticle scissors). You are also going to run the risk of cutting large veins. The safest way to cut is to make a small crease in the shell with your fingers and cut a straight line – from one side of the egg to the other – and then peek in. You can also make small flaps and press them closed again. The albumen inside leaks out; this is normal. Once you’ve cut, leave the eggs alone. Don’t mess with them anymore until they’re out.
Don’t make big gaping windows. Don’t remove the hatchling from the egg. Don’t bother the hatchling, period. The biggest errors people make with cutting is not following these three credos. Follow them and you’ll be fine.
Don’t want to cut? Good. Groovy. Don’t cut. There’s nothing wrong with either choice.
Typically within two or three days of pipping, ball pythons come out of their egg. They are covered in goop and need to be rinsed off to be clean. There will never be an easier time to pop them: this is when most breeders sex their hatchlings (pop sexing is very efficient at this age when they do not have much muscle control – waiting until they shed just gives them more chance to build up strength).
After they are cleaned up, they need to be housed on sopping wet paper towels. Some breeders elect to put them in the hatchling rack like this, but truthfully, the easiest and simplest solution is to keep all of the babies together in a single tub, inside the incubator until their first shed, which is usually 7 to 12 days after they hatch. After shedding, separate into their own individual tubs and leave them alone for a few days.
Your first offering should be a live hopper mouse, placed into their tub, and then the tub needs to be closed. Sit down near the rack and give them 15-20 minutes. Most ball python babies take their first meal, but if they refuse, wait a week and try again. If they refuse a second time, offer a hide, wait a week and try again. Assist feeding should only be done after three refused meals, and should be done with mouse fuzzies. Very rarely do ball python hatchlings make you assist feed them more than once (it does happen, but it’s quite uncommon).
Do not handle or mess with your hatchlings until they have taken at least three meals in a row. Do not sell your hatchlings until they have taken at least five.
Shopping List, or Where Do I Buy This Stuff?
Easy Hatch Reptile Incubation Egg Trays: https://amzn.to/3iCSub1
- TKT Exotics
- Animal Plastics
- Reptile Basics
- Freedom Breeder
– CSerpents (HotBox incubators)
Fans (for incubator setup):
Foot Powder: https://amzn.to/3auE2za
Liquid Bandage: https://amzn.to/3iEQLls