Ball python breeding is fun, and ranks as one of the best things about having a snake as a pet. But if you’re completely inexperienced with breeding pet snakes, you might not know where to start.
That’s a brief overview of how to get the two snakes to mate, but there’s more to the process than that. If you’re new to the idea of breeding ball pythons, the guide below will give you all the information you need to see the process through from the start to the very end.
- 1 Things to Know Before You Start Breeding Ball Pythons
- 2 Equipment for Breeding Ball Pythons
- 3 Ball Python Breeding Season
- 4 How to Help a Ball Python Lay Eggs
- 5 How to Care for Hatchling Ball Python
Things to Know Before You Start Breeding Ball Pythons
Breeding ball pythons is easy so long as you a) know what to do and when, and b) have the equipment to do it. The guide below starts with a clear timeline from start to finish, which will be a useful and succinct guide for the whole process.
Then, we’ll take a look at the equipment you need in more detail, before going through each of the steps one by one. So, if you’re ready, let’s get started.
Ball Python Breeding Timeline
Here’s a concise step-by-step of the ball python breeding cycle:
- Buy the necessary equipment for breeding ball pythons.
- Put the ball pythons through temperature cycling for three months (December, January, and February).
- Over these three months, introduce the female and the male/males to one another regularly—at least once a week.
- Raise the temperature over the course of a week from the first of March, and keep introducing the male with the female. They should successfully mate at least once.
- Check that the female is gravid (meaning that she is growing eggs inside her).
- Prepare a place for the female to lay the eggs, using a damp substrate.
- Prepare the egg box and the incubator. To be completely sure it will work consistently, attach the incubator to a generator.
- When she lays the eggs, place them inside your egg box without tilting or tipping them.
- Incubate them for at least 55 days. Check continually on them to make sure there is enough moisture in the box.
- Once they reach 55 to 60 days, you can cut the eggs open. However, you don’t have to as the snakes will happily hatch on their own.
Once the snakes do hatch, you don’t have to do anything special to take care of them. According to National Geographic, unlike almost every other species of snake, the mother will actually care for her young for a while after they hatch.
Equipment for Breeding Ball Pythons
To breed ball pythons, you need the right tools for the job. In their natural habitat, of course, ball pythons can ‘get on with it’ without an incubator or an egg box.
But that’s why many more wild eggs die than captive ones. If you want more eggs to hatch, as well as improve the health of the snakes that do, you’ll need the following equipment:
- An egg box. This is what you keep the eggs in while they incubate. You need a box to help regulate the humidity around them, as well as keeping them at the same temperature and stopping them from rolling around. The box should be an airtight plastic container.
- A substrate that can absorb lots of moisture, like perlite or vermiculite. You line the bottom of the egg box with the substrate, and shape it so that the eggs can’t roll around.
- The incubator itself. It’s incredibly important that they stay at a very consistent temperature throughout the entire process. An incubator is an isolated environment, almost like a fridge, but not so cold.
Without this equipment, it is possible for your female to sit on the eggs and care for them herself. This is, of course, the more natural way to do things. But there will inevitably be fewer healthy hatchlings at the end of the process.
The most expensive equipment you’ll need is also the most important: the incubator. The incubator stops the temperature around the eggs from increasing or decreasing drastically. This is highly important because if kept at the wrong temperature, the eggs either won’t hatch, or will hatch with deformities.
Ball Python Breeding Season
Ball pythons have a specific time of year at which they prefer to breed—the breeding season. This is from early Spring to the beginning of Summer. They prefer to breed at this time of year because it means that the period between laying the eggs, and the eggs hatching, will be consistently warm. You can replicate this season in captivity.
Start with a process called ‘temperature cycling.’ This is where you lower the temperature in the enclosure by a few degrees. If you maintain the enclosure’s basking spot at 90 degrees, lower that temperature to between 85 and 88 degrees. Allow nighttime temperatures to drop to 73-75 degrees, and don’t provide belly heat, but ambient temperature. This ‘tells’ your ball python that it’s winter, so that when you raise the temperature again, they’ll think it’s spring.
Lower the temperature over the week, gradually. Maintain this temperature from December 1st until March 1st. Then raise the temperature again in steps, rather than all at once. Reintroduce belly heat at this time, too.
During the winter, your snake won’t want to eat as much, and that’s fine—it’s the same in the wild. Over these three months, you should introduce the female to the male or males regularly. This will encourage them to begin mating behavior during the spring. Good care during this time also helps the male develop sperm, and the female develops her eggs.
Ball Python Male-to-Female Ratio
Mating takes a lot out of the male. As such, there’s a limit to the amount of breeding he can do. Most breeders have one male per three or four females, working on a rotating basis. However, as a beginner, you don’t need to worry about that. Breeders like to have as many hatchlings as possible, for obvious reasons—but that isn’t an issue for you as a beginner owner or breeder. Focus on seeing the whole project through successfully at least once before trying to optimize how it works for you.
How to Breed Two Ball Pythons
Once you’ve temperature cycled your ball pythons, they’re usually ready to start breeding. If all is well, the female should be ovulating. Ball python ovulation is where her eggs are ready/becoming ready to be fertilized.
You can tell that she’s at this stage because it looks like she’s eaten a particularly large meal. However, if you don’t spot when she’s ovulating, don’t worry—even experienced breeders can miss it, either because they aren’t paying close attention, or because it isn’t all that important.
Introduce the Male to Other Males
Believe it or not, but introducing the male to other males is actually just as important as introducing him to the female. Can you think of why that might be?
It’s actually because the males start to compete with one another. In the wild, many male snakes will be drawn to the scent of an ovulating female. As such, they’ll come into contact with one another, and when they do, they’ll start to fight. They don’t bite one another, wrestle, so they can’t hurt each other. But this desire to fight is linked to their desire to mate, so much so that if you just put a male and a female together without the male being ready, they won’t do a thing.
So, before you put the female in with the male, put another male in there instead. If they’re in the mood, they’ll start to wrestle for a while to see who can ‘win’ the right to mate. As they’re fighting, separate them with a stick, and take the other male out. Then introduce the female, and it’s likely that the male will be in the mood.
If you don’t have another male, it’s a good idea to get one, just for this purpose. Alternatively, if you have a friend that has a male ball python, they could bring it around, and you could introduce the pair. If your ball pythons won’t breed, then this crucial step may be what you’re missing.
Getting Two Ball Pythons to Mate
At this point, the males will completely refuse any food. That’s because moving around when they’re trying to digest can make them regurgitate or vomit, and mating season is a time of high activity. You should carry on introducing the female to the males. The male will start to show more interest in the female, by sniffing the air around her, or where she’s been.
If the male can detect that the female’s eggs are well-developed enough, he’ll start a courtship ritual. He’ll move towards her and display the following behaviors:
- He’ll run his chin along her back, rubbing it up and down to let her know he’s there.
- He’ll gradually move to be on top of her, and align his body with hers as much as possible.
- He’ll scratch her with his ‘spurs,’ which are like tiny little legs/claws either side of his cloaca.
If you’ve never seen two ball pythons mate before, you might not actually recognize when they are. They don’t mate like mammals. During the process, the male and female are both quite still. As such, it can be easy to mistake him simply sitting on top of her with the pair mating.
How to Know When Two Ball Pythons Have Mated
During copulation, the male must put one of his hemipenes into the female’s cloaca (or ‘vent’). He has two of them, each of which points out at a slight angle from the tail. The hemipenes themselves come from inside the male’s cloaca; so he has to put his cloaca right next to hers, something called a ‘cloacal kiss.’
To do this, he will lift her tail section ever so slightly, which will make her cloaca more accessible. He will place a coil on top of her just before her vent, which will keep it in place. The final part of his tail will wrap underneath hers and stay in place.
To be sure that mating has taken place, continue to introduce the male to the female until she’s visibly pregnant (which reptile owners and scientists refer to as ‘gravid’). Introduce them at least once per week for a day or two at a time.
To spot whether your female is gravid, check to see that her lower half is heavier than usual. She may also have a more noticeable ridge than usual along her back, which occurs because she’s becoming thinner—she’s using her muscle and fat energy to create and care for her young.
How to Help a Ball Python Lay Eggs
Ball pythons lay their eggs any time between late May and early July. It depends on when mating was first successful, which is impossible to tell if you continually introduce the pair to one another over a long period of time. As such, you might be surprised when your female lays her eggs. The good news is that they don’t typically need help with the birth. They get on just fine in the wild, and will in your enclosure too.
To prepare, however, it’s important that you offer the female a secure and slightly damp place for her to lay the eggs. She will naturally choose a damp place to lay her eggs, because they need the moisture to grow healthy. Use some of the substrate you picked up for the egg box, placed in the corner of the enclosure, ready for her to lay the eggs into.
If the female is smaller or younger than usual, there’s a chance that one of the eggs could get stuck when she tries to lay it. According to a paper given at the Proceedings of the North American Veterinary Conference, this could occur because the egg breaks, or because it’s at an awkward angle and she can’t turn it. This is known as egg binding. If you think that your snake is struggling to lay an egg because of egg binding, take them to a vet. They can use either surgery or simple mineral oil to help her. If you don’t, there’s a chance that she could die.
How to Incubate Ball Python Eggs
Incubating the easy part; preparing the eggs for incubation is what’s tricky. Prepare your egg box by lining it with enough vermiculite that the eggs will be stable. Spray the inside of the box with regular water to the point where the vermiculite will clump together slightly. The moisture is important, as the eggs need it to develop properly.
When you first pick up the eggs, it’s essential that you don’t tilt or tip them. While scientists aren’t exactly sure why it’s the case, if you turn an egg that’s developing, the chances of the young being healthy drop significantly. As such, before you pick them up, mark the topmost point of each egg with a marker and hold/place them steadily when you put them in the box. Put a little extra substrate around them so that they’re ¼ buried, which will prevent them from shifting when you move the box.
It’s also important that the eggs stay at one temperature throughout the whole process—between 88 and 90 degrees. In the wild, the mother will sit on top of the eggs to provide a small amount of warmth, and to prevent wind chill. This natural but imperfect method might help most of the eggs hatch, you can have almost all of them hatch if you use an incubator.
Egg Cutting Ball Python Eggs
Egg cutting is the process whereby you help the snakes to hatch by making a small incision in the egg. This isn’t necessary practice. The snakes will ‘pip’ the egg on their own. However, many breeders choose to cut the eggs to see what’s inside. That might sound silly because obviously, there’s a snake inside! But breeders usually breed exciting morphs of snakes, which means that some of the snakes will be morphs and some won’t—so they’re excited to see what will hatch.
As a beginner, you don’t need to do this. First, as we said above, the snakes will hatch on their own. But there’s also the chance that if you don’t know what you’re doing, you could actually hurt the snake by accidentally cutting too far into the egg. Cut early enough, and the snake will actually lose a significant amount of yolk, which will lead to them hatching underweight. There’s also the potential that you could cut the egg before the snake is actually ready to hatch.
If you are intent on cutting the egg, then adhere to the following process:
- Before cutting the egg, check to see that the blood vessels which formed during incubation on the inside layer of the egg have been drawn into the body of the snake itself. This is a sign that the snake is close to hatching. If you do cut one by mistake, don’t worry; the snake should still be fine.
- To determine when to start, there are two schools of thought. Either you can look inside the egg using a light or a scanner, or you can wait until the egg starts to pip. Ideally, cut between day 55 and day 60.
- Use a sterile box cutter or small suture scissors to make the actual cut.
- Make the cut about two inches long. This will be big enough for the hatchling to come through.
- Never pull the snake from the egg. It will come out when it’s ready, and not before. This can take anywhere between a few hours and a few days, depending on whether there is still some yolk to be absorbed.
Of course, far easier is to allow the eggs to hatch naturally—but if you must cut, do it safely, with a sterile tool.
How to Care for Hatchling Ball Python
Caring for hatchling snakes can be difficult. For the first five to seven days, leave them alone entirely. They don’t need to be handled or cared for at this time, as they need time in which to adjust to their surroundings. Don’t stress them out in any way, don’t try to feed them, and make sure they have enough water. After a week, start trying to feed them. You should only offer them the smallest of pinky mice—that’s all they can handle. And you should only
As for the mother, after she lays her eggs, the female will have a voracious appetite. Her fat reserves and even much of her muscle will have been burned up in caring for the eggs, and now it’s important that she gains that weight back before it turns cold again. As such, feed her more than you usually would—as much as she likes, until she’s a healthy weight again. If she can’t gain the weight back, consult with a vet to determine what might be wrong.