If you’re interested in breeding your pet snake – or you live in an area populated by wild snakes – you might be wondering about the ins and outs of snake reproduction. Most kinds of snake lay eggs, though some give birth to live young.
A typical clutch of snake eggs contains around 6 – 30. This varies by species, with some being more prolific egg-layers than others. For example, the Sonoran coral snake may only lay 2 eggs per clutch. Reticulated pythons have been known to lay up to 80 eggs at a time.
We’re going to look at how many eggs some of the most well-known snakes lay at one time. We’ll also explore how often, and what time of year, snakes lay a clutch of eggs. Finally, we’ll look into where snakes lay their eggs, and how many young typically survive.
What Kind of Snake Lays Eggs?
- Only about 70% of snake species lay eggs. These are called “oviparous” snakes. The eggs typically hatch about two months after being laid, though this varies by species. Some oviparous snakes, like pythons, guard their eggs dutifully until they hatch. Others lay eggs and leave. Examples include cobras, rat snakes, pythons, king snakes and hognose snakes.
- Some snakes are ovoviviparous. These snakes still produce eggs, but rather than laying them, the mother snake keeps her eggs inside her body while they develop. When the babies are fully developed, they emerge from their eggs, and the mother gives birth to them. Examples include rattlesnakes, copperheads and cottonmouths (water moccasins).
- Some are viviparous. These snakes reproduce in largely the same way that mammals do. The babies develop in the snake’s uterus, getting nutrients through the placenta, with no egg at all. When they’re fully developed, the mother gives birth to her live babies. Examples include boa constrictors and most sea snakes.
We’re going to be looking specifically at oviparous snakes, which lay eggs in the usual way. Let’s find out how many eggs these snakes typically lay at one time.
How Many Eggs Do Snakes Lay at One Time?
Snake eggs are usually bright white, soft, and leathery. Unlike bird eggs, they aren’t solid and hard.
How many eggs a snake lays at once will depend, in general, on two factors:
- The species. Some species are designed to lay scores of eggs at once, whereas others lay a small amount of larger eggs. Each species has adapted according to its environment, and the potential predators that may be present in the area.
- The snake’s size. The larger a snake is, the more eggs she can hold inside of her. This is dependent on a snake’s age. Older larger snakes are more likely to lay more eggs.
Now let’s have a look at some individual species of snake, and how many eggs they each lay. There are almost 3,000 species of snake in the world.
|Species of Snake||Number of Eggs Per Clutch|
|Ball Pythons:||3-11 eggs (average 6)|
|Corn Snakes:||12-24 eggs|
|Reticulated Pythons:||25-80 eggs|
|Milk Snakes:||3-15 eggs (average 10)|
|Hognose Snakes:||Western (4-23 eggs) and Eastern (8-40 eggs)|
|Coral Snakes:||Sonoran (2-3 eggs) and Texas and Eastern (Up to 12 eggs)|
|Black Rat Snakes:||12-20 eggs|
|Smooth Green Snakes:||5 eggs x twice a season (average 10 in total)|
|Eastern Racers:||3-30 eggs|
|California Kingsnakes:||3-12 eggs|
1) Ball Pythons
Ball pythons (also called royal pythons) are not native to the US, but they are one of the most popular pet snakes. This is because of their relatively small size and gentle, docile nature.
Ball pythons typically lay around 3 to 11 eggs at one time, depending on the snake’s size and health. The average clutch size is approximately six eggs, though rarely, owners report clutch sizes of 13 or more.
2) Corn Snakes
Corn snakes are a species of rat snake, identified by their bright orange coloring with darker patches, outlined in black.
They are native to the south-eastern US and are abundant in the wild, but also commonly kept as pets. Corn snakes lay around 12 to 24 eggs, depending on their size.
3) Reticulated Pythons
The reticulated python is one of the largest snakes in the world, with some individuals reaching up to 32 feet long. They are native to tropical regions in Asia and sometimes kept as pets by experienced snake owners with lots of space.
Due to their large size, they can lay between 25 and 80 eggs at a time.
4) Milk Snakes
Milk snakes are a species of kingsnake found commonly throughout the United States, and also kept as pets. Their bright red, black and yellow colors help to disguise them as venomous coral snakes.
Milk snakes lay between 3 and 15 eggs at a time, with a typical average of 10.
5) Hognose Snakes
Both Western and Eastern hognose snakes are endemic to North America, and make popular pets (especially Western hognose snakes). They have an adorable defense mechanism (playing dead).
Western hognose snakes lay between 4 and 23 eggs, whereas Easterns lay between 8 and 40.
6) Coral Snakes
Out of the venomous species that you’ll find in the US, the only one that lays eggs is the coral snake. The others (rattlesnakes, copperheads and cottonmouths) are all ovoviviparous, and give birth to live young.
Sonoran coral snakes lay only 2 or 3 eggs at once, whereas Texas and Eastern coral snakes may lay slightly more (up to 12).
7) Black Rat Snakes
Black rat snakes are one of the most common wild snakes you’ll find in the US. They’re nonvenomous and a beautiful solid black color as adults.
Females will lay between 12 and 20 eggs per clutch.
8) Smooth Green Snakes
Smooth green snakes are smooth, bright green snakes. They’re well-named! They’re quite thin for their length and are most common in the northeast and Canada.
They typically lay two clutches during the mating season, each containing about 5 eggs, for 10 eggs total.
9) Eastern Racers
Eastern racers are one of the fastest snakes. That’s because they chase after prey rather than trying to ambush it. For some reason, their scientific name is Coluber constrictor even though they don’t constrict their prey. They swallow it whole.
Eastern racers are highly variable in that they lay anywhere between 3 and 30 eggs per clutch.
10) California Kingsnakes
California kingsnakes are aptly named because they’re the king of snakes! Instead of eating rodents or insects, they eat other snakes and even other members of their species. But when it comes to egg laying, kingsnakes are relatively typical. They lay between 5 and 12 eggs per clutch.
If we were going to list every single species, we would be here for a long time. To be more precise, there are around 3,500 species of snake known to science.
But as you can see, there’s a clear average of between 10 and 15 eggs per clutch.
How Often Do Snakes Lay Eggs?
Typically, in temperate climates such as the US, female snakes will lay a clutch of eggs every year. This is almost always in the early summer, because of brumation.
During the winter, wild snakes go through a process called brumation, which is similar to hibernation in mammals.
They hide in rock crevices, burrows and holes, and stay inactive until the early spring. This serves to help them keep their body temperature at a safe level.
When temperatures begin to rise, snakes come out of brumation and search for a mate. Since snakes around the world experience, different seasons at different times.
Australian snakes, for example, having their summer in December, January, and February—snakes lay their eggs at different times of the year depending on where they live.
It usually takes 1 to 2 months for snakes to lay their eggs after mating. However, this will depend on many factors. Some female snakes can retain sperm and use it to fertilize her eggs at a later time. If she doesn’t feel like having babies, she doesn’t need to.
What Time of Year Do Snake Eggs Hatch?
Once a snake lays her eggs, it usually takes about two months for them to hatch. The majority of snakes lay one clutch of eggs per year.
They will typically go through a period of inactivity in fall and winter, before emerging in the spring to mate. It will be early summer by the time she lays her eggs, just as we described above. This means that her eggs will hatch in June or July.
However, equatorial snakes can mate and lay eggs at any time of the year. This is because they don’t have cold and warm periods. It’s warm all year long for them. They can have one, two or even three batches of eggs per year.
These snakes can mate, lay eggs/give birth, and have their eggs hatch at any time of year they like. Preferably as often as possible.
Where do Snake Eggs Come Out?
Snakes have a specially modified part of their body called a cloaca. The cloaca deals with all waste from the snake’s body, all at once. It’s also what female snakes use for both mating and egg laying.
In short, it’s like a Swiss army knife—it has so many different uses. Male snakes have a cloaca too, but it isn’t used for mating like a female’s is.
So, snakes lay eggs from their cloaca. Well, most snakes, but not all. Like we said above, some snakes give birth to eggs, whereas some give birth to live young. Both green anacondas and boa constrictors are viviparous snakes.
Rattlesnakes and most vipers are ovoviviparous, and all other snakes are oviparous. However they choose to give birth, though, all young comes from the cloaca.
How Many Snake Eggs Survive?
Snakes lay lots of eggs because it ensures that at least some of their young will survive. It’s the same reason why a pet dog might give birth to a dozen puppies in a litter.
It’s also the same reason why we only usually give birth to one child at a time—because we’re very good at taking care of our young, and they’re much more likely to survive.
Unfortunately, there’s almost no research done on the proportion of snake eggs that survive and hatch. Take a look at this spreadsheet from the Northeast Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation on the percentage of eggs that survive. For every snake, they admit that the figure is ‘unknown’! However, we can guess.
Many factors may affect the health of unhatched eggs:
- Predation by egg-eating animals, e.g., mongooses and other snakes
- Temperature variations (since snake eggs must be incubated at a specific temperature)
- Egg turning, which is where the eggs change position. This can kill the unborn snakes
A study on egg turning gives us some idea of how many eggs naturally survive. Published in Scientific Reports, three scientists published a paper on the effects of egg turning. It’s an important topic to address since some people think it’s a myth.
If you didn’t know, when snake eggs are laid, they are stuck together and won’t move/roll unless pushed. They found that in eggs that were moved from the position they were born, 37.5% died after the snakes hatched. This was compared to just 4.5% if the eggs were laid and left alone.
So, a total of about 5% of snakes died after hatching in laboratory conditions. Adding in outdoor temperature variations and predation, that total would be a lot more.
Aside from that, there isn’t much more you need to know about snake egg laying habits. If your pet snake lays eggs at home, talk to a vet or breeder about the best way to take care of them. With luck, in a couple of months, you’ll have some tiny snake mouths to feed.