If your snake is pregnant (gravid) and ready to lay eggs, then it’s time to think ahead to incubation. Once the eggs are laid, they will need an appropriate environment to foster healthy development until they hatch. Fortunately, it is simple for you to incubate snake eggs right at home.
When incubating your snake eggs at home, you will need an egg box, incubation medium, and an incubator. Be sure to monitor the temperature, humidity, and ventilation of the incubators to give the snake eggs the right environment. Do not rotate or flip over snake eggs. Incubation length until hatching varies between species.
Incubating snake eggs at home allows you to play a vital role in taking care of your snakes and front row seats to the miracle of life. Here we go through the process of incubating snake eggs at home, step by step.
Why Incubate Snake Eggs Yourself?
If you are new to snake breeding, you may assume that mother snakes already incubate their eggs. However, with most snake species, this is not the case.
Snakes come together to mate, and that’s about it. In most species of snake, the female will simply lay the eggs and then go on about her business, without actively brooding the clutch of eggs at all.
The female snake will find a warm, humid location for the eggs in the wild. This is often a decomposing log or pile of leaves. However, it does not stick around to make sure that the environment remains appropriate for the eggs’ development.
The exception is pythons. Pythons will brood their eggs, wrapping themselves around the clutch to keep them safe and warm. If you are breeding certain species of python, you may have success at hatching baby snakes when you leave them with the mother snake. But to make sure that the eggs have the right environment for hatching, you need an incubator.
If you are breeding your own snake eggs, incubating the eggs at home gives them the best chance at developing into healthy baby snakes.
Incubating Snake Eggs
Incubating snake eggs at home requires diligence and care. However, it is not an overly complicated process. Here are some simple steps to follow when you incubate snake eggs at home – from getting the egg box ready, to setting up the incubator, to finally hatching your eggs.
1. Prepare The Egg Box
You likely already know that you need an incubator, but there is another tool for incubating snake eggs which is necessary right at the start: an egg box. This is the container which will actually hold your snake eggs inside the incubator.
An egg box can simply be a plastic tub with an airtight lid. Make sure that the tub will easily fit inside of your incubator before you put the eggs in it. Thoroughly clean and dry the tub before you use it for incubation.
You can also purchase a box or tray designed for safely holding snake eggs and use in incubators. We recommend the NGe Reptile Egg Breeding Hatchery Box Incubator Tray, which you can purchase at Amazon here. A total of 12 eggs can be placed into this egg box, which has a transparent cover to allow you to keep an eye on the condition of the snake eggs as they incubate and hatch.
Once the egg box is clean and dry, add an incubation medium. Incubation media are substrates for incubation. They retain moisture, keeping the eggs in a humid environment, without actually saturating the egg box.
Many snake substrates will work, including sand, sphagnum moss, vermiculite, or potting soil. There are also substrates specifically designed to be incubation media. The HatchRite Reptile Incubation Medium can be ordered via Amazon here. This medium is already mixed and ready to be used.
Fill the tub with the incubation medium until it is around half full. Then press indents into the medium. These indents are where the eggs will rest in the medium. Be sure to leave gaps between each of the indents and also between the indents and the wall of the egg box.
2. Collect The Eggs
Be gentle with the eggs and also with the mother snake. Remove the snake from the enclosure before you try to move the eggs. Snake eggs are fairly hardy, but you want to be sure not to put too much pressure on them to avoid accidentally harming the eggs.
As you move the eggs into the egg box, make sure to keep them right side up. A good tip for this is to first mark the top of the eggs with a marker, so you don’t forget which way they were oriented after you move them.
Do not bury the eggs into the incubation medium. Still, make sure that the eggs will not roll around when you move the box, and be sure that the eggs are not touching each other. Then, cover the egg box with its lid. It’s time to put it in the incubator.
Why Snake Eggs Stick Together
If you are incubating python eggs, then you may find that some of the snake eggs are stuck together. In the wild, sticky eggs are an advantage. The stickiness keeps the eggs from rolling away, and it also keeps them together and warm.
The eggs all stay in one place so that a brooding female python can protect them all at once. Even if the mother snake is not around, it is difficult for a predator to eat an individual egg when they are all stuck together.
These sticky eggs also are unlikely to turn over accidentally. It is vital for the wellbeing of the hatchling that snake eggs remain in an upright position. Unlike chicken eggs, snake eggs do not have structures to anchor the yolk. If the egg gets turned over, the snake embryo may be accidentally crushed by the yolk.
If some of your snake eggs are stuck together while you incubate them at home, do not attempt to separate them. Put them into the egg box as they are, together.
3. Set Up The Incubator
Incubators can be a bit expensive, but they are an essential part of breeding snakes at home. These devices are a worthwhile investment for reptile breeders. The incubator is what makes sure that the eggs remain at an appropriate temperature and humidity level for proper, healthy development.
If you are looking for an incubator, you can often find them at pet stores or online. This Zoo Med ReptiBator Digital Reptile Egg Incubator can be ordered via Amazon here. It allows you to control temperatures between 59 degrees Fahrenheit and 104 degrees Fahrenheit. The incubator also has a digital display that allows you to keep track of the humidity percentage inside.
Once you have your incubator, set it someplace stable. You do not want the eggs to be needlessly shaken around. Also, check to make sure that the incubator does not have an active turning function. Some incubators which are used for other kinds of eggs, such as chicken eggs, will turn the eggs automatically. Snake eggs must not be turned.
If you are incubating more than one species of snake at once, you should use separate incubators for each species. Different species require different temperature and humidity levels. Also, you don’t want to accidentally transmit diseases between species in close quarters.
Before you put any eggs into the incubator, test it to make sure that it works. You want to give your snake eggs the best possible incubation environment. Here are some factors you need to monitor to make sure your snake eggs prosper.
Incubating the eggs at the correct temperature is essential. According to Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, incubation temperatures can alter how long the eggs incubate, the sex ratios of the hatched snakes, and even the snakes’ behavior after hatching. Hatchlings incubated at lower temperatures tend to move more slowly, making them less able to capture and eat their prey. In the wild, this can make a fatal difference.
You can control the temperature in the incubator with the incubator’s thermostat. Adding a digital thermometer is a good idea to double-check on the thermometer included with the incubator. Place the thermometer at the level of the eggs in the incubator for the most accuracy.
Do your research to make sure you are setting the incubator at the correct temperature for the specific species of snake. Here are some example temperature ranges:
- Corn Snake Incubation Temperature: 78 to 84 degrees Fahrenheit
- Milk Snake Incubation Temperature: 78 to 88 degrees Fahrenheit
- Ball Python Incubation Temperature: 88 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit
According to Copeia, humidity can affect whether or not a snake egg hatches. Eggs in an insufficiently humid environment quickly shrink, losing volume and weight. This volume can be recovered by bringing the eggs into contact with moist cloths, but it is better to avoid this problem in the first place by maintaining an appropriate humidity level in the incubator.
If your incubator does not have a built-in hygrometer, we recommend the Inkbird Digital Thermometer and Hygrometer, which you can purchase on Amazon here. This device helps you monitor both the temperature and the humidity in an incubator.
If the incubator has a fan inside, make sure it is turned off. Fans can lower humidity levels and dehydrate eggs. If you find that you need to increase the humidity level, adding a small dish of water to the incubator can get your eggs looking nice and plump again.
Again, look up the recommended humidity levels for your specific species of snake’s eggs. Here are some example humidity level requirements:
- Corn Snake Humidity Level: 75% to 90%
- Milk Snake Humidity Level: around 90%
- Ball Python Humidity Level: 90% to 100%
Good ventilation is an essential part of a snake egg incubator. As the eggs get close to hatching, the fetal snakes will start to require oxygen to survive. The incubator should have vents or holes which allow oxygen to enter and allow heat and carbon to escape.
You can also help with ventilation by briefly opening the incubator’s lid or door every two or three days. This will allow fresh air to be exchanged without excessively drying out or cooling the eggs. You do not need to open the egg box itself – that can let out too much humidity.
This is where patience becomes the name of the game. How long it takes for your eggs to incubate varies depending on the temperature of the incubator and the species of snake. While eggs develop faster at higher temperatures, too high of a temperature can also be lethal for the eggs. Strive for a happy medium and let nature take its course.
Most snake eggs hatch between 40 and 70 days. Here are some typical incubation lengths.
- Corn Snake Incubation Length: 58 to 62 days
- Milk Snake Incubation Length: 56 to 63 days
- Ball Python Incubation Length: around 60 days
Checking In On The Eggs
As you watch the eggs through the transparent lid of the egg box, you can look for signs of the eggs’ process and health. A well-hydrated snake egg is plump and round, while a dehydrated snake egg is smaller and shriveled.
Viable snake eggs are firm, dry, and white. They may take on a chalk-like or mottled appearance, depending on the species. If the shell seems to have darkened or collapsed, this may be a sign of dehydration. Check the humidity level of the incubator, adding water or decreasing ventilation as necessary.
Unfortunately, not all eggs make it to hatching. If you see fuzzy mold growth on the eggs, that usually means that the snake fetus has died.
After around two or three weeks of incubation, you can often figure out in advance whether or not an egg is fertile and going to hatch. This process is called candling. Candling involves you holding the egg – again, in a right side up position – over a bright light source in a dark room. In a fertile egg, you will see a dark area inside. That dark area is the fetal snake.
It takes practice to become experienced at candling and telling the difference between a fertile and infertile egg. Use caution while handling the egg. Moving them around too much during incubation can jeopardize the baby snake’s health. Avoid candling the eggs more than once or twice, and be sure to allow the eggs to sit undisturbed for at least a month after candling before trying again.
If you are certain that an egg in the incubator is infertile or that the fetus has unfortunately died, remove the egg from the incubator. An infertile egg can become a source of bacteria or mold, which can infect and harm the other eggs as well.
As the snake eggs near the end of their incubation period, the baby snakes will hatch. Generally, most of the eggs in a snake clutch will all hatch within a day or two of each other.
The baby snake will use an egg tooth, or caruncle, at the front of its nose to break out of the egg. Usually, the snake breaks out, or “pips,” at the very top of the egg. If the snake remains inside of the egg after it has pipped, be patient. The baby snake may remain there as long as two or three days as it feeds on the rest of the egg’s yolk sac.
Be sure to leave the snake eggs in the incubator until they have completely come out of their shells. If you are dealing with a snake which is known to sometimes eat other baby snakes, such as a kingsnake or milk snake, you may want to separate the baby snakes into their own enclosures as they each emerge from their eggs.
What If The Eggs Don’t Hatch?
If your eggs are not hatching, or if a baby snake seems to be taking a very long time to come out of its shell, try to be patient. It may be a good idea to call a reptile veterinarian or breeder for advice about snakes which are having a difficult time hatching.
Do not try to break a baby snake free from its egg. You may accidentally hurt the hatchling. Get help from a reptile vet. In every clutch of snake eggs, there are some eggs that do not make it. However, the work is worth it for the healthy baby snakes you do produce.
Incubating your snake eggs at home allows you to perform a vital role in the life and wellbeing of the snakes in your care. With this guide, you are equipped to bring your own baby snakes into the world, in your own home.