If your pet snake is gravid (pregnant) and about to lay her eggs, you need to learn as much as possible about incubating snake eggs at home. If you get this right, you’re more likely to have healthy hatchlings. The good news is that incubating snake eggs at home is really easy.
Sometimes the mother will do the job. Pythons, for example, incubate their own eggs. If they don’t, put the eggs in an incubator and keep them at the optimal temperature and humidity. Don’t roll the eggs around or disturb them. After 2-3 months, they’ll hatch on their own.
Make sure the eggs are at the right temperature with the ReptiPro 6000 Reptile Egg Incubator (available on Amazon). If they aren’t, the snake could be born with congenital disabilities, such as kinking, or be unable to fend for themselves. This guide below first explains snake egg incubation and then how you can do it on your own, without having to buy equipment.
Do Snakes Incubate Their Eggs?
Most snakes don’t incubate their eggs, either in the wild or captivity. It’s by far more common for a snake to lay eggs and not care for their young.
They’ll find an enclosed and safe spot that they can lay the eggs where they hopefully won’t be disturbed. The female snake, after she lays her eggs, will go off and take care of herself instead. In some species, she may try to mate again and lay another clutch of eggs.
Pythons are an exception to this rule. All pythons, to a greater or lesser extent, incubate their eggs until they hatch. Once the eggs are laid, she’ll sit on top of them and protect them. If any predator comes close, the python will get very defensive—more defensive than usual—striking out and making sure nothing comes to take their eggs.
Ball pythons are an example of this in action, as are reticulated pythons. But the most defensive mother is the African rock python. She’ll sit and brood on top of her eggs just like other pythons. But even when they hatch, she’ll then guard her offspring for another two weeks.
Why Don’t Snakes Incubate Eggs?
First, they’re cold-blooded, so they don’t produce body heat anyway. Chickens and birds, as an example, produce their own body heat so they can keep their eggs nice and warm. Snakes struggle to do the same because they struggle to warm themselves up, let alone their eggs.
Not only that, though, but it’s a tough life being a snake. They need to make the most of their time, either finding another mate or finding something to eat. Having to create eggs and yolks that can feed her offspring takes a lot of energy for the mother. So, once she’s given birth to all those eggs, she needs to find lots of food before she turns in for winter.
There’s also safety in numbers. From an evolutionary standpoint, if she can hide her eggs well enough, then two or three might get eaten. That’s in a clutch of 10, 15, 20 or more. That’s no great loss if the rest of the snakes can live to adulthood.
In terms of energy use, she would be better served by producing a few more eggs than spending two or three months sat in one place waiting for them to hatch.
So How Do Pythons Incubate Their Eggs?
In the wild, pythons don’t have incubators or spray bottles. So, how does a python looking after her eggs manage to maintain the temperature and humidity that they need?
They give off a small amount of warmth that they pick up from basking (basically, sunbathing). But this isn’t enough to keep eggs warm in the winter, which is why they give birth in the late spring or early summer. So, in terms of temperature, all they can do is keep their eggs at a constant temperature rather than warming them up.
For moisture, the mother will urinate in the soil around the eggs. In doing so, she guarantees that there’s constant humidity surrounding the eggs. And while she’s sat on top of them, she holds that moisture in—not perfectly, since she can’t make an airtight seal, but her presence will help.
Remember, though, that just because she incubates the eggs that don’t mean they all survive. Survival rates are much better for eggs raised in an incubator than those raised by python mothers in the wild. We’ve identified what the eggs need, and through technology, we can create a perfect environment for them.
Why do Snake Eggs Stick Together?
When they’re laid, snake eggs stick together. There are a few reasons why. First, for reasons that aren’t quite clear, it’s best for the unborn snakes if one side of the shell remains facing upwards throughout their development.
According to a paper in Scientific Reports, post-hatching mortality is dramatically increased in snakes whose eggs were turned compared to those whose eggs were left alone.
- 5% of snakes that hatch from turned eggs will die before adulthood.
- Only 4.5% of snakes that hatch from unturned eggs will die in the same period.
Having the eggs stick together stops them from rolling around or turning. Having them stick together also makes it more difficult for a predator to come along and eat an individual egg since it will be stuck tight to the rest of them.
Not all snake eggs stick together, but python snakes do. If you are incubating snake eggs at home, don’t separate them if they’re stuck together.
How to Incubate Snake Eggs
Hatching snake eggs at home isn’t complicated. You need the right equipment. But don’t worry, because it isn’t very expensive or difficult to set up.
First, you’re going to need an incubator. This is the most expensive thing you’ll buy, but if you’re intent on breeding snakes, then it’ll more than pay for itself. The incubator looks like a little fridge and keeps the eggs at a consistently warm temperature.
We recommend using the ReptiPro 6000 Reptile Egg Incubator, which is available on Amazon. This versatile model provides a temperature range from 59 degrees Fahrenheit to 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
When the female is about to lay, make sure that she has somewhere quite damp to lay her eggs. This stops them from drying out before you incubate them. If the eggs aren’t stuck together, use a marker to draw a small dot on the upward-facing side of each egg.
Next, you’ll need a small plastic tub. This is the egg box. Any small plastic box will do, so long as it’s genuinely airtight. You’ll need to fill the box with an incubation medium, which is like a substrate, but that’s good at holding on to water.
You can use vermiculite, perlite, or a branded hatching medium. These substrates are perfect because they hold onto moisture, but also provide some air movement around the eggs. You can also use sphagnum moss, although this isn’t as good.
Run the incubator for at least a day to get it at the exact required temperature/humidity. Then, you put the sealed airtight tub into the incubator. Check back on the eggs periodically to make sure that the moisture is still in the tub.
How Long do Snake Eggs Incubate?
Snake egg incubation times vary depending on the species, but most eggs take about two to three months to hatch. Over this time, the embryo inside the egg feeds on the yolk.
It grows bigger until it’s a fully formed snake. By the time it hatches, the snake will be ready to face the world. It will be born with fangs, scales, even a little venom if it’s a venomous snake.
So, since egg incubation varies depending on the species, take a look at the following list:
- Ball python egg incubation time: 50 to 55 days
- Corn snake egg incubation time: 60 to 65 days
- Kingsnake egg incubation time: 60 to 70 days
Egg incubation time depends on temperature, too. Sometimes if the snakes are kept at the incorrect temperature, they’ll hatch more quickly, and come out a little smaller than they otherwise would be. Other eggs take longer to hatch for no real reason, so don’t be worried if your eggs take a little longer than described above.
What Temperature do You Incubate Snake Eggs At?
Temperature is the most important factor when it comes to incubating eggs. That’s what incubation is. The mother will either lay her eggs somewhere where the temperature won’t fluctuate much, like in a burrow, or she’ll sit on them to keep the temperature from changing. Different snakes’ eggs have different temperature needs, including:
- Ball python incubation temperature: 88 to 90 degrees
- Corn snake incubation temperature: 80 to 85 degrees
- Kingsnake incubation temperature: 82 to 84 degrees
If you don’t keep the eggs at the right temperature, there’s a risk of birth defects. The snake may be born with a bent/kinked spine, poorly formed body, swelling, under-formed lower jaw or any other number of birth defects.
It’s vital that whether the eggs are in an incubator or the enclosure with their mother, that they’re at the same temperature all the way through incubation. An incubator maintains a steady temperature both day and night.
According to the Journal of Herpetology, keeping eggs at a consistent and correct temperature also helps snakes develop more generally. The scientists found that kingsnake eggs kept at between 82 and 84 degrees hatched out longer than those incubated at 90 degrees. Not only that, but the eggs kept at 82 degrees were stronger, better at defending themselves, and better at feeding.
Your incubator should come with a thermostat that you can set. If it doesn’t have a thermometer that tells you how warm it is inside, use a normal thermometer. Make sure the thermometer is visible from outside the incubator, as opening the incubator will reduce the temperature and humidity.
What Humidity do You Incubate Snake Eggs At?
Humidity is similar to temperature, in that it’s imperative to keep the humidity level consistent. Most snake eggs require between 80-90% humidity, but many owners/breeders completely soak the environment, leaving it at 99%.
- Ball python egg incubation humidity: 90-100%
- Corn snake egg incubation humidity: 80-90%
- Kingsnake egg incubation humidity: 90-100%
Most people choose near 100% humidity, as this doesn’t seem to produce any ill effects. If there is enough humidity, you’ll notice drops forming on the plastic lid of the egg box. That’s perfectly fine.
On the other hand, if the humidity is too low, you’ll notice just by checking on the eggs. When it’s not humid enough, they’ll start to shrivel a little and might look sunken too. If the eggs dry out, nothing will hatch out of them.
Egg Incubation Ventilation
Ventilation is the final one of the big three important things you have to watch out for (the other two being temperature and humidity). Just like a hatched snake, the eggs need fresh oxygen every once in a while.
They also give off carbon dioxide, which you’ll need to vent periodically. Don’t worry if this all sounds complex because it’s as simple as opening the corner of the egg box every once in a while, to let the air flow in and out.
When you open the corner of the egg box, this will disturb the eggs, just a little. In particular, it’ll let out quite a bit of the humidity. When you check on them, give them a little spray just to keep the humidity up. Spray directly into the substrate rather than onto the eggs themselves. The eggs aren’t supposed to be soaking wet themselves, just kept in a humid location.
What to Do When Snake Eggs Are Hatching
After two or three months, the eggs will start to hatch. At this point, the snake is fully formed and ready to start crawling around, doing their own thing. However, you can also choose to help them and make hatching a little easier.
You can choose to cut the egg just before hatching. This makes it a little easier for the hatchling to get out of the egg. If you do, use a clean and sterilized razor blade or knife. Be very careful when poking a hole in the egg to avoid hurting the snake.
If you do choose to cut open the egg, you should cut them out at most two or three days before they’re ‘scheduled’ to hatch. We don’t advise cutting the egg, as it’s entirely possible that you’ve made a mistake, and they’re not ready to hatch.
When the snakes start to poke through the egg, either naturally or not, don’t pull them out. Let them make their way out.
Why Won’t My Snake Eggs Hatch?
Eggs respond very badly to temperature variations, humidity variations, and being turned. However, this isn’t immediately apparent just from looking at them. However, you might notice:
- The egg looks dried out, a sign that the humidity was too low
- The egg has a dent in the top or side, another sign of low humidity
- An egg that turns a slightly darker color might have gone bad
- An egg that has mold on it is bad. The mold will be blue or green
- You might notice the typical bad-egg smell
- The egg will start to get harder than the others, which remain leathery
All that being said, sometimes an egg that looks bad ends up hatching anyway. Candle the eggs to see if there’s anything in there. Candling is where you hold the egg up to a light, like a candle or a lamp. If you can see veins or something that looks like a tiny baby snake, then that’s a good sign.
If the egg was laid weeks ago, but you can’t see veins, then probably the snake won’t ever hatch. Leave it and see what happens, unless it goes bad to the point that it’s moldy.
Can You Build Your Own Incubator?
There’s no reason why not. So long as it works, it doesn’t matter how DIY your incubator is. To build one, it’s simple. There are rules, though:
- Since heat rises, don’t make it tall. Otherwise, there will be a big difference in temperatures at the top and the bottom of the incubator.
- For the same reason, don’t make an incubator that opens from the top. If it opens from the top, whenever you open the lid, it’ll immediately release all of the heat and humidity.
- Pick a material that holds onto both heat and moisture. Glass holds onto humidity, for example. Styrofoam holds onto both humidity and heat. Plastic holds onto both quite well.
- The most important thing is that you completely seal any corners or cracks. This helps keep both heat and humidity in.
- Use a heat source like heat tape or wiring rather than a heat mat. These provide consistent heat that’s spread out. Use a thermostat to keep the temperature the same, all day and night. Variations of more than a degree or two will harm the eggs.
- Use both a thermometer and hygrometer to measure temperature and humidity.
How to Make a DIY Snake Egg Incubator
Other than that, you can make it however you want. If you want to make something cheap and easy, take a cardboard box and line it with Styrofoam. Cut a small hole at the front that you can open and close like a door. Use a heat mat with a thermostat to keep the internal temperature consistent.
Use an egg box to keep the eggs in a humid environment. Line the box with hatching medium, just like you usually would. Wrap the whole incubator in saran wrap, and use tape to keep it in place. This will stop heat and humidity from escaping. Every few days, when you open the door to check on the eggs, replace the saran wrap.
If you do choose to build an incubator, be prepared for it to not quite work as intended. The odds are that unless you’re great at DIY, the temperature will vary a little too much.
And unless the seals are perfect, it’s likely that most of the moisture will escape. If you want to make sure that a batch of eggs hatches as intended, purchase an incubator. But if you’d like to experiment, feel free to make your own.
How to Incubate Snake Eggs Without an Incubator
Incubators can be quite expensive, especially if you want a nice one. So, it’s understandable if you don’t want to fork out the cash to buy one. If you do want to use the one that we recommend, you can buy the ReptiPro 6000 Reptile Egg Incubator on Amazon.
They do make it easier to breed snakes, but it is possible to breed them without using one. After all, snakes hatch eggs in the wild all the time, and they don’t have incubators.
If you have a python that will incubate their eggs, there’s no need to take them away. But if you have a snake that doesn’t incubate their eggs, take the eggs and place them in an egg box with some hatching medium. As always, make sure that you don’t turn, spin or flip the eggs at any point.
With the eggs in the box, move it somewhere that you’re going to have a consistent temperature as detailed above. Don’t put them anywhere that there’s going to be a draft.
Keep them somewhere that’s consistently warm during the day and at night. On top of the fridge might be a good idea, because the heat that comes from the back of the fridge is relatively constant. Use a thermometer to scout out potential warm locations.
All that being said, buying an incubator is the best idea by far. And if the price is your main concern, build a small incubator for $10 or less using basic materials.