Milk snakes are oviparous. This means their young are hatched from eggs outside of their body. If you want to breed milk snakes, you’ll need to know when they lay their eggs, how long to incubate the eggs for, and how to take care of the hatchlings once they arrive.
Incubating the eggs is a straightforward process, but you must provide enough heat, humidity, and ventilation. If you don’t, the babies may develop deformities, become unwell, or perish before they are hatched. We’ll show you how to incubate the eggs and how to care for baby milk snakes.
- 1 Milk Snake Breeding Cycle Explained
- 2 When Can You Start Breeding Milk Snakes?
- 3 How Many Eggs Do Milk Snakes Lay?
- 4 Incubating Milk Snake Eggs
- 5 Milk Snake Egg Incubation Time
- 6 How to Care for a Milk Snake Hatchling
Milk Snake Breeding Cycle Explained
If you want to try breeding milk snakes, you’ll need to understand their reproduction cycle. Here is a brief overview of their breeding cycle in captivity:
Middle of October – Give the snakes their last meals before brumation. Do not feed them for two weeks to allow them to clear their stomachs.
Beginning of November – Brumate (cool) your snakes. For most of the year, milk snakes require a temperature gradient between 70 °F (21 °C) and 82 °F (28 °C).
During brumation, they can be kept at an ambient temperature of 60°F (16 °C) during the day and 55°F (13 °C) during the night.
Early March – Warm the snakes slowly for 1-2 weeks. Feed the snakes small meals 1-2 times per week.
Middle of April – The first shed will occur so that the male can be introduced to the female.
April – May – Introduce the male to the female and leave them together overnight. Remove the male in the morning. Repeat this process about three times a week. Offer the snakes small meals and allow 36 hours before re-introducing to discourage regurgitation.
June – A gravid (pregnant) female will start to grow in size, and her scales will spread. She will shed her skin once before laying her eggs and will probably refuse food during this time.
June – July – The female should be provided with a damp box to lay her eggs in. For example, you can provide a Tupperware lined with dampened sphagnum moss.
Remove the water bowl (or empty most of its contents) to dissuade the snake from laying her eggs in the water bowl.
After the eggs have been laid and removed for incubation, some breeders will re-introduce the same male to mate a second time.
July – September – The eggs should be incubated for 8-9 weeks until the hatchlings arrive.
When Can You Start Breeding Milk Snakes?
Milk snakes are fully-grown by the time they’re four years old, though some mature earlier. To be sure your snakes have reached sexual maturity, do not breed them until they reach the age of four.
Female milk snakes can successfully mate until they’re around 10 years old. Males will usually be able to mate until they are about 12 years old.
How Many Eggs Do Milk Snakes Lay?
Your milk snake could lay as few as 2, and as many as 18 eggs at a time. The average number of eggs per clutch is 10.
Some breeders mate their females 2 or perhaps even 3 times a year. For example, Pueblan milk snakes will often have 3 clutches a year, laying approximately 10 eggs each time. This is the reason why Pueblans are one of the least expensive milk snakes.
Incubating Milk Snake Eggs
Incubating the eggs is not difficult, but you do need to make sure the temperature, humidity, and ventilation are pitched at the correct level. Let’s review each requirement in turn:
Humidity is vital to stop the eggs from drying out. However, the outer shells of the egg must not get wet, as the developing babies could drown. This is why it is so essential to prevent your snake from laying her eggs in the water bowl.
Humidity should be around 90%, but no water should come into contact with the outside of the shell. To achieve this, purchase a specialist reptile hatching medium (substrate). Many of these substrates need to be mixed with water before you lay them.
The ideal temperature for incubation is 80°F-84°F. Do not allow the temperature to dip below 80°F or rise above 85°F. Either scenario is likely to result in deformities.
Milk snakes’ eggs don’t require a great deal of ventilation, but some air-flow is necessary.
If the container is completely airtight, carbon dioxide can build up, and the developing babies may struggle to breathe. To safely incubate the eggs, follow these steps:
- Find a plastic egg box (e.g., a Tupperware container with a lid). Clean and disinfect the container and make sure it’s dry. You may need several egg boxes if you have a large clutch to incubate.
- Make sure the lid has small ventilation holes.
- Add a layer of the reptile hatching medium/substrate. This should be about 3 quarters of an inch thick.
- Gently remove the eggs from the enclosure and place these in the plastic box. Leave enough space between each egg. If some of the eggs are clumped together (as they often are) don’t be too heavy-handed when trying to separate them. It’s fine to incubate them in clumps if they cannot be easily separated.
- Close the lid of the egg box and place it inside an incubator (at 82°F-84°F). You can purchase an incubator relatively cheaply or create your own with a tank, reptile heat pad, and thermostat. It’s better to buy an incubator where possible because they will maintain a very steady temperature.
Milk Snake Egg Incubation Time
Your milk snake’s eggs will usually hatch within 56-63 days (i.e., 8-9 weeks).
Most eggs will hatch late-August to mid-September. While your eggs are incubating, you should check them 2-3 times a week. Check for the following issues:
Wet Eggs or Signs of Mold
This could indicate too much humidity. If there is too much moisture, leave the lid of the egg box off for a day or two, so the moisture can evaporate.
In any case, it’s a good idea to remove the lid for a couple of hours once every 2 weeks to encourage sufficient ventilation.
If the substrate is too dry, try misting the substrate (not the eggs) with water, or placing a water dish at the bottom of your incubator.
Don’t Remove Eggs
If one or two eggs become rotten, it’s usually fine to leave them in the egg box along with the others because attempting to remove them could cause more damage than good.
Hatching occurs when the baby slits the egg (pipping). The egg will begin to collapse or dimple.
Once the hatchling has pipped the shell, it may not leave the egg for several hours, or even days. Do not force the hatchling to leave before it’s ready as this may cause severe injury.
How to Care for a Milk Snake Hatchling
When the hatchling emerges, it will be 6-12 inches in length. Some snake handlers keep the hatchling in the incubator for 24 hours after it emerges to help reduce stress and keep it warm.
This is recommended, but it’s best to separate hatchlings into their own containers within the incubator as they are a cannibalistic species.
After 24 hours, you can house your hatchlings in small containers (with ventilation holes), or a 10-gallon tank (typically: 20” x 11” x 13”). A 5-gallon tank would also be plenty big enough for a hatchling, but they’d outgrow this within 6-12 months.
As such, it would be more economical to house a hatchling in a 10-gallon tank and then upgrade to a larger tank when the snake is 2 or 3 years old.
Heat requirements vary between subspecies, but most milk snakes require temperatures between 70 °F (21 °C) and 82 °F (28 °C). Juvenile snakes need plenty of humidity to shed their skin, so use a substrate that retains moisture.
Hide boxes with dampened sphagnum moss or paper towels can be very useful for achieving this. Most hatchlings will shed their skin about 2 weeks after they’ve hatched.
After your snake has shed, offer it a small meal. Most milk snakes can eat one small pinky mouse. Some subspecies such as Honduran milk snakes might not eat until they are a month old.
If you want to breed milk snakes, you’ll need to spend time incubating and monitoring the eggs. As long as you keep a close eye on heat, humidity, and ventilation, you should be rewarded with healthy hatchlings.