Milk snakes are oviparous. This means their young are hatched from eggs outside of the mother’s 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 from the moment that they arrive.
Female milk snakes lay their eggs in June or July. They lay between 2 and 17 eggs per clutch, with the average being 10. The eggs of captive (pet) milk snakes need to be incubated to stay healthy. If you don’t, the babies may develop deformities, become unwell, or perish before they hatch. The female’s eggs will hatch over the next 8 to 9 weeks.
Milk snakes are fully-grown by the age of 4, although some mature earlier. 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.
Milk Snake Breeding Cycle
Here is a brief overview of their breeding cycle of milk snakes:
|Middle of October:||Give the snakes their last meals before brumation. Don’t feed them for two weeks to clear their stomachs.|
|Start of November:||For most of the year, milk snakes require a temperature gradient of 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) at 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 to 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 reintroducing to reduce the likelihood of regurgitation.|
|June:||A gravid 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 to July:||The female should be provided with a damp box to lay her eggs in. You can provide a Tupperware lined with dampened sphagnum moss.|
|July to September:||The eggs should be incubated for 8-9 weeks until the hatchlings arrive.|
How Many Eggs Do Milk Snakes Lay?
Your milk snake could lay as few as 2 eggs, or lay as many as 18 eggs at a time. The average number of eggs per clutch is 10.
Some breeders mate their females 2 or 3 times a year. For example, Pueblan milk snakes will often have 3 clutches a year.
Incubating Milk Snake Eggs
Incubating the eggs is not difficult, but you do need to make sure the temperature, humidity, and ventilation are set at the correct level.
Humidity is vital for stopping the eggs from drying out. However, the outer shells of the egg must not get wet as the developing babies could drown.
Humidity should be around 90%, but no water should come into contact with the outside of the shell. Use a specialist snake hatching substrate (bedding), such as vermiculite or perlite.
The ideal temperature for egg incubation is 80°F-84°F. Do not allow the temperature to dip below 80°F or rise above 85°F.
Some air-flow is essential. 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
- Make sure the lid has small ventilation holes
- Add a 3/4 of an inch layer of snake hatching substrate.
- Remove the eggs from the enclosure and place them in the plastic container. Leave enough space between each egg. If some of the eggs are clumped together, don’t be too heavy-handed when trying to separate them. Incubate them in clumps if they can’t be separated
- Close the lid and put it inside an incubator (at 82°F-84°F)
Milk Snake Egg Incubation Time
Your milk snake’s eggs will usually hatch within 56-63 days.
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 1-2 days, so the moisture can evaporate.
Regardless, 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 it (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 OK to leave them in the egg box along with the others. Attempting to remove them could cause harm.
Hatching occurs when the baby slits the egg (pipping). The egg will begin to collapse or dimple at this stage.
Once the hatchling has pipped the shell, it may not leave its egg for several hours or days. Do not force the hatchling to leave before it’s ready because this may lead to 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 big enough for a hatchling.
Milk snakes require temperatures between 70 °F (21 °C) and 82 °F (28 °C). Juvenile snakes need humidity to shed their skin, so use a substrate that retains moisture. Use hide boxes with dampened sphagnum moss.