Cutting ball python eggs too early can kill the snakes inside. But cutting the eggs of a ball python too late can result in snakes drowning in their eggs. It can be a real dilemma for snake owners.
Cutting stops weaker baby ball pythons from drowning inside their eggs. The cutting process should be done after 50 days. Done correctly, it will result in more successful hatches. But if you aren’t experienced or you make a mistake, you could cut the snake accidentally.
So, there are pros and cons of cutting snake eggs before they hatch. But, on balance, there are more advantages than disadvantages. But you need to be aware of the risks.
Why Do Breeders Cut the Eggs of Ball Pythons?
When snake eggs hatch in the wild, there’s nobody there to cut them. The mother doesn’t help either, because almost all snake species abandon their eggs once they’re laid.
The main reason why breeders cut their eggs is that they want to see what’s inside. All of today’s breeders breed morphs, i.e. interesting color and pattern varieties. Many of these can’t be found in the wild. They can command a high price on the market.
If you take a look at any video content produced by snake breeders on YouTube, you’ll see that this is the main reason why breeders cut the eggs of snakes. It’s almost like a reveal video, where the breeder is excited to see an expensive morph, but less excited to see a regular snake morph.
This is understandable. Breeding snakes is a snake a job, and a successful hatch can mean money. But that’s not the only reason why you might want to cut (or ‘pip’) the eggs before they hatch.
Cutting Snake Eggs Before They Hatch
Cutting snake eggs at the wrong time can be the difference between ten healthy snakes, and no healthy snakes. If you want to keep the snakes as pets, this is heartbreaking. And if you want to sell the snakes, you could be losing thousands of dollars.
Pros and Cons of Snake Egg Cutting
|Pipping helps weaker snakes escape their egg, increasing clutch numbers||The snake may not be fully formed even if you keep a proper schedule (so candle the egg before cutting)|
|It helps identify problems like a twisted umbilicus||You may have gotten your dates wrong and pip at the wrong time|
|You get to see the morph early||If the snake has a developmental issue, you will have to put it down|
|You could accidentally cut the snake|
According to PLoS One, a ball python lays on average six eggs. That’s not many, so getting something wrong could make a big difference.
It Makes Life Easier for Your Snake
In the wild, snakes break their own way out of their egg. They poke at the shell with their nose in the hope of making a crack. If they can, they will work the crack to make it bigger. Once it’s big enough, they’ll crawl out into the big, wide world.
But not all snakes will manage to do this. Some may be too small and weak to manage it on their own. If that’s the case, they would die in the egg before they can hatch.
Usually, a snake that’s too small will die quickly, even if it hatches. However, that’s not a given. You can make the process easier for your snake by making a cut in the egg.
The Snake May Not Be Fully Formed
Eggs are like the equivalent of a womb. The snake doesn’t sit fully formed from day one inside its egg. If fertilized, they develop over time, getting bigger and more fully formed.
The timeframe over which this takes place is reasonably consistent. Snake eggs take around two months to hatch. It varies based on species.
However, it’s not safe to assume that every egg develops at the same time. Even within one clutch, one egg may take 45 days, while another takes 50 — the reason why isn’t clear, and isn’t important.
But don’t assume the eggs will all be ready at the same time. It’s commonly recommended that when you see one egg pip on its own, you pip the rest. However, the other eggs may not be ready.
Leaving them for only a couple more days may result in more eggs hatching healthily. But at the same time, there may be some snakes that drown in their eggs during this time.
An intact egg is vital to the snake’s development. If the wall of the egg is breached, all the fluid inside will run out. This is the snake’s food, so the snake will end up smaller than it could have been.
What should be clear is that you can’t be sure whether cutting the eggs is the right thing to do.
You May Have Gotten Your Dates Wrong
Ball pythons are normally ready to hatch at around 50-52 days. This is a general rule, and you may find that your clutch is ready before or after then.
If you have many snakes with lots of clutches of eggs, it’s easy to get your dates wrong. You could misremember when they were laid, or miswrite the date on their label.
When the time comes to cut these eggs, you may do so on the wrong date. A few days either way usually isn’t a problem. But more than a week out and you may cut them too soon. This could result in some of the clutch dying.
It Prevents Snakes Drowning in Their Eggs
If the snake is fully formed, but it doesn’t hatch, it can’t stay inside indefinitely. When initially forming, the snake will absorb oxygen through the wall of the egg. Its veins are attached to the egg’s surface.
But before hatching, the snake will detach from the wall of the egg and begin moving. It will then try to pip the egg to escape. At this point, it can’t absorb oxygen through the wall of the egg.
Like any other land-living animal, snakes need to breathe air with their lungs. Even sea snakes don’t have gills like fish. So, if they can’t get out of their egg, they can’t breathe either. Eventually, they will drown in the fluid inside the egg.
Pipping the egg entirely prevents this from happening. Pipping makes much of the fluid run out of the egg. It also prevents problems like a twisted umbilicus from, essentially, being a death sentence.
If the Snake Can’t Hatch, There May Be a Reason
Another drawback is that the egg may not have hatched for a reason. Snake breeding is a difficult art to get right. Eggs require a constant temperature and humidity, and any variance can cause hatching issues.
If your eggs have reached their ‘due date’ but still aren’t hatching, there may be a reason. The snake may have a developmental issue. Snake birth defects are common, including:
- The snake is too small to survive
- The snake only has one eye
- The snake has a wobble, where its head continually shakes (may be made worse by incorrect conditions during incubation)
- The snake has a kinked spine
- The snake has a deformed jaw
- The snake has fused sections in their spine
If your snake has any of these deformities, they can’t hatch. However, if you pip their egg, they will. You will then have to put them down as humanely as you can.
You can avoid this issue entirely by letting nature take its course, and not pipping the eggs yourself. To be clear, these deformities will occur whether you pip the egg or not.
But if you don’t pip the egg, you won’t have to put the snake down yourself, e.g. by freezing it. You may find the idea distressing, so it’s something you can avoid.
Can You Hurt a Ball Python by Cutting Its Egg?
It is possible to hurt the snake inside the egg when you cut it. When the snake develops, it is attached to the side of the egg. It is supposed to come loose before it hatches, but for one reason or another, it may not.
You can avoid this issue by candling the egg before cutting it. Candling is where you hold a light to the egg to see where the snake’s veins are. It looks like when you shine a bright light under your thumb, and your thumb turns red.
Avoid cutting where you see any veins, and the snake inside should be safe.
Should I Cut My Ball Python Eggs?
As a rule, we would recommend against cutting your eggs if you’re a beginner. It’s as likely that you will harm the snake accidentally as it is you will help them.
If you want to set up a breeding program, seek advice from an expert. Whether that’s a vet or an established breeder, ask them about cutting eggs. They may demonstrate how to do it safely.
If you can’t cut your eggs safely, i.e. you’ve done it before successfully, there’s no reason why not. It can be helpful for the snakes inside, and result in a more consistent hatch.
When to Cut Open Ball Python Eggs
The obvious answer is to pip the eggs once the snakes inside are finished developing. Any sooner and the hatchling likely won’t survive. Any later and the snake may drown.
Breeders are divided on when exactly they pip their eggs. It isn’t a point of contention or debate because different approaches can work. As a rule, breeders will cut ball python eggs at some point between 48 and 52 days.
This gives the eggs more than enough time to develop. It is also a good compromise between preventing snakes from drowning and opening the eggs too soon.
That being said, there are circumstances where you could consider cutting early. If the egg has started to become moldy, consider cutting it. If the snake is left inside, it will surely die. However, if the snake is developed enough, it may hatch successfully.
Of course, this doesn’t apply if the egg is one week old. But if it’s 45 days old, for example, then cutting it may save the snake while leaving it will kill it.
Ball Python Egg Stages
The first stage of the egg’s development is immediately after it’s laid. Like other animals, snakes can lay eggs that are either fertilized or unfertilized. Fertilized eggs are normally white with, at first, a taut and leathery shell. Unfertilized eggs may turn yellow, or moldy and green (aka ‘slugs’).
To check how the egg develops, use a technique called candling. This is where you hold a light to the egg so that you light up the inside. Once the snake starts to form, you will see veins form in a loose pattern inside the egg. This will eventually become your snake.
By the end, the snake will then be fully formed and begin moving. They may be moving a while before they hatch. If you notice them moving, feel free to pip the egg.
What to Do After Cutting Ball Python Eggs
Whatever you do, don’t take the snake out of the egg. Let the snake come out on its own.
Any sort of newborn or hatchling animal is delicate. You could easily hurt it by pulling on it to try and get it out of its egg. This could easily happen if the snake has a twisted umbilicus, for example.
But aside from that, it stresses the snake out to be grabbed by such a large animal right out of its egg. The snake doesn’t know who you are or what you want to do with it. They’ll think you’re about to eat them.
You should try to strike a balance between helping the snake, and helping the snake too much. There’s no need to do absolutely everything for the snake. If you do pip the egg, at least let the snake come out on its own.