Did you know that one of the immense threats to ball pythons in the wild is their export to the pet trade? Breeders are actively combating this issue by breeding snakes in captivity instead of capturing them in the wild. As a ball python owner, you should learn how to properly breed your ball python to help in the decrease of the number of snakes taken from the wild.
There are many ways to breed a ball python, and the one we are about to discuss is just one of them. It is essential to find a breeding method that works best for you and your ball pythons.
How do I breed a ball python?
Breeding is a laborious and time-consuming process, but it is very rewarding. Ball pythons breeding is widely known to be tricky. A first-timer may even feel overwhelmed breeding for the first time. Before diving into the nitty gritties of breeding, there are a few things you should consider.
Should you or shouldn’t you breed ball python?
The snake breeding injury is not only fast-paced but also thriving. It is very alluring to throw caution to the wind and get started in the snake breeding industry. Who can blame you?
If you have felt the excitement of owning and caring for a ball python, the prospect of breeding them does look quite thrilling. If you are trying to breed for the profit, ensure you are doing it legally and safely.
If you are breeding for fun, remember there are health risks for your ball python. It may result in injury or severe disease.
Ball python breeding terminology
Cloaca – the vent found on the belly of a snake towards the tip of the tail.
Gravid – This means your ball python is carrying fertile eggs that will finally hatch.
Lock – This is when during breeding, a male ball python’s tail coils under the female ball python’s tail.
Clutch – It is a group of eggs hatched by reptiles at a single time.
Slug – These are unfertilized eggs that appear smaller, have a yellow tint, and do not depict any veins when candled. They aren’t good eggs and eventually go bad.
Pip – This is when the snake hatchlings make slits on the egg on its own and pop the head out. It won’t fully emerge but will pop its head out for the first breath of air.
1. Preparing for Ball Python Breeding
Ensure your ball pythons have reached the maturity age.
The ball pythons you intend to breed should be of age and large enough. A female ball python should weigh between 3.5 and 4.5 pounds and should be at least three years old. Breeding is a health risk for lighter females and too demanding. Male ball pythons should weigh over 1.5 pounds and should be at least a year old. You can check your male ball python’s maturity by expressing a sperm plug. Gently place pressure on your snake’s cloaca; it should produce a cheesy white substance that tells you the male is ready.
Sex your ball pythons
It is best to sex your snakes before breeding them. You want to be sure that you put in a male ball python with a female one and not another male. Probing is a dangerous process that you shouldn’t do without instruction or the help of an expert. A process called probing is used to determine the sex of your ball pythons. Into your snake’s cloaca, insert a sterile sliding probe. The depth of the probe before encountering resistance determines whether your ball python is male or female. Female ball pythons can probe up to a depth of three to four scales. Males, on the other hand, can probe up to seven and nine scales. False positives are common for female ball pythons if the snake is constricting to prevent the probe from reaching full penetration.
Female and male stimulus
Before breeding, it is vital to ensure your female ball pythons are healthy and fertile. To ensure your snake’s fertility, a process called brumation is carried out. Brumation is a hibernation-like state that ball pythons enter during winter. The artificial winter that you create for the ball python should mimic winter in both temperature and lighting. Temperatures during the night should be at about 75°F, and the warmer temperatures should range between 82°F and 85°F. During the day, average temperatures should range between 86 °F and 90 °F.
The short cooling spells influence your ball python to think the spring is coming, and new life needs to be created.
Brumation should last for one to three months.
Male ball pythons are fascinating in that they don’t seem to be ‘in the mood’ often. Fortunately, there is a trick to it. The easiest way to get a male python ready to mate is by sticking him or them in a cage full of other male ball pythons. This trick always works like a charm.
For some reason, when male pythons notice each other, they rise in an almost vertical stance in what one can only conclude is a macho manly contest. When your ball python rises in that upright stance, he is ready to be introduced to a female ball python.
Introducing the male to the female ball python
The feeling of spring has thoroughly permeated your snakes; they are now ready for a little romance. Now that your snakes are thoroughly stimulated, there is one thing left to do; put them together. Simply place the two in the same cage or enclosure and then watch and wait.
Once put together, the male python will immediately notice the female and the surroundings. They may fight for a short while, but the tension finally passes, and they begin to connect.
Confirm the lock
Often than not, breeders and snake owners have been known to mistake a pair to be breeding when they weren’t. Confirm there is a lock. It is pretty hard to miss, the male ball python’s tail coils under the female ball python’s tail. It looks like a cross if you use your fingers.
Leave the lovebirds alone
Did you know that ball pythons can stay connected for up to two days? Once you have confirmed the two have locked and are connected, leave them alone. You can definitely take a peek but do not disturb them. A short coupling that is less than three to four hours is considered ineffective. The sperm deposited in a female remains viable for up to 2 years.
Check if your female ball python is gravid
It can be taxing to tell whether a female is gravid or not. There are intricate details you should look for that are easy for an untrained eye to miss.
- The female’s belly becomes thicker, especially around the tail. This is due to the swelling of the ova inside her ovaries. To nourish the eggs, the female ball python needs to utilize the fat she stored previously. Gradual fat loss will result in a loss of length in your snake’s tail.
- Change in color. Many ball pythons will change their color hues when they become gravid. They develop a deeper contrast between their darker and lighter scales. Sometimes, the color change may be subtle, and sometimes it is very pronounced that you may even wonder if it’s the same snake.
- Change in behavior and posture. A gravid ball python will appear fidgety or uncomfortable and constantly shift positions. As your female nears the egg-laying period, they become increasingly antsy and pace around looking for a safe place to lay her eggs.
- Your female ball python will spend more time away from the warmer end of their cage or enclosure. Often, the snake will coil around their water bowl or lie with their belly in the air.
- Ovulation – Ovulation is one of the best ways to confirm that your ball python is gravid. Ovulation occurs when the sperms from the male and the follicles from the female ball python meet and form fertilized eggs. It appears as a large lump on your snake. For amateur breeders, it can be shocking, but it is natural and a sign that your snake is carrying fertilized eggs. Your female ball python will then shed her skin two or three weeks after ovulation. In 30 to 40 days, your ball python will lay her clutch.
- An x-ray at a veterinarian. An x-ray is the surest way to confirm that your ball python is gravid. The vet will have tools to x-ray your snake and know if your snake will lay eggs soon. This method, however, tends to be costly.
3. Taking care of your female ball python
Now that your ball python is clearly knocked up, you need to take great care of her.
Prepare a lay box
Get a suitable container or box like a Rubbermaid box and line it will damp moss on the bottom. Humidity is important right before your python lays her eggs. Your ball python will lay her eggs and coil around them.
Remove the eggs
Gently uncoil the python and place her in an empty enclosure. Move the eggs into an incubator. When removing the ball python from the eggs, do not hesitate because she is likely to hiss and take up a striking stance. Rarely will the female bite, but hesitating will give her a chance to do so.
Do not jostle the eggs too much when moving them to an incubator. Remember to put the eggs down with the ‘right-side’ up. The ‘right side’ is the side that the egg was when it was laid. Positioning them facing downwards could kill the egg. You can lightly mark the face of the egg with a marker to keep track of the right side.
Unfertilized eggs, also known as slugs, should be disposed of. They will appear smaller, feel waxy, and have a yellowish shade.
Alternatively, you may opt for maternal incubation
Maternal incubation is a process where you let the mother ball python incubate the eggs rather than opting for artificial incubation. After laying the eggs, instead of removing her, let her stay and tweak the cage condition to suit her. Ensure she isn’t laying directly on the heat. If she is, increase the heat slightly until she rolls off and is coiling just off the side of the heat. This is because overheating the eggs will make them go bad. The optimal temperature in the enclosure should be at about 95 to 100 °F. When the temperature is too low, it increases the incubation period, and if it is too cool, the entire clutch could die. Ensure the humidity is at optimal levels throughout the incubation period. Excessive moisture will also kill the eggs, so err on the dryness than moisture.
Other than checking the temperature of the eggs and providing your python with water, keep interaction at a minimum.
Maternally incubated eggs hatch at about 55 -65 days. Once the baby ball pythons start to pip, you can leave them alone. The mother ball python will not squeeze them. She will actually move her coils so that they can poke through for air. After hatching, follow the procedure for artificially incubated eggs.
- Never get the eggs wet.
- Your ball python shouldn’t incubate the eggs directly on the heating element.
- Thoroughly clean the cage and your snake off the smell of eggs and hatchlings; otherwise, she will continue to coil and incubate whatever still has the scent.
Keep track of the temperature
The incubator should be set at 90°F. Check on the eggs once every week to ensure they are still good. Whenever you lift the lid to check up on the eggs, they will receive air, so you don’t have to put holes in the incubation container.
Feed the female
After transferring your female, it is important to feed her. Carrying and laying the eggs takes a lot out of your ball python. If she refuses to feed, try washing the scent of the eggs off her. Start with small meals, and gradually increase the size and frequency until your ball python starts feeding normally. Your ball python will also shed their skin shortly after laying her eggs. She should quickly regain her body weight.
4. Waiting for the eggs to hatch
About three weeks to hatching, condensation will build up in the container, and the eggs will begin to sag. This is because the eggs are warmer than the space within the incubator due to the developing hatchlings.
The eggs dimple
As the hatching date grows near, the eggs become severely dimpled. This can be observed as sinking in. They become soft and very pliable. This resulting development helps the hatchlings cut a way out of the egg with a tiny tooth.
The miracle you have been waiting for finally unfolds. After 52-60 days, the clutch will hatch.
5. Taking care of the hatchlings
Put the baby ball pythons in their own cage
After the baby pythons hatch, clean them with water first because they will be covered in goo. Place them in a separate cage. The enclosure should be lined with a damp paper towel until they shed. You can opt to use a substrate or newspapers.
Hatchlings take about 5-14 days to shed. Some shed faster while others take their time. If your baby ball pythons do not shed, then there is definitely something wrong. Keep a close eye on them.
Feeding the baby ball pythons
After shedding, sex them and split them into individual tubes. The tubs or enclosures should be warm and dry. Give the baby ball pythons at least a day or so to get accustomed to the new environment. Now, you can attempt to feed them. The baby ball pythons should start feeding within a month or hatching. You can opt for either mouse hoppers or rat crawlers. If the food goes uneaten, try a live mouse hopper or rat crawler if you had tried a dead or frozen one before and vice versa.
Some breeders transfer the scent of a small lizard onto the mouse or rat to entice the baby ball python to feed. Most will eat newborn mice without any problems and will continue feeding without a problem. However, if the babies refuse to feed completely, you will result in force-feeding.
Force-feeding baby ball pythons
Never try force-feeding a dehydrated snake. If your baby ball python’s skin looks wrinkly and bunchy, soak them in water for a few minutes. There are two methods breeders and snake owners use to force-feed their baby ball pythons:
- Gavaged slurry through a tube- The recipe includes either chopping up baby mice into a slurry, human baby food, or rabbit pellets ground into powder. All these formulas provide sufficient nourishment for your baby ball pythons. There are commercial feeding formulas like the Oxbow Carnivore Care that can be fed to snakes. The main rule is that you only feed your baby snakes 1%-2% of body weight every 48 hours. When mixing up the diet, follow the instructions, and add some water to form the best consistency to pass through tubes.
- Putting an actual food item such as a mouse pinky into the slightly open jaws of your baby ball python up to a point where the snake cannot push it out. Wait and see if the python attempts to swallow it or not. This is pretty traumatic for baby pythons and may cause them stress. The type of force-feeding is only used as a last resort.
Why is my baby ball python aggressive when feeding?
Aggression in baby ball pythons is fairly common. Most baby pythons are reluctant to bite, but once in a while, you will encounter a real striker. This defensive behavior reduces over time with regular handling. Be careful not to over-handle your baby ball pythons as it causes stress that may lead to poor feeding. You are likely to experience this aggressive behavior during feeding. Baby ball pythons tend to be overeager during their first feeding sessions. However, over time, they grow out of it once they adopt the set routine.
Proper enclosure for the baby ball pythons
Just like the adults, baby ball pythons should have a hide or two and a water bowl. The enclosure shouldn’t be too big.
FAQs about Breeding Ball Pythons
How often do ball pythons breed?
During the breeding season, one male ball python can breed with as many as 12 female ball pythons. However, the male python needs a three-day break after mating with a female. Female ball pythons may breed many times but only lays eggs once a year.
How long is the ball python breeding season?
The ball python breeding season starts from January all the way to December. It is possible to breed all year long.
When is the ball python breeding season?
Without the owner’s intervention, ball pythons naturally breed around mid-September through mid-November. It correlates to the rainy season of its place of origin, Africa.
What is ball python breeding size?
Female ball pythons should weigh between 1200-1700 grams and should be three years of age. Male ball pythons, on the other hand, start breeding as soon they start producing sperm plugs. This happens when they are about a year old and weigh 700 grams.
How many eggs do ball pythons lay, and how many survive?
The average number of eggs in a ball python’s clutch is about six. The figure does vary depending on the individual ball python.
Should I cut open ball python eggs?
Cutting open the eggs prevents weaker baby ball pythons from drowning in their eggs. The cutting process should be carried out after 50 days of incubation. When done correctly, it results in more successful hatching. When poorly done, it may cause a cut on the baby ball python.
Breeding ball pythons is an exciting and very rewarding process. Watching baby ball pythons pipping simply never gets old. Ball python breeding is an art, and the canvas is healthy ball pythons and adequate safety measures. Remember to work with ball python morphs that you really love.