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Snake Egg Incubation

By: Dr. Jenni Bass

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Snakes are either oviparous (egg laying) or viviparous (live bearing). Those species that produce live young are usually found in cooler climates or at higher altitudes. Unlike tortoises, turtles, alligators and crocodiles, whose gender is determined in large part by the incubation temperature, the gender of a snake is determined by its genes, as it is in the case of birds and mammals. Snakes that lay eggs do not typically build or dig nests, in the manner of many other reptiles. The King Cobra is an exception.

Snakes in their natural environments select a nest site, which has an appropriate temperature and humidity range, as well as the correct substrate. If specific environmental needs are not met, the eggs will not hatch. Some species select a crevice in which to lay. Grass snakes choose to lay their eggs in decaying vegetation, which produces heat as it decomposes.

Of the species commonly kept as pets, only a few species of pythons actively brood their eggs. Female Burmese pythons coil about the eggs and use rhythmic contractions of their muscles to produce heat to warm the eggs. They loosen the coils to decrease the temperature at which the eggs are kept when ambient temperature rises or toward the end of incubation. Some pythons will leave the clutch for a short time, bask and then return to transmit the absorbed heat to the clutch.

Unlike some pythons, most snakes do not care for their eggs after they are laid. Once the eggs have hatched, maternal care is negligible or non-existent. There are a few exceptions, however. Some viper species will stay with their young until after they shed for the first time.

In spite of the intricacies and unknowns of the natural process, attention to detail and sound research will allow healthy snakes to be hatched in captivity. Familiarize yourself with the natural habitat, breeding and nesting behaviors and needs of your species.

The egg producing species kept commonly in captivity are members of the Pythonidae and the Colubridae groupds. All pythons lay eggs, ranging from 15 and 30 in a clutch.

Colubrid Snakes

Most of the colubrid species lay 15 to 20 eggs in a clutch. This includes kingsnakes, milksnakes, rat snakes and corn snakes. Rough green snakes lay just four eggs. Western hog nosed snakes and the grass snake lay up to 30 eggs.

Boas and garter snakes (a Colubrid type snake) are live-bearer snakes that are commonly kept and bred in captivity.

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