With so many exciting new morphs emerging all the time, many people are becoming interested in breeding their ball pythons. Here's what you need to know to get started!
While the basic guidelines are similar, there are variations from breeder to breeder, so what I’ve outlined here is what works for us. My methods are by no means the only way, but are simple enough to be successfully duplicated by others. I’ll discuss some alternatives throughout this text as well.
Breeding ball pythons is not difficult, if you follow a few basic guidelines. In the wild, ball pythons typically breed in early spring, after a period of fewer daylight hours and cooler temperatures at night. In captivity ball pythons can be induced to breed any time of year, if conditions mimic those found in the wild, though I prefer to follow natural cycles with my breeding colony.
Males mature earlier than females and are typically ready to breed by the time they are a year to 18 months old, depending on their weight. To be considered ready to breed, the male should weigh between 600 and 900 grams. I prefer to wait until they reach 900 grams.
Females mature between two and 2 1/2 years and are typically considered ready to breed between 1200 and 1400 grams. I have had more success with females that weigh at least 1400 grams before trying to breed them.
Breeding activity can begin as early as November or December, when the days are shorter and nights are cooler, though I have had better success with waiting until January to begin my breeding program. Ball pythons seem to prefer a temperature variation of about 8 degrees, from 85° - 86° during the day, down to 77° - 78° at night. As nature provides shorter days, I let the temperature in my snake building drop at night during November and December. This seems to help stimulate hormone production.
When the snakes are ready to breed, I put the male into the female’s enclosure. As the male is exploring the new surroundings, he will bump into the female. The female will respond by lifting her tail and triggering her scent glands. “Scenting” stimulates the male and he places his tail under hers, ventral to ventral, and inserts one of his two hemipenes into the female. He literally locks into the female and holds her tail in place. The sperm travels on the outside of the hemipene by capillary action and is a very slow process, taking anywhere from 4 to 24 hours. If I don’t see any breeding activity in 24 - 48 hours, I remove the male and try again in two or three days.
One male can be used on several females. I look for the male to breed one female two or three times, before I move him on to the next female. A fertilized female will hold the sperm until her next ovulation, which could be many weeks away. Once she ovulates, you will see a noticeable swelling in her mid-section. She will slowly begin to get bigger as her eggs develop. Finally, she will go into a pre-lay shed, indicating that she will lay her eggs within 3 to 4 weeks.
It is possible to leave the eggs with the female for incubation. She coils her body around the clutch and in the wild will move off of her eggs (which stick firmly together) to warm herself, then returns to her eggs. I do not recommend this method, however. The eggs may dry out or the temperature may not be consistent throughout the incubation period of 52 to 54 days.
I remove the eggs from the female, once she’s done laying, and transfer the eggs to an incubator. Incubators can be purchased from a number of different suppliers and range in size from just big enough to hold a few clutches to large enough to walk into. The incubator allows for maintenance of a constant temperature of 89° and 100% humidity. The eggs are placed in plastic tubs with lids over a substrate of peat moss or vermiculite and perlite, which should be just damp enough to maintain 100% humidity in the container, but not so wet that the eggs absorb moisture. Mix enough water into the substrate that it clumps and sticks together in your hand, but not so much that you can squeeze water out. Too wet is just as fatal for the eggs as too dry or too cold.
When the eggs get close to their hatch date, they will start to dimple, becoming pliable and soft. This allows the hatchling to use his one egg tooth to cut through the egg, called “pipping”, and crawl out when he’s ready!
As soon as I see one head poking out of an egg, I remove the whole clutch from the incubator and place it in another plastic container with a lid, lined with paper towels. When the babies start hatching it can be quite messy, as there will be a small quantity of blood mixed with fluid and albumin from the egg. By removing the eggs, the fluids are prevented from contaminating the substrate in the incubator.
It’s important to let the babies remain in their eggs until they crawl out themselves. Even though they’ve poked theirs heads out, they are still absorbing nutrients from their eggs. When they finally do crawl out, usually a day or two later, I rinse them under warm water to clean them and set them up together in another plastic container with a lid. I leave them together until their first shed, as crawling around on top of each other helps with the shedding process. Once they’ve shed, they’re ready for their first meal!