The purpose of this breeding page is to give added support and visual aid for aspiring ball python breeders. It is intended to be a comprehensive guide of the entire breeding process from start to finish.
How do I know the sex of my Ball python?
There are a few reliable ways to tell if a ball python is male or female. These techniques can become quite useful after the necessary experience has been gained. When considering a first attempt at popping or probing ball pythons, I strongly recommend assistance from experienced hands. It is very easy to apply too much pressure which could result in injury to snake's sex organs.
Popping - is the act of inverting the hemipenes or lack there of to determine the sex of a ball python. This method is extremely useful when attempting to determine the sex of newly hatched ball pythons. This method can also be used on larger specimens, but is typically much more difficult or impossible to perform. As male ball pythons grow, they will gain more muscle control making this technique more difficult to preform on mature specimens. We have found that the most opportune time to accurately sex a ball python is right after it has emerged from the egg. They have minimal muscle control right after they've hatched and with little pressure added, the hemipenes can easily be inverted. I wish I could say that this is a full proof method, but truth be told I've seen a lot of ball pythons that have been sexed wrong using the popping method.
Probing - is a useful technique that can be used to sex ball pythons. This method is especially handy when attempting to determine the sex of a juvenile or adult sized ball python. Just like popping, we highly recommend assistance and/or strong visual aid from experienced hands before attempting this on your own. It is very easy to cause damage to the snake if too much force is used. Males will typically probe much deeper than females, making it possible to more accurately speculate the sex of the ball python in question. I have seen both males and females probe unusually deep or shallow, which leaves me scratching my head. So ultimately, I have to say the most full proof sexing method is to prove gender by successful pairings.
Size and spurs - When ball pythons reach sexual maturity the females will tend to acquire a more bulky body while the males will grow into a longer thinner build. Also, the males will typically develop longer spurs than the females. These larger spurs will become extremely useful for the males once breeding age and size is acquired.
Proven breeders - Ultimately, the most full proof sexing method is to prove gender by successful breeding attempts resulting in eggs.
How big do ball pythons need to be before they can be considered of breeding size and age?
When considering the breeding size of ball pythons, many keepers often want to know what is the smallest possible size that a male and female can be before they can be bred together successfully. I have come to find that sexual maturity of both sexes is determined most accurately by a combination of size, age and genetics. The smallest size of either sex that ball pythons can be bred together with productive results is a fairly controversial subject among breeders. In my breeding endeavors I have found that the bigger the ball python the better the chances are for success. That being said, I have heard the rumors and seen photographic evidence of male ball pythons being bred as low as 300 grams, and females being bred as small as 800 grams. In my experiences, breeding smaller males tends to lead to over exhaustion during breeding while breeding smaller females will tends to lead to smaller eggs and therefore smaller hatch-lings. When in doubt, always elect to wait a little longer or even prolong breeding attempts until the next breeding cycle.
When considering the best breeding size for a male ball python, I generally like to put them in the 600 to 900 gram range. There are exceptions to this size and I suggest that the breeding size of a male should be heavily determined by the size and number of females he is intended to breed with. Other exceptions would include morphs that are notorious for being exceptional breeders at a young age. The spider morph is an excellent example of a morph that always tend to breed extremely well at a very young age. I have had great success pairing spider morph combos at the 500-600 grams range with excellent results when considering appropriate breeding expectations. Spiders may be reliable breeders at 400 grams but that doesn't mean that we recommend breeding them straight to a 2000 gram female expecting prolific results. Use realistic expectations when picking breeding pairs.
With females, I tend to aim for that 1200-1500 gram weight range. In my experiences, I have always found that the bigger the female, the better the results. The earliest cutoff weight should be determined by the feeding habits of the female in question. If she is a finicky eater and doesn't pack on the weight very quickly, a heavier weight should be achieved before breeding attempts commence. Also pay close attention to the fat reserves on the female ball pythons that are intended for a breeding cycle. If she has good body weight but looks a little strung out, it may be wise to give her some additional time to build up some adequate fat reserves. Laying eggs is a taxing process, especially so on the smaller females. The more weight a female is allowed to tack on before the breeding cycle starts, the better weight she has going into to the breeding process and thus the larger and/or more eggs she will ultimately lay.
The Breeding Process
When it comes to breeding ball pythons in captivity, there are several techniques that can be used to increase ones chances of success. That being said, ball pythons really aren't all that difficult to breed once the fundamentals have been acquired.
Through several years of trying to get the most out of our breeding seasons, I have learned that the best way to capitalize on breeding ball pythons is to keep them on a yearly to bye yearly breeding cycle. This doesn't mean that they all need to be cycled at the exact same time or necessarily the same way either. Often times, and especially in larger collections, a breeding cycle that initiates all at same time (typically in the fall) is the easiest way to have successful breeding results. A bye yearly cycle can be very important to consider when giving your breeders a break to increase overall size for future breeding cycles and when considering the overall long term health of the animals. I have often found that over-breeding or breeding at a young age in ball pythons can lead to stunted growth. This can also greatly impact the time it takes for the animal in question to reach an overall mature size.
Breeding cycles include warmer months while also providing some cooler months. I have found that raising and lowering ambient temperatures can spark certain behaviors within ball pythons. Natural barometric pressure changes and storm fronts within the area can also spark breeding behavior and are worth keeping an eye on. For example, artificially raising or lowering the ambient temperature and/or direct heat source can be an exceptionally useful tool when attempting to spark feeding behavior in particularly finicky feeders. At the end of a breeding cycle, raising the temperature can mark the end of the breeding season for females and male, thus sparking a feeding frenzy (especially so for the females) that will tack on additional weight in their fat reserves. For the eminent egg layers, this feeding behavior can become immensely useful during follicular development. This feeding frenzy can equate to bigger and healthier eggs while also increasing the number of eggs in a clutch! The increase in temperature can also tell the males that the breeding season is essentially over and it's time to put the weight back on for next years breeding cycle. Some males can be absolute breeding machines and they don't necessarily know when it's time to call it quits on their own. Similar to breeding behaviors in many other animal species, ball python breeder males will literally breed themselves to death if you let them. If an extended breeding cycle is intended, be sure to keep an eye on the males and use best judgment when over breeding may be a factor. This is an especially important mindset to keep, considering many males will go entirely off feed during longer breeding cycles.
Breeding ball pythons can be quite easy if we follow a few simple guidelines. First and most importantly, make sure the two snakes that are intended to be bred together are indeed of the opposite sex. I've talked with many first time breeders who were so frustrated because they couldn't get their pair of ball pythons to breed only to find out that indeed the snakes were both females or males. This seems like a silly mishap, but it happens.
The next key ingredient is temperature cycles. I like to consider the window of opportunity sweet spot for breeding to be in-between September and April. While this time frame may prove to be the most prolific, I have had successful breeding attempts and eggs laid in just about every month of the year. I do the best to judge each individual ball pythons behavior and do my best to capitalize on breeding opportunities when those moments present themselves. Every so often during breeding attempts, one of the participants will be unwilling to breed while the other is "all systems go." This can very frustrating, especially when anticipation was high for a successful breeding project.
I like to provide my ball pythons with an ambient NIGHTTIME temperature between 70 and 78 degrees Fahrenheit depending on the time of year. During the DAYTIME I like to provide a warmer ambient temperatures between 82 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The cooler months when I plan on more consistent breeding attempts, the nighttime temperature will fall closer to that 70 degree bench mark. I have found that prolonged temperatures below 70 degrees allows for an accelerated risk of potential health issues. This includes but doesn't limit them to criteria such as prompting a weaker immune system making them more vulnerable to contracting upper repertory infections and other illnesses. Other possible unforeseen risks could involve lower breeding ambition/potential and long term health issues.
The Glow and Bowl Wrapping!
Often times after a female has been bred several times, you'll open up the enclosure one day and say, "What snake is this!? And why are you so bright?" As a female enters her follicular growth stage, she my often times start to brighten up to the extremes of even mimicking the ghost/hypo gene. Once the female begins to glow, she will often times go off of feed entirely. I've come to find that this entire stage can vary drastically from snake to snake. Bowl wrapping is also a good sign that eggs may be eminent. During this process the gravid female will seek cooler temperatures in preparation for follicle growth. The term "bowl wrapping" refers to the act of gravid females wrapping the lower half or third of their bodies around their water bowls in an attempt to lower their core temperature. At this point, the follicles should be visible by swelling in the lower midsection or easily detected by gently feeling for them. I have found that it is easiest to see the follicular development if the females are held up right with two hands. I'd like to stress using the utmost care when handling females at this stage and to use both hands. I like to use one hand to support the upper body while using the other to support the end of the tail thus taking some of the weight off the top hand hold. Next step is ovulation!
Once a female ball python has been breed several times and follicular development has been observed, ovulation is the next big phenomenon to keep an eye out for. After ovulation has been observed, the follicles cannot be reabsorbed. We can expect eggs roughly within the next 45 days! The actual lay date may vary depending on the female and temperatures. It's time to warm up the incubator or make the appropriate preparations for maternal incubation. Ovulation is the often times the quickest occurrences that takes place during the breeding process. Due to the constant waiting game that we all tend to play while keeping and breeding ball pythons, observing ovulation can be an occurrence that's easily missed. The peak of the ovulation window is typically between 24 and 48 hours. So if you're not checking your enclosures on a routine basis, this phenomenon can slip by without notice. I have also found that the size of swelling during ovulation can vary greatly depending on the female in question. Some look like they've swallowed a coke and the swell up for a full 48 hours, while some swell up and return to a semi-normal size within a few hours. That being said, it can also be easy to detect the onset of ovulation in some females while in others it may be more difficult. Some girls glow extremely bright while others may not glow at all. They can glow so much so, that they look like they have suddenly inherited the ghost gene! The glow can be more difficult to detect in certain morphs. The albino morph is a prime example of one that may be more difficult to see the color changes. Once ovulation has occurred, the follicles cannot be reabsorbed.
Post Ovulation Shed/Pre-Egg Lay Shed and Nesting
After a female has ovulated, she has reached the stage where she is considered "gravid" and she will shed and drop her last and final urate and fecal matter until after the egg laying process has been completed. This final fecal discharge typically consists of a very minimal amount of yellow/brownish extract in a hard consistency. This is the final stage that stands between her laying her eggs that essentially flushes the rest of the waste matter she doesn't want next to her eggs during internal growth and development of the eggs.
Laying inverted and feeling uncomfortable
Once the female has ovulated and had her post ovulation shed, she will begin to seek warmer temperatures. Often times when a female starts nearing her lay date, she will start to lay inverted or generally look very restless and uncomfortable. That's because she is full of eggs and is in fact extremely uncomfortable. At this point, I recommend keeping handling to an absolute minimum if at all. The only time I will bother a female during her nesting stage is to check temperatures/humidity, water bowl levels and just to make sure she has everything that she needs. If a female is cruising her cage obsessively looking for a spot to lay, you may want to check your temperatures. If the temperatures look good but she doesn't seem happy, try adding or changing your current nest box. Otherwise, make sure the incubator has been fired up. Expect eggs very soon! Nesting females will often lay in the early morning and late evening hours, or just generally when it's a quiet time of the day. The act of egg laying leaves the female feeling very vulnerable, and if given the opportunity, she will choose a time that gives her the most comfort. The act of egg lay is usually wrapped up within a few hours, but depending on the female and the amount of eggs, we could see egg laying last in upwards of 4-6 hours. It is wise to leave interaction with the nesting female to a minimum during the egg laying process.
Next to the actual hatching process of the eggs, this is the best part! Every time I find eggs in one of my snake tubs, it feels just like Christmas morning! Except I can't open these presents for another 60 days, it's torture...
During the time periods when I am expecting the gravid females to lay eggs, I like to check my snake containers as frequently as possible. To prevent adverse results during artificial incubation of the eggs, I like to pull the eggs and get them into the incubator as soon a possible. This is not to say that maternal incubation shouldn't be considered if that's the preferred incubation method. I simply feel that pulling the eggs limits the stress on both the mother and the eggs. With the typically dryer climate that we have here in Colorado, I always figured that maternal incubation would be challenging, even with the use of a nest box. I prefer artificial incubation solely because it is possible to get our females back on feed sooner than they would naturally.
By pulling eggs from a nesting female, it allows for her to gain an extra two months worth of weight gain. I feel this strategy puts a lot less strain on the females that are yearly and bye yearly breeders. When pulling the female off the eggs for artificial incubation, there are a few guidelines to follow that will ensure the female starts eating again as soon as possible. After egg laying, the female and everything inside the enclosure with have the smell of the mother's eggs on it. This includes the enclosure and the female herself. If the egg smell is not properly removed from everything, the female may not willingly go back on feed for another 60 days. The instincts she's had since the beginning of time are telling her that she needs to maternally incubate her eggs for the entire incubation process. Only until recently have we learned that nesting females can be tricked into thinking that the 2 months have already passed and her eggs have hatched when in reality, it may have only been a few days since she laid her eggs. She may just sit there coiled up, still thinking that she is sitting on her eggs. The process of fooling females into thinking they don't have eggs anymore is like tricking nature. Dish soap is an extremely powerful yet safe tool that can used for cleaning the females cage and herself.
Removing a female from a clutch of eggs can be nerve wrecking the first time. A nesting female will often times have a really strong defensive behavior as an instinct to protect her eggs. Sometimes a towel can be a useful tool when removing a female from her eggs. The towel may help give added comfort to the female on the eggs and provide a protective barrier in regards to the end of the snake that has the teeth. It is fairly common that a nesting female may even strike or bite when attempting to guard her eggs while some of the more docile ones will put up little to no fight.
Eggs that Rollout
Typically a good rule of thumb is to always incubate an egg that rolls out, regardless of what it looks like. As long as the egg is intact, it couldn't hurt to see if it's a viable egg. We've personally seen some questionable eggs go full term. They may have needed a little pampering along the way, but they made it.
Candling is a term used when determining if eggs are indeed fertile or not. The common word used to describe an infertile eggs is a "Slug." Slugs are typically a lot smaller than viable eggs and will hold a yellow tint with no red or veins when candled. Infertile eggs can also be the size of healthy fertile eggs. Simply turn of the lights in the room and place the flashlight right over the top of the eggs. Everything that touches the eggs including the flashlight should be nice and clean. If you go out to your garage and grab the flashlight you use to work on your car that is covered in oil and dirt, you may want to clean it up before you touch the eggs with it. Viable fertile will have veins that can easily be seen once they are candled. If the veins can be hard to see, sometimes it's best to wait a few days and then trying the candling process again. The veins will continue to grow making them much easer to see as the egg matures through the incubation process.
Oddly shaped eggs or ones with clear spots
When in doubt always elect to incubate the egg. This includes the ones that may look infertile, but are normal in size. Slugs are usually very easy to identify. They are typically 1/3 to 1/2 the size of a normal fertile egg and are yellowish in coloring. Do not incubate these. Otherwise, incubate any other egg that may look fertile. Eggs that turn during incubation can always be removed.
The Hatching Process
The most rewarding part of breeding ball pythons hands down to me is the hatching of the eggs. All the hard work, breeding plans and time waiting has truly paid off! On average from first pip, it can take up to 48 hours for every snake to completely emerge from their eggs.
At this point, if there are any eggs that have not pipped, it might not be a bad idea cut them open to make sure that the hatch is going smoothly. The underbelly and sad truth behind breeding ball pythons is that this will be the one time when you might discover an unhatched baby with birth defects. It's somewhat rare but it does happen. Genetics and fluctuating incubation temperatures are thought to play the role as the highest contributing culprits that cause birth defects. It has been speculated that fluctuating temperatures during the early stages of development could be one of many potential causes of the serious birth defects. Certain genetics have been proven to be a contributor to birth defects. The Caramels are notorious for producing kinked offspring when breeding the genetics back to each other throughout the generations. Caramels are a prime example of a morph where it might be wise just to stay away. Besides the kinking issues they also tend to be very infertile, only laying a few eggs or nothing but slugs.
Baby Shed and a belly full of yolk
When ball pythons fully emerge out of the egg they have a bell full of a yolk that was absorbed through their umbilical cord while still growing in the egg. This yolk ensures that the baby ball python will have enough nutrition to carry them through their first shed. I like to keep the ball pythons housed together in one tub until after their first shed. This seems to give them a secure feeling and aids in the shedding process. Once they have all shed, I give each one their own 8 quart tub with a hide and water bowl. I have also found that giving them 1-2 weeks to settle into their new enclosure before offering a prey item seems to yield the highest feeding success rates.
Occasionally a ball python may come out prematurely with a belly that is bulging with yolk. Similar to bird egg incubation, this problem can be attributed to higher than normal incubation temperatures. When at all possible, it's suggested to stay within the recommended safe incubation temperatures.