Incubation Ball Python Eggs
Incubation Substrates, Temperatures and Humidity
When it comes to incubation, there are a few different substrates and a wide variety of methods that can be used to successfully hatch ball pythons. Vermiculite and Perilite remain the most industry preferred and popular substrates to date, but peat moss is also an acceptable substrate if used correctly. Peat moss can really come in handy when considering maternal incubation. I prefer vermiculite as base or perlite with the substrate-less incubation method since I've had a great deal of success using both incubation methods. These aren't the only two ways that ball python eggs can be incubated, just the two that I recommend. I'm somewhat old school, and prefer the finer Vermiculite as my number one choice.
Ball python eggs are super hardy. They can be incubated from temperature ranges anywhere between 75-95 degrees Fahrenheit. That being said, I highly recommend sticking closer to the industry preferred normal temperature range of 86-92 degrees Fahrenheit. The sweet spot is known as the temperature range between 88 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature range has been speculated to be the most accurately replicated temperature range that ball python eggs would endure in their natural environment during the maternal incubation period. In Africa, when given the chance, ball pythons will lay their eggs underground in large termite mounds. These termites will actually do a near perfect job of thermal regulating the temperatures within their mounds. While this is an optimal temperature for ball pythons mothers to incubate their eggs in, it also provides the exact temperature needed for the fungi these termites cultivate. This intricately designed super nest provides an optimal symbiotic relationship between the termites and ball pythons. It's probably safe to assume that gravid ball python mothers may also find other ideal areas in underground tunnels that provide optimum temperatures.
Ball python eggs are really quite durable as long as a few key guidelines are followed during the incubation process;
1. Avoid unnecessary temperature fluctuations at all costs. Get the eggs settled into the incubator as soon as possible after they have been laid. Fluctuations in temperature can cause birth defects; ranging from kinked spines, to snakes born with an over bite, no eyes, along with other external and internal defects. I have found that eggs are most vulnerable during the first few weeks after they have been laid. Avoid unnecessary handling and allow them adapt to artificial incubation in a timely manner.
2. Provide optimal levels of humidity. 90-100% humidity levels are ideal. It is much easier to correct an egg container that has too little humidity vs. an egg container that has too much humidity. If the eggs are starting to mold, try to air out the egg box or add dry paper towels to soak up some of the excess humidity. I have also heard that baby powder works great if in a bind, but I have no personal experience with this method. If at all possible, error on the drier side. Humidity levels can easily be boosted with the aid of a spray bottle, moist paper towel or damp peat moss. Remember never to spray the eggs. If the eggs themselves look like the are in dire need of more humidity, I like to lay a damp paper towel over the top of them and check repeatedly.
3. Find the ideal temperature to incubate at. For the sake of common practice, lets say that 89 degrees is the target incubation temperature. Invest in a good incubator or build a custom design with a reliable thermostat, fan(s) and heat source. Test the temperature within the incubator frequently by using a hand held temperature reader and other portable thermostats. It's typically wise to use multiple thermostats just incase one malfunctions. Always test out your incubator a few weeks before you are expecting eggs. This allows for plenty of time to make adjustment or replace parts that may not be functioning correctly.
4. Provide a reliable incubation substrate - We suggest experimenting with a few different mixtures until the desired mix and/or preferred substrate has been found. Everybody has their own "recipe" that they like to use. Some substrates work better than others depending on the desired incubation method and geographic location.
Our typical "go to" incubation substrate is a straight vermiculite mix with distilled water. We like to use the "clump test" rather than use exact measurements because clutch sizes can vary and we won't always use the exact same amount of vermiculite for each egg container. The vermiculite to water ratio is roughly 1:1 by weight. Start with a desired amount of vermiculite that should easily be able to cover all the eggs about 1/2 - 2/3s of the way up. This ensures that the eggs will have a nice resting spot with ample humidity levels during the entire incubation process. When using the clump test, grab a good amount of vermiculite in your hand. You should be able to squeeze it with a good amount of force without any water coming out of it. You want the vermiculite to hold together when the pressure is released. The vermiculite should also break away easily when compressed between the fingers after the initial clump test. It's best to play around with this method until the desired humidity level is found. If all else fails, place your tub on a scale; add the desired amount of vermiculite, then add water until the 1:1 ratio by weight has been reached. I also like to cover our egg containers with a layer of thick plastic or Reynolds wrap before applying the lid. This will ensure that the egg container will successfully hold humidity throughout the entire incubation process. This step may be less important or not needed at all in more humid climates. If the eggs are covered, don't worry, they will get enough air during the incubation period. Once the eggs near their hatch date and start to warm up, I find it is best to let them breath a little more, but it's not a necessity. In anticipation for the hatch, I'll typically be checking the eggs more frequently anyways.
Condensation in the egg container
Once the eggs near their hatch date, the egg box will actually start to increase in temperature and build up condensation near the parts of the container that are closest to the heat. Due to heat rising within the tub, condensation will typically occur on the top and high sides of the egg container. The hatching process itself will actually cause the temperature within the container to rise a few degrees. As the snakes near their hatch date, they can actually warm up the container 1 to 2 degrees Fahrenheit. This phenomenon is something that we like to refer to in the hobby as "sweating." It's time to get excited, because the eggs will be hatching soon! It is also possible to pinpoint future hatch dates with a desired incubation temperature. Once the incubation temperature is set, record the lay date and hatch date. All following clutches will hatch at that same hatch in that amount of time going forward, provided the temperature does not fluctuate within the incubator. This timeframe may also fluctuate slightly when moving egg boxes up or down within the incubator. I've found that I get about a one to three day fluctuation in hatch dates from top to bottom in our incubator depending on the amount of egg containers that are in the incubator at one time. This is because heat rises and even with a fan, the egg containers near the top tend to hatch a little quicker.
For more information regarding ball python eggs, breeding and incubation; please visit our Breeding Page.