Ball pythons – or royal pythons – (Python regius) are among the most popular species on the reptile market.
And for good reason – they are attractive as well as easy to care for.
But keep in mind that taking care of ball python eggs is different from taking care of the animal itself. Luckily, we are here to answer all your questions!
Ball pythons are an oviparous snake species. Unlike their close cousins, the boas, these pythons reproduce by laying eggs.
Snake eggs require stable, hospitable environmental conditions throughout their development.
It’s vital for keepers looking to breed their pythons to understand their reproductive behavior and needs.
Table of Contents
What You’ll Learn
In this article, you’ll learn:
- How to care for ball python eggs
- The basics of ball python breeding
- How to tell if a python is carrying eggs (gravid)
- How to set up a DIY or store-bought ball python egg incubator
We’ll also answer frequently asked questions about ball python eggs, such as:
- How many eggs do ball pythons lay?
- When is the ball python breeding season?
- How long does it take for ball python eggs to hatch?
…and much more!
How Many Eggs Do Ball Pythons Lay?
Ball pythons can lay anywhere from around 3 to 16 eggs in one reproductive cycle.
A group of eggs laid by a female snake is known as a “clutch.” In captivity, the average clutch size for ball pythons is around seven eggs.
That said, don’t worry if your snake lays fewer than seven eggs one season! It’s usually nothing to be concerned about.
There is a multitude of factors that cause snakes to lay fewer eggs.
It is important to ensure that your female is given proper care and sufficient food while gravid.
Overall, variable clutch sizes are a great strategy to promote offspring survival and to reduce wasted energy!
Laying too many eggs can reduce the percentage that survives long enough to hatch.
Mature females can lay one clutch per year, though they’ll only do so when they have access to enough food (and a mate).
Female ball pythons remain reproductively mature for a long period (as much as 25 years).
Over their entire lifespan, it’s common for females to lay over 100 eggs. Only a small proportion of snake hatchlings are likely to survive to adulthood in the wild.
How Long Does It Take Ball Python Eggs to Hatch?
Once laid, it takes around 50 to 60 days for ball python eggs to hatch.
Though it does vary somewhat, hatchling snakes usually begin to emerge around the 55-day mark.
You can sometimes tell when hatchlings are almost ready to emerge by the shape of the eggs themselves.
Eggs that are almost ready to hatch typically lose their rounded shape and become somewhat “saggy” in appearance as the leathery shell begins to loosen.
This change is known as “dimpling” and can also be an indicator of low humidity. We’ll talk more about this later on.
Once they are ready, the hatchling ball pythons use a specialized “egg tooth” to create an opening in their egg.
This egg tooth is a small, tooth-like projection located on the snout of hatchling snakes.
It allows them to pierce the egg with minimal effort, facilitating the hatching process.
It’s also possible for one or more infertile eggs to be present within any clutch.
Infertile snake eggs are known as “slugs.”
A large proportion of “slugs” may indicate that your tank’s temperature is too high or that your female is below optimal breeding size.
Ball Python Breeding Season
The ball python breeding season spans from September through November in their native African range.
This period is the typical African rainy season. At this time, temperatures drop, and precipitation (rainfall) is considerably higher than the rest of the year.
Captive ball pythons have an entirely different breeding cycle, usually spanning from November through March.
In either case, courtship occurs at the beginning of the season, and females lay their eggs at the end of the season.
Courting ball pythons lose interest in their food. They also exhibit a few courtship behaviors which vary among individuals.
Males – for example – may “tickle” females with their cloacal spurs (claw-like growths at either side of the vent).
Fun Fact: Cloacal spurs are the last visible remnant of the legs once possessed by the ancestors of modern snakes.
In response, females secrete unique pheromones (signaling chemicals similar to hormones) to attract their mate.
Courting snakes – both male and female – tend to wag their tails during courtship to communicate readiness.
Successful courtship leads to copulation.
Females can store sperm for months afterward until she is ready to fertilize and lay her eggs.
Some anecdotal evidence suggests that sperm storage may even span entire breeding seasons!
Is My Female Ball Python Gravid?
First of all, what is gravid? Gravid is the term we use to describe ‘pregnancy’ in egg-laying animals.
Female ball pythons usually gestate for 44-50 days before laying their eggs.
So, is your female ball python gravid? The sure-fire way to know if your pet is pregnant is to get an x-ray.
If you don’t wish to visit the vet, here are some signs you can watch out for at home:
The first few things to consider are her size and age. A female must be at least two years old and weigh over 3.3 lbs to carry eggs.
Of course, she must have recently mated with a male. If these factors don’t apply, it’s pretty unlikely that she’s gravid!
Some animals (such as chickens) lay eggs even when they aren’t fertilized. This phenomenon is extremely rare with ball pythons!
If your female hasn’t “locked up” (a.k.a. mated) with a male, chances are that she is not gravid.
Changes in behavior – when your female ball python becomes gravid, she will likely start spending most of her time in the cooler side of the vivarium.
Female pythons do this to regulate their body temperature and protect the eggs, which are rather heat-sensitive.
Some other behaviors you might notice are the python wrapping around their water bowl or lying belly side up. This behavior is called ‘inverse basking.’
While it might look strange – or even alarming – this behavior is typical for pregnant female ball pythons.
The female may lie on her back to bring the eggs closer to the heat source, helping them to develop faster.
Your ball python might also move more frequently around the tank, trying to find the ideal temperature.
This behavior is also nothing to worry about! Just double-check that your heat settings are in the normal range and let her roam around.
Female pythons may also become more aggressive than usual during this time. Check out our article on what to do in case of a ball python bite!
Loss of appetite – though it might seem counter-intuitive, refusing food may be a sign of pregnancy.
Your ball-python might start eating much less than usual or stop eating altogether.
Note: As a keeper, it’s good to be aware of other factors that cause ball pythons to stop eating.
That’s is why it’s wise to give your female larger portions of food before introducing her to a mate.
Keep in mind that a lack of appetite may also be a sign of shedding and does not indicate pregnancy on its own.
Change in appearance – female pythons have a slight shift in color shortly before ovulation.
Scales may appear lighter/brighter than usual, especially in the head and neck area. This change is known as “glowing.”
The change may be more or less dramatic, depending on the individual snake.
Some may look an entirely different color, while others may not exhibit any apparent changes.
Ovulation – the other thing to watch for is ovulation. If your female wasn’t ovulating when she and the male mated, then she will not become gravid.
Ovulation is generally easy to identify in snakes as it looks quite “lumpy.”
The female’s abdomen will swell to be rather large (like she swallowed a ball) and feel hard to the touch.
It’s not a gradual process like human pregnancy and may happen overnight.
Keep in mind that female ball-pythons ovulate even without the males present.
That means she might not be carrying fertile eggs. Even if your female has swelling in her abdomen, it does not necessarily mean that she is gravid.
Pre-lay shed – a few weeks after ovulation, your python will likely shed to accommodate her growing size.
This pre-lay shed should look like any other, and they exhibit all of the usual signs like reclusiveness, refusal to eat, and cloudy eyes.
If your ball python shows all of the above changes, then there is a good chance she is gravid. You should still take her to a vet to be sure.
Can Ball Pythons Eat Eggs?
On the topic of ball python eggs, a common question asked is, “can ball pythons eat eggs?”.
The short answer is: no, they can’t. Ball pythons feed exclusively on vertebrate animals such as small mammals and birds.
Breeding Ball Pythons
Females typically reach reproductive maturity at around three years of age.
It can vary, but a female python above 3 lb. 5 oz. (1.5 kg) AND over three years of age is generally safe to breed.
Males take a little less time to mature. They’re usually ready to breed at two years of age and 1 lb. 5 oz. (600 g) in weight.
If waiting for pythons to mature, be patient and don’t breed animals below these minimum ages or sizes.
You can learn about the growth rate and maximum size of ball pythons here.
How to Care for Ball Python Eggs
To give the baby ball pythons the best chance to hatch, there are a couple of things you should know and do.
One of the most important choices to make is natural maternal incubation and artificial incubation.
It is important to remember that females will not eat while incubating.
So if you have a young or small female, it may be a bad idea to let her incubate her own eggs as she may starve.
Maternal incubation may be a better idea for snakes older than four years and heavier than 1,800 grams (or about four pounds).
Preparing for Laying Process
Whichever you choose, you should start making an appropriate egg-laying site after your ball python has undergone her pre-lay shed.
It can be as simple as a small box packed with damp peat moss.
Just make sure the moss is not too damp, as too much moisture will kill the eggs! It’s much easier to add more water later than to try and remove it.
The temperature in the tank should remain in the range of 95-100F.
It will allow the female to pick the perfect spot to regulate her body temperature and lay her eggs.
Once she starts, it may be an hour-long process. You should leave your female alone while she lays to reduce her stress levels.
If you go with this route, you should leave the eggs with the female after she lays.
This way, the female can incubate her eggs, and the process can be pretty hands-off for you.
You may want to put a digital thermometer in the middle of the python eggs.
This tool will allow you to monitor the temperature and ensure it’s in the acceptable range (88-90F).
Keep in mind that temperatures that are too high can kill the embryos, whereas low temperatures will cause a longer than normal incubation period.
While she incubates, keep your interaction with the female to a minimum, and do NOT stress her out. Remember that she will not want to eat during this time!
One of the few things you’ll need to do is check that the moss is still damp (but not soaking) about once a week.
If the moss has dried out, add some more moisture to maintain optimum humidity.
But make sure to never spray water directly on the eggs!
The maternal incubation process should last somewhere between 55 and 65 days.
For ball python females that are too small or too young, you may want to go with the artificial incubation method.
In this case, you will want to remove the eggs after the mother finishes laying. Unfortunately, this may be easier said than done.
The female will curl tightly around her clutch after laying and may react aggressively when you approach.
You will need to be quite careful when removing the female.
To avoid getting bitten, firmly (but gently) grab her behind the head and the tail to uncoil her from the eggs.
After placing the mother in a separate container, you may prepare to remove the python eggs.
The most important thing to remember here is not to rotate them! That can kill the hatchlings, so you have to be careful.
Before moving the eggs, carefully mark the “up side” with a marker.
Then, make sure the eggs face the same direction in their new home and do not rotate them during transport.
Place the eggs one by one into your incubator (purchased or made), leaving one inch of space between them.
If some of the eggs are joined together, do NOT try to tear them apart!
One last thing you may wish to do before leaving the eggs to incubate is a process called ‘candling.’
Candling tests the eggs for viability and to see whether they’re fertilized.
As you move your eggs, shine a flashlight on the egg from below, gently touching it. Again, make sure the egg is not rotated while you do this!
If the egg is viable, it should be bright orange or red, with noticeable blood vessels and structures.
If it’s an infertile egg, it may appear more of a yellow or greenish color under the flashlight. It could also be externally shriveled and discolored.
Infertile eggs should be removed and disposed of unless they are attached to another egg. In this case, you can leave them be.
After you have checked all the eggs, the best thing is to handle them as little as possible to ensure the proper development of the baby pythons.
Just sit tight and wait for them to come popping out in 54-60 days!
Purchasing or Building a Ball Python Egg Incubator
An incubator is a device used to maintain the perfect environment for egg survival and development.
Most importantly, an incubator maintains a consistent humidity and temperature throughout the development of your ball python embryos.
In the wild, ball python mothers will coil into a tight ball around their brood, helping to provide a stable environment.
In captivity, an incubator serves to further increase your eggs’ chances of survival.
Using an incubator is critical to maximizing hatch rates in captivity, as ordinary tank conditions are too unstable to facilitate hatching success.
This is particularly true for smaller snakes that lack the body mass required to effectively brood their eggs.
When seeking to breed ball pythons or purchase eggs, you’ve got two different options:
- DIY incubators
- Commercial incubators
Commercial incubators can be pretty expensive – so expect to spend around $50 – $500, depending on the incubator type, make, and model.
Most incubators you’ll see on the market are developed for poultry and thus lack a few features for successfully hatching snake eggs.
If you plan to shell out money on an incubator, look for options explicitly tailored for reptiles.
Bear in mind that it is VITAL to prevent the eggs from being moved from their original orientation.
For this reason, never use an auto-turning incubator meant for poultry.
There are a few different kinds of egg incubators, but the main differences are
- Digital (or not) – Digital incubators are far more pricey than non-digital options. They essentially monitor temperature and humidity so that you don’t have to! With a digital setup, you plug in your desired values, and the machine does the rest. Ordinary incubators require constant monitoring, and you may need to mist them manually.
- Still air vs. Circulated air – Circulated air incubators include a fan to help maintain consistent air movement. That helps to prevent “hot spots” and keep temperature/humidity constant among eggs.
- Thermometer and hygrometer included (or not included) – Particularly with non-digital incubators, a thermometer and hygrometer may not be included. For reptile eggs, it’s vital to have both. Be prepared to add these items yourself if they aren’t already there.
Many keepers prefer to build their incubators.
DIY setups are far cheaper than most commercial options. They’re also relatively easy to build, and you can customize them for the species in question!
Building an egg incubator shouldn’t take more than an hour or so once you gather the materials.
Still, a detailed instructional guide is beyond the scope of this article!
Setting up an Incubator for Ball Python Eggs
To prepare your incubator, you must first ensure that it contains a thermostat, thermometer, and hygrometer and that each is working correctly.
Next, you’ll need to add an appropriate medium. Your medium will serve to buffer against changes in humidity.
A two-to-one mix of vermiculite and perlite works well as a medium for ball pythons.
You can also buy mixtures developed specifically for ball pythons (or reptiles in general) from a specialist reptile store. Note that the incubation medium is different from the ball python substrate.
After that, test to ensure that your incubator can maintain temperature and humidity within your desired range.
For ball pythons, we recommend 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit and 85-95% humidity at all times.
Different keepers may find that one specific temp/humidity “sweet spot” works best with their setup.
BEFORE adding your snake’s precious eggs, it’s also vital to test your incubator. Run it for a day or two and regularly check your thermostat and hygrometer.
You may find that even commercial setups require some fine-tuning before they’re ready to go.
Are you incubating a clutch of eggs? Post your progress pics in the comment section below!