Breeding Ball Pythons – A Patience Game

By Angelo at 8:26 pm on Sunday, October 25, 2009

Watching a ball python hatch-ling slice through an egg with their egg tooth, pip and take their first breath is an incredible experience for a breeder, especially when witnessed for the first time.  Some keepers who keep ball pythons as pets will eventually develop the inspiration to breed these cool animals. Breeding ball pythons is a simple process when a few basic principles are in place, such as

  • having healthy mature males and females,
  • good conditioning of females through diet,
  • temperature / barometric cycling to stimulate breeding,
  • understanding / interpreting a females shedding cycle and how it relates to follicle growth, ovulation and egg laying,
  • introduction of the male during the stages of follicle growth,
  • ovulation and getting viable eggs and
  • proper Incubation.

When all of these basic breeding elements are understood, the best advice for success we could give to any future potential breeder is simply, patience.  You can try and rush success, but things may not always work out.  When breeding any animal, we are dealing with biology, and there are ups and downs along the way.  We will highlight some points one may encounter along their breeding endeavors.

Maturity

Ball pythons like most animals will develop to maturity at different rates.  No hard and fast rule exists on when a ball python will become mature enough to breed. This is one part of the biologic equation breeders do not have direct control of. Examples in rapid maturation are males breeding in their first year, and females as early as 18 months of age.

While some people try to power-feed their animals to grow them up faster up to size, there is no guarantee that this rapid growing works. One can rush growth by feeding their snake excessively, but you can’t rush maturity. Also note that obese snakes make poor breeders and have a tendency to slug out. We have had males breed in their first year and up to four years later. We have had females lay eggs between 18 months to five years of age. A healthy snake will most likely breed in captivity, but again, we are on their biological schedule.

Purchasing Adult Females

In any breeding collection, owning multiple females will help with breeding success. A single male can breed multiple mates in a season but females laying eggs are what we need to make lots of baby ball pythons. Having more females in a collection increases our odds in getting more eggs. Some people will try to quick start their breeding attempts by purchasing adult breeding size females. The plan here is to get a jump start into the breeding game because no time was required to grow up the female ball python to maturity. The plan to buy an adult female to breed her that year, in our experience does not always work out half of the time.  While we have had some success getting new adult acquisitions to breed and lay eggs in their first year, some do not until the following breeding season. All animals acclimate to a new environment differently. Some are faster than others, and once they are happy and settled in and feeding, they will eventually breed. Some of the best breeding stocks one can have are hatch-ling snakes raised by their keeper in a single environment. It is also a bonus to raise a hatch-ling to maturity and eventually witness its first clutch.

Follicle Re-absorption

When we start dropping temperatures in the fall, we try to mimic seasonal climate changes, stimulating the female’s follicles to start growing. As their follicles grow, we introduce the male and begin the mating process. In an ideal situation those follicles will continue to grow, ovulate to get fertilized and later transforming into viable eggs. The other scenario a breeder can experience is follicle re-absorption. A healthy female with good conditioning will lay eggs but some females may reabsorb their follicles ending the breeding cycle. Poor female conditioning or bad temperatures may be the culprit but, a new ball python breeder must understand that a female ball python may not breed successively every year. Again, we are at  the mercy of biology.

Slugs

Slugs are unfertilized eggs that a female will pass when laying eggs. Slugs can be hard on a breeder’s emotion, especially when it is a result from a highly anticipated pairing. Sometimes, slugs can come out together with viable eggs, or the entire clutch may consist of slugs. Every serious ball python breeder will experience slugs or slugging-out at some point. Many theories exist, such as obesity, poor conditioning or high temperatures during ovulation killing the males sperm. Whatever the reason(s) are, slugs are part of the breeding equation that may surface.

Odds

The laws of genetic inheritance will dictate the odds or possible outcome of a ball python clutch. When breeding ball pythons, one must research and grasp the laws of genetic inheritance for both co-dominant and recessive genes or the mixture of both. Biologists utilize a Punnett square to help predict a breeding outcome.

In a co-dominant project, such as breeding a pastel to a normal, laws of inheritance state that each egg has a 50% chance of hatching into a pastel. Based on a four egg clutch and good odds, two pastels and two normals would hatch.  The best odds would be four pastels and the least favourable would be four normals.

In recessive projects, the odds can be tougher especially when working with heterozygous animals. In a het pied to het pied breeding, the laws of inheritance dictates in theory, based on a four egg clutch, the outcome would be 25% pieds, 50%  hets, and 25% normals. Again the best odds would be 4 pieds, and the worst odds would be all normals where they would be considered as 66% possible hets. Only test breeding would identify  a 66% het snakes true genetic inheritance.

Everything Looks Good and Then Goes Wrong

There are a few scenarios that can dampen a breeder’s spirit. Sometimes, during incubation, egg(s) can go bad.  Whether it was never meant to be or poor incubation conditions, egg loss can be expected.

At hatching time, although not common, deformities can occur or a hatch-ling may get tied up in an umbilical cord. Even hatch-ling death may occur.  Factors that may contribute to these events are poor development, bad genes or a poor incubation environment.

Numbers Game

Breeding a larger number of females will balance out your breeding success.  In our opinion, if fifty percent of our breeder females go, then we consider it a good breeding season; any higher percentage is just gravy.

With all the exciting base morph and designer ball pythons available, deciding to breed ball pythons can be your new chapter of enjoyment in the hobby!  Be patient and enjoy the journey.

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