Ball Python Breeding
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Breeding (crash course in brain surgery)
Well, it’s not exactly brain surgery, but it does take a certain amount of skill to be successful. Entire books are written explaining husbandry and breeding, so consider this your crash course.
Your Ball Pythons should be in excellent health and of proper weight and age before breeding attempts are made. The smallest that we have bred males is 500grams and 6 months of age. Females are not considered for breeding unless they are in excess of 1200grams. Providing that they are of adequate weight, females will commonly breed successfully at 18 months of age. As with care, there are many techniques that can be employed to successfully breed Ball Pythons. I will explain the strategies employed at Constrictors Unlimited. Starting in October, the heat tape is turned off at night. The ambient temperatures are allowed to drop into the low 70s. We have our thermostats connected to photocells that turn the heat off when the sun goes down. The lights are on relays that turn them off when the sun goes down. This creates a very natural environment, the sun goes down, the lights go off and it gets cooler. This also simulates a natural photo period as the day length changes.
Males are introduced into the female’s enclosure starting November 1st. Courting and copulations are usually observed within hours of introduction. November and December are usually spent running males through many females to spark the season. Things get serious in January. During this time, we spend hours in the morning palpating females to feel for follicular development. The females that have started developing egg follicles get the most attention and the males are introduced into these female’s enclosures more often.
During the entire breeding season, pairs are separated once a week and food is offered to both the males and females. This rest and meal time is particularly important for the males to give them the stamina to breed all season. Many males and females will refuse to eat during this time, but it is beneficial to offer. Getting a male to take a few mid-season meals can really make a difference in his production and keep him from getting too run down. If your male is not eating during the season, it is critical to keep an eye on him and observe his condition. If he loses a significant amount of weight and begins to look worn out, it is important to pull him from breeding and remove him from the scent of females. In the wild, a male is probably lucky to encounter a couple of females. When breeding in captivity, he is sometimes given access to a new girl everyday. Given the choice between resting and breeding a new girl, he will almost always make the choice to breed without regard to his own well being. There is a point of “no return” with regard to the male’s health and he will breed beyond it. It is up to you to make a decision that he is done for the year.
Starting at the end of January, ovulations begin to be observed. Ovulation is characterized by a significant mid-bodied swelling and a tight constriction of the top portion of the tail. Once ovulation is witnessed, the female is considered gravid and it is no longer necessary to place a male with her. The length of time between initial follicular development and ovulation is highly variable, from a few weeks to as much as 6 months. A couple of weeks after ovulations, the female will shed her skin. This is recorded as a pre-lay shed. She will usually move the bedding around to form a nest. Approximately 30 days after her pre-lay shed, she will lay her eggs.
Our females will begin to lay eggs, with an average clutch size of 4 to 8 eggs, in early March. For incubation, we create egg chambers by filling a 12qt Rubbermaid box halfway with vermiculite. Water is added and mixed with the vermiculite just until it clumps, but no water can be squeezed out. It is far better for this mixture to be a little too dry, rather than overly wet. Excess moisture will kill the eggs quickly. If the eggs are observed denting in and they look too dry, they can easily be revived by adding water. Once the proper mix is achieved, the eggs are placed on the vermiculite mixture and the lid is secured on the box. We do not have any holes in the lid or the box. There will be enough air allowed in the box when you open it every couple of days to check the eggs. The box is placed on a shelf in the incubator. There are commercial incubators available, but they usually lack adequate space to incubate more than a couple of clutches. We have converted retired, commercial refrigerators with glass doors into incubators. These are well insulated boxes that allow for observation without opening the doors and will hold almost 50 clutches each. The eggs are incubated at 89F and hatch at an average of 55 days.