Ball Pythons now exist in over 7,500 color morphs thanks to breeding programs of thousands of keepers over the last 30 years. Hobbyists love them as they readily breed and have high hatchling survival rates.
No wonder you are thinking about raising a clutch of your own Ball Pythons!
Hatching your own clutch is a fun and interesting project, but it takes planning, preparation, and patience. You have about 50-60 days to plan for egg incubation after breeding.
Ready to get started? Follow this guide to learn how to incubate and hatch ball python eggs.
- Ball Python eggs typically incubate for 55-60 days.
- Humidity should be between 80-99% at all times.
- Temperature should be kept between 88-92℉.
- There are three primary methods of incubation: maternal, commercial incubators, and self-built incubators. The hardest part of incubation is maintaining stable, unchanging conditions.
What You Will Need
Incubating ball python eggs requires very few tools and can be done at home.
For the basics, you will need:
- An incubator that can maintain a constant temperature and retain humidity.
- A hygrometer to measure humidity in the incubator.
- An “Egg Box” / “Nesting Box” large enough for 6-10 eggs, preferably something that can be sealed and made airtight. I like to use Tupperware containers, usually 12”x18” depending on the size of the clutch.
- Substrate – typically vermiculite, perlite, or organic topsoils are used. For maternal incubation, peat moss from the nesting box can be used.
How To Incubate Ball Python Eggs
Incubating Ball Pythons requires a lot of preparation, but the incubation process itself is mostly hands-off after the eggs are set into the nesting box.
Step 1. Nesting Box Setup
The nesting box is one of the most important parts of incubation.
Pick an air-tight sterilized container that measures close to 12”x18” (shoebox-sized). A 12”x12” Tupperware box can also be big enough for your first clutch.
Fill the nesting box with 2-3 inches of vermiculite and mix one part (based on weight) with one part warm water. So if you use 48 ounces of vermiculite, mix it with 48 ounces of warm distilled water.
Author Tip: Hold the moist vermiculite in one hand and squeeze hard. It should clump in your hand but not drip water.
Regardless of which type of nesting box you choose, I recommend setting it up a week in advance of your Ball Python laying eggs. This way you can make sure that it fits into your incubator and maintains the proper temperature and humidity.
Leave the nesting box inside the incubator for the last week so that you can practice constant monitoring.
Step 2. Incubator Setup
For your first clutch, I highly recommend using a commercial incubator to avoid most problems that arise in the incubation process. When I started breeding Ball Pythons, I used a commercial incubator to allow for simple, hands-off incubation.
I have seen other keepers use DIY setups or maternal incubation and have success, but I recommend the ease of using an all-in-one commercial incubator for beginners.
There are three main types of incubation:
- Commercial incubator
- DIY incubator
Commercial reptile incubators are by far the easiest to work with. They can internally measure and maintain temperature with minimal fluctuation and detect changes in humidity.
Before the eggs are laid, I recommend testing out your incubator to make sure it maintains a constant heat and humidity for several days before trusting it with the clutch. You will need to add a nesting box, but it’s a great hands-off method with little to no setup.
The most widely accepted temperature for incubating ball python eggs is 88-92℉.
DIY incubators are my favorite. Though they can be tricky to build and take a bit more work, they can be more accurate and easier to manage than some commercial products. I built mine from a mini wine fridge connected to a Vivarium Electronics VE-300 Thermostat. I also used two old computer fans for heat circulation.
Maternal incubation involves setting up a nest box inside your Ball Python’s enclosure. Lay a thick layer of a vermiculite-water mixture and peat moss in the nesting box.
Typically, if the nesting box is mostly dark and enclosed, a gravid female will automatically choose to lay her eggs there.
The mother will help to distribute and regulate temperature changes, although eggs incubated this way are subject to higher instances of a lack of moisture and temperature fluctuations as more ventilation is required for the mother.
Step 3. Set the Temperature
The most widely accepted temperature range for incubating Ball Python eggs is 88-92℉.
Temperature can directly affect survival rates and length of time before hatching.
Author Tip: Maintaining a stable, proper temperature is arguably the most important part of ball python egg incubation.
Eggs incubated around 88-89℉ typically take 3-5 more days to hatch than those incubated at 91-92℉. When I helped with a clutch of Ball Pythons, we kept the incubator set to 90℉ and the first one hatched at 56 days.
In general, most clutches hatch between 55-60 days.
The problem with temperature in an incubator is fluctuation. This can lead to condensation, contributing to mold on the eggs, or lower survival rates due to instability. It is ideal to keep the temperature within ±0.5-1℉ of 89℉ to prevent any adverse effects.
Commercial incubators do well at keeping a stable temperature, but some simpler models have been known to have fluctuations.
I had great success with the ZooMed Reptibator. For DIY or maternal incubation, I recommend using a VE-300 Pulse Proportional Thermostat with alarms. This type of thermostat constantly provides pulses of energy to maintain a very specific, accurate temperature, rather than the rise and fall associated with dimming and on/off thermostats.
Step 4. Set the Eggs
I prefer to not interact too much with my female when securing the eggs.
The mother will be coiled around her clutch. Start by stroking her from behind, unhooking her tail from the clutch and then scooping and removing her from the clutch. Try to remove her quickly so you can quickly set the eggs without risking low temperature exposure.
Take the clutch of eggs and place them ⅓-½ buried in vermiculite in the nesting box.
Then simply seal the lid of the box and place it in the incubator. If the lid isn’t very secure, you can place a layer of Press n Seal between the box and the lid to help keep it airtight and reduce leakage. Leave the clutch alone, and allow any eggs stuck together to stay that way.
There are several different approaches to setting eggs, some breeders like to use crates or the separation method.
The only problems with these methods are that the extra handling can cause a temperature drop or injury to the embryo. While I don’t believe it’s necessary, some keepers prefer to do this so they can more easily watch each individual egg and remove any dead or infertile eggs (if needed).
I prefer a low-interaction method and placing them straight into an incubator without separating them.
If you choose to separate eggs that are stuck together, then I recommend using thin dental floss and carefully breaking the connection without jolting the clutch. However, mark the topside of the egg so you can be sure not to roll the egg over during movement.
For maternal incubation, the eggs should be left alone on the peat moss/vermiculite bedding. As humidity drops, add water directly to the soil to increase moisture. To avoid any defensive striking or stressing the mother, pour water into PVC pipes that drain into the substrate, without soaking the eggs.
Step 5. Maintain Humidity
For commercial or DIY incubators, 80-100% humidity is ideal when incubating ball python eggs.
For maternal incubation, 60-80% humidity is recommended. There is a slightly higher chance of the eggs drying out, but this humidity is safer for the female.
I recommend using a digital hygrometer to easily monitor the exact humidity.
Every six days, you should open your nesting box to allow for fresh oxygen. If your humidity gauge indicates a drop in moisture, use that time to add warm water to your substrate so you don’t have to open the box more often than necessary.
To add water, I like to use a flowerpot with a narrow end so I can moisten the substrate from below.
Make sure to avoid wetting the eggs as it can lead to mold growth, though small spots on the eggs are tolerable in most cases.
It is normal to see some deflation of the eggs after 30 days of incubation due to yolk consumption, but any shrinking before that is likely due to drying out because of low humidity.
Step 6. Egg Cutting
Ball python incubation times range between 55-60 days, though 65 days is not uncommon.
At proper temperatures, most hatchlings will hatch on their own.
Hatchlings will use an eggtooth to pierce, or pip, the eggshell and push out. They will often hatch at different times and even over several days.
Some breeders prefer to skip the waiting game and practice egg cutting. Egg cutting involves slicing a small opening in each egg after the first snake hatches. Some breeders belief that this increases survivability by helping snakes that are missing their eggtooth, have deformities, or are weak.
Egg cutting is entirely up to the breeder.
After the first hatchling Ball Python has hatched, you must decide if you will cut the rest of the eggs open or let them hatch naturally.
I have observed a natural hatching without issue, but it is not a bad practice to cut eggs if you are worried about them taking too long. Remember, if you choose to cut the eggs, never force the hatchlings out. Forcing them out could cause shock or injury.