Do Snakes Lay Eggs? Everything You Need to Know

There are more than 3,400 known species of snakes and many of them lay eggs.

However, there are also snakes that do not lay eggs. These species give live birth or use a combination of eggs and live birth!

Snakes are a group of reptiles that are very unique when it comes to mating and producing offspring.

The process of giving birth in snakes varies between species.

Keep reading to learn more about snakes that lay eggs. We also share how many eggs they lay, how they lay them and much more…

Do Snakes Lay Eggs or Have Live Birth?

Do Snakes Lay Eggs Social

The process of giving birth in snakes varies between the species.

There are three different ways in which snakes give birth to their offspring.

We differentiate between these birthing methods by calling them oviparous, viviparous, and ovoviviparous:

  1. Oviparous snakes are known for laying eggs.
  2. Viviparous snakes give live birth.
  3. Ovoviviparous snakes are a mix of both. Their eggs hatch internally before giving live birth.

The reason for the different ways snakes give birth is due to their environment, as well as defense mechanisms.

Egg Laying Snakes

Snake Pushing Egg Out
Snakes are known for laying eggs, however there are some species that do not fall into this category!

The first and most common way for snakes to give birth is by laying eggs. Snakes that lay eggs are known as oviparous. They make up the majority of the snake species, around seventy percent.

Most species of snakes that are kept as pets lay eggs.

Almost all oviparous snakes lay soft-shelled eggs, also known as pliable-shelled eggs. These leathery eggs are usually flexible and can exchange fluids with the environment.

Most snake eggs look very similar, however, there are some differences.

One of the main differences in snake eggs is their shape and texture.

Almost all snakes have an oblong egg shape that resembles their body shape. However, some North American snake species, such as Black Rat Snakes, lay eggs that are more similar in shape to bird eggs. There are also a few species of snakes, like the Eastern Racer that lay eggs with small ridges that give it a sandpaper texture.

Another difference is the number of eggs that snakes lay in a single clutch.

Clutch size can range from one or two eggs to over 100 eggs at a time. Most snakes can lay between 25-100 eggs per year. Each species has a typical range for the number of eggs that they will lay at once. Typically, the bigger the snake, the more eggs they will lay in a clutch.

Ball Pythons typically lay between one and eleven eggs. Snakes like the Burmese Python have had clutches of more than 100.

Snake Nest

Live Birth Snakes

Some snakes give birth to their young through live birth. These snakes are known as viviparous. Instead of laying eggs, viviparous snakes give live birth to a litter of snakes. When a viviparous snake gives birth to its offspring it is known as a litter.

This birthing method is safer when compared with oviparous species. It helps to keep predators away from embryonic snakes, compared to oviparous species that have a higher risk of being eaten in their egg stage.

Viviparous species make up around 20 percent of all snakes.

Viviparity is seen in a lot of aquatic snakes. Almost all aquatic snakes are viviparous because it is easier for them to have a live birth instead of having to find a dry area to lay and incubate their eggs.

Snakes who are extremely capable of defending themselves are sometimes viviparous too.

Similar to oviparous snakes, the size of a litter depends on the species. Some snakes only birth one to three and others birth as many as 100.

Each species also has a different gestation period, the time between when conception happens and birth.

Most mothers will not stay after their young ones have been born. However some do for the first couple of days to ensure their safety from predators.

Ovoviviparous Snakes

Rattlesnake live birth
A well-known ovoviviparous snake is the Rattle snake.

The last method that snakes have evolved to produce offspring is a partial live birth.

These snakes are known as ovoviviparous species.

Ovoviviparous snakes have the qualities of both the oviparous and viviparous species.

After the fertilization of the egg, the shell around the egg will begin to form. The offspring will develop and hatch inside the mother. After hatching, the mother will retain the eggshell inside of her body. The young will then be live birthed by the mother. It is considered a partial live birth.

Ovoviviparous snakes have evolved to carry their young inside of them so that they can better regulate the egg’s temperature.

The main advantage is that these snakes are better at regulating the temperature of their young as they develop. The eggs are not exposed to harsh environmental conditions while in crucial stages of development. Ovoviviparous snakes tend to live cooler climates or harsh desert habitats where it is more difficult for them to incubate their young before they hatch.

Another benefit is the mother does not have to find a location to lay and incubate her eggs without being preyed on by predators or parasites.

Do Snakes Lay Eggs?

Snake Egg
Their eggs are pliable and have a leathery material on the outside.

Snakes that lay eggs make up 70% of all snake species and are called oviparous.

Egg laying snakes (oviparous) reproduce mainly through sexual reproduction. This requires two individuals in order to produce offspring. A male has a hemipenis which it uses to fertilize a female.

After fertilization happens, females will then develop an embryo within an egg. She releases these eggs through her cloaca, which is the opening responsible for excreting digestive waste and eggs.

The egg relies on the temperature of the mother to keep it incubated. Sometimes a pregnant snake may lay with their bellies to the sun to warm their eggs.

When a female snake is ready to lay eggs, she will first find a safe and suitable location.

An area that is sheltered and covered by decaying logs or leaf piles is best. These materials will produce heat, which acts as an incubator for the eggs.

Most snakes will lay their eggs on or beneath the ground where they can incubate properly. These nesting sites are usually just indents in the ground, piles of moist soil and leafage, or small mounds.

However, King Cobras are known to actively build a mound and protect it.

King Cobras are also one of the best parents in the snake world. Males and females will protect the nest until the eggs hatch. However, for almost all other species, there is no parenting that occurs. Most hatchlings must fend for themselves as soon as they hatch.

For most species in the United States, eggs will be laid in the summer months. This usually ranges from late May until late August, depending on the species. The eggs will take anywhere between five weeks to three months to hatch.

You can normally spot snake eggs as they are an oblong shape and not round like bird eggs. They can be off-white, white, or a creamy color. Eggs can be pliable, which are called soft-shelled eggs. Or they can be hard to the touch, which are flexible shelled eggs.

There are cases where a female will lay an unfertilized egg. These eggs, also known as slug eggs, are very uncommon but do occur if a female is not able to fertilize the clutch. These eggs will be much less defined in structure.

Some cases have even been recorded where a female snake will lay fertile eggs without having been fertilized by a male. This is known as facultative parthenogenesis.

How Do Snakes Lay Eggs?

Snakes tend to lay their eggs 60 to 90 days of mating. However, egg laying cycles depend on the species.

When it is time for a snake to give birth, the egg will be moved by muscular contractions.

The egg is moved from the uterus to the cloacal opening. The female then lays the eggs consecutively, with the eggs sticking to each other. A group of eggs is called a clutch.

Clutch size can range from one or two eggs to over 100 eggs at a time.

For almost all snake species, there is no parenting that occurs. Most hatchlings must fend for themselves as soon as they hatch. Except for python species, eggs are also left unprotected as they develop.

Luckily, most hatchlings will not have to worry about food immediately. Their shell often has nutrients that nourish them for a short period of time.

Snakes That Lays Eggs

Smooth Snake
All snakes from the Colubridae family (around 1,900 species) lay eggs.

The first and most common group is oviparous, or egg laying snakes. All oviparous species typically lay similar-looking eggs. Around 70% of snakes are oviparous.

Egg-laying (oviparous) snakes make up some of the most unique and interesting snake species on the planet.

One of the most unique species is known as the Sea Krait. Sea Kraits mostly hunt and live in the water, but they will move towards land in order to mate and lay their eggs. Once on land, females and males will group together and begin courting. After the mating is over, females will travel more inland to lay eggs on nesting sites.

Similar to almost all other snakes, the mother will not care for the eggs. Hatchlings must find their way to the ocean. One of the reasons why there is a low survival rate for hatchlings is because predators like lizards and frogs often eat the eggs.

Another unique group of oviparous snakes is the Cobras.

The King Cobra, is unique amongst snakes when it comes to reproducing because they are great parents. Female cobras will first build a nest before laying her eggs. Males will also remain nearby to the nest to protect hatchlings.

Some of the most popular egg laying species are:

  • Pythons (Pythonidae)
  • Kingsnakes and Milksnakes (Lampropeltis)
  • Rat Snakes
  • Gopher Snakes, Pine Snakes, and Bullsnakes (Pituophis spp.)
  • Racers (Coluber spp.)
  • Hognose Snakes (Heterodon spp.)
  • True Cobras (Naja spp.)
  • Dwarf Pipe Snakes (Anomochilus spp.)
  • Calabar Boa (Calabaria reinhardtii)
  • Round Island Boas (Bolyeriidae)
  • Vine Snakes (Thelotornis)
  • Coachwhips (Masticophis)
  • Keelback Snakes (Rhabdophis ssp.)
  • Ringneck Snakes (Diadophis punctatus ssp.)
  • Boomslang (Dispholidus typus)
  • Green Snakes (Opheodrys spp.)
  • Catsnakes (Telescopus spp.)
  • Coral Snakes (CalliophisHemibungarus, and Sinomicrurus)
  • Egg-Eating Snakes (Dasypeltis spp.)
  • Flying Snakes (Chrysopelea spp.)
  • Grass Snakes (Natrix Natrix ssp.)
  • North American Ground Snakes (Sonora spp.)
  • Mud Snakes (Farancia spp.)
  • Mambas (Dendroaspis spp.)
  • Sea Kraits (Laticauda spp.)

Snakes That Give Live Birth

Both viviparous and ovoviviparous snakes have live birth.

Snakes that do not lay eggs are known as either viviparous or ovoviviparous species.

There are two ways snakes can give live birth.

The first, viviparity, is real live birth and does not require the production of an egg. Viviparous snakes are very rare.

Of the few viviparous species of snakes, one of the most well-known is the Anaconda. Typically, a female will be courted by a dozen males in what is known as a “breeding ball.” After the ten month gestation period, the female will then birth as many as 30 live young. The efforts of labor take a large toll on female anacondas and they can lose nearly 30% of their body weight.

The second method is ovoviviparity, this is more common than viviparity.

Ovoviviparous snakes have a partial live birth. An egg is developed and hatched within the mother and live hatchlings are birthed afterward. Snakes that live in harsh climates are often ovoviviparous. This makes it easier for the female snake to incubate her young.

One of the most common ovoviviparous species in the wild is the copperhead.

Copperheads are one of the few species whose reproductive habits are very well known. They typically reach sexual maturity around four years old and mate once a year. After mating, females will store the sperm through a period of hibernation until conditions are favorable. After hibernation and the eggs have hatched within the mother, the female will produce between two to ten hatchlings.

Snakes that give live birth include:

  • Adders (Vipera berus ssp.)
  • False Coral Snake (Anilius scytale ssp.)
  • Madagascaran Boas (Sanziniinae)
  • Boa Constrictors (Boa ssp.)
  • Tree Boas (Corallus ssp.)
  • Rainbow Boas (Epicrates ssp.)
  • Sand Boas (Erycinae)
  • Garter Snakes (Thamnophis spp.)
  • Copperhead and Cottonmouths (Agkistrodon spp.)
  • Anacondas (Eunectes ssp.)
  • Water Snakes (Nerodia ssp.)
  • Earth Snakes (Virginia spp.)
  • Broad-headed Snakes (Hoplocephalus spp.)

Summary

Baby snakes are hatching

There are three different ways snakes have their young: oviparous, viviparous, and ovoviviparous.

The majority of snakes are egg bearing, but not all species fall under this category.

Nearly 70% of all snake species lay eggs. These snakes are known as oviparous and typically lay oblong-shaped eggs. The eggs will be laid in a nest built by the mother so that they stay incubated. Clutch size, egg shape and texture will all depend on the species of snake.

Snakes that do not lay eggs are known as either viviparous or ovoviviparous.

Viviparous snakes give live birth without producing eggs. Ovoviviparous snakes develop eggs but wait for the hatchlings to hatch internally before birthing them.

What fact were you surprised by? Let us know in the comments below.

About Nigel Robert

Nigel Robert Nigel is the managing editor at More Reptiles. He is a lifelong reptile lover, biologist and wildlife consultant who brings a decade of experience working in reptile conservation and consultancy. He joined our team in 2020 and when he’s not reviewing reptile care sheets, he’s out looking for reptiles in the wild!

Leave a Comment