When you've had some success caring for captive snakes, you might find yourself interested in breeding them. This can be done, but it requires record keeping and attention to many details concerning the living conditions of the snakes that you probably didn't need to be aware of in the past. The breeding is generally done in the winter so that the babies are born or hatched in the spring.
Of course, you need to know the sexes of the snakes you wish to breed. Sometimes it is easy to make a mistake in this area. The snake has an opening for wastes and breeding, which is called the "cloaca." If this area is squeezed or probed just right, the male's "hemipenes" will protrude. Females tend to be larger, with more fat in the lower body.
For beginners, it would be wise to have this process demonstrated by an experienced snake breeder. Otherwise, you'll need to trust the sexing information you received from the breeder where you bought your snakes. Also make sure your potential breeders are healthy and free of parasites. In fact, if you're female snake hasn't been in excellent health for at least the past year, don't breed the snake.
Breeding snakes requires feeding them well for about four months, and then putting them into a cool state of hibernation. More specifically, plan on starting in the late summer, around August 1. Both sexes of snakes need to put on weight for breeding, but especially the females. They should be offered as much as they will eat every week during the next four months.
As an example, a female corn snake might eat as much as 12 mice in her weekly feeding during this time. Be sure the cage is kept warm enough for the snake's digestion to take place unhindered. The females will use the fat they store in their lower body for egg production. Males need to eat well, too, because they often do not eat throughout the breeding season. They probably will not eat as well as the females, however.
In the wild, a snake will be eating in order to gear up for its winter season of hibernation. Recreating this state is the next step in encouraging captive snakes to breed. After the first of December, the snakes need to begin a cooling period. A suggested temperature for this cool period is between 55 and 65 degrees F., but may vary with different species of snakes. The males and females should be kept separate during the next three months. Don't feed either, but do provide clean water.
The warming period needs to start three months after the induced hibernation began, or around March 1st. Around this time, it may help to provide increasing periods of light for the snakes, approximating what they would experience in nature. There are differences in opinion among snake breeders concerning the role of light in promoting breeding. One possibility is to simply let sunlight into the room normally.
During the month of March and into April, the snakes will again want to eat a lot. Again they need to fatten up. The temperature in the cage during this time needs to be kept warm enough for digestion. This varies for different breeds, but 83 in the daytime, falling to 75 at night, is suggested for many snakes native to North America. Tropical snakes may need higher temperatures.
Too much constant heat during this period can damage the fertility of the males. Make sure they have a cool area in the cage where they can better regulate their body temperature. Shedding should take place soon after the warming takes place. Within two weeks of the shed, the females should become ready for mating.
Introduce the female into the male's cage. You can tell if she's ready by her behavior. She will stretch out and let him near if she is ready. If she is not, she will flip her tail, scrunch up, and try to avoid him. When she is ready, it helps to reintroduce the pair several times a few days apart, until she shows that she's lost interest. She should be "gravid" by this point, which means she is developing eggs.
The length of time required for the eggs to develop is determined in part by the temperature of the cage, but she will shed again a week or two before laying eggs. In general, development of eggs takes from 28 to 45 days. She will probably stop eating a few weeks before laying her eggs. After laying the eggs, she can go right back in with the male for the fertilization of a second clutch of eggs.
The requirements for live bearing snakes, such as boa constrictors, differ a little. Night temperatures for these South American natives are normally kept around 80. After several months of eating well, stop feeding them for two weeks. Then the nighttime temperature should gradually be reduced to 72. Have the females in separate enclosures, adding males before the temperature reduction. You can add more than one male to each female's enclosure. Mist daily to keep humidity up.
Take three weeks making this reduction, giving them a 90 degree basking spot in the daytime. After three weeks, maintain the low nighttime temperature for two weeks, still without feeding. Throughout the procedure, the light/dark cycle should be 12 hours on and 12 hours off. Keep misting throughout the breeding period.
The females are pregnant from 4 to 10 months and will usually keep eating during this time. It makes sense to give them small food items since their body space is decreasing with the growth of the babies. She will probably shed, but it can take a month more before the offspring are born. Litter size can be as many as 80 with large, fat females, but can be as small as 10.
The babies should be removed and placed in containers lined with paper towels. The paper towels should be kept moist for the first two weeks. They will shed around this time, and can feed on fuzzies (young mice) after the shed.
Large pythons can be bred, too. Make sure they are healthy, and then stop feeding them. Breeding among the pythons is induced by cutting back on day light to around 8 hours a day and lowering the night temperatures to 75 or so. Be absolutely sure you have a female and a male because two males are likely fight to the death. Introduce the female to the male and mist them. The female will shed about two weeks after she becomes gravid. The eggs will be laid anywhere from 5 to 7 weeks later.
Before breeding snakes, however, think seriously about what you are doing. While large snakes can make docile, gentle pets, they can also be dangerous. Most snakes have a very long lifespan, sometimes of over 30 years. Can all of these babies be adopted by caring keepers who will give them a good home for the long haul? There may be a market for these young reptiles, and the process is certainly fascinating for the hobbyist. Still, there are growing numbers of pet snakes being shoved off into rescue shelters because the owners just can't handle them any more. Make sure your young snakes won't just be more casualties.