When we’re young we learn about how reptiles reproduce and how they’re so different from mammals. But, there is no way we could have learned all there is to know about snake reproduction! Ball pythons, for example, are an especially interesting species! If you own a ball python, one day you might be surprised to find eggs in its tank even though it lived alone its whole life!
So if you’re wondering do female ball pythons lay eggs without a male, the answer is yes!
In rare circumstances, female ball pythons are able to lay eggs without a male present. This is usually a result of a process called parthenogenesis, which allows female snakes to reproduce asexually. Female ball pythons can lay fertile or infertile eggs, so expect anything to show up in your terrarium!
If you’d like to know more about when and why your female ball python might lay eggs, keep reading!
How Do Ball Pythons Usually Reproduce?
So what is “normal” in terms of ball python reproduction?
Ball pythons are oviparous. This means that, in normal times, female ball pythons will lay eggs that developed and hatch over a span of time. These eggs are usually fertilized by sperm from a male ball python. The babies are a genetic mix of both mom and dad and this is typical of most reptiles though there is a handful of herps that give live birth.
In some cases, female ball pythons are able to store and keep sperm for long periods of time. In the wild, ball pythons will wait to fertilize their eggs until the season and temperature are right. They can hold sperm for years until the right conditions present themselves. This is a sort of defense mechanism that guarantees that thier babies will be born with the best chance of survival.
So, how does this affect you and your pet ball python?
Well, if your female ball python was ever housed with a male, she could lay eggs years later.
The most interesting thing that we haven’t discussed yet, is how a female ball python could lay eggs without a male around.
What Is Parthenogenesis?
Parthenogenesis is a form of asexual reproduction that is present in bacteria cells, invertebrates, fish, reptiles, and even some birds! In parthenogenesis, a female creates offspring without the help of a male. Ball pythons are capable of parthenogenesis.
So, without a male around a female ball python may still be able to lay viable eggs. It’s worth noting that this is rare and only happens in extreme circumstances. In the wild, this would only occur when a female doesn’t see a male for a long period of time.
For pets, females that are kept happy and in the right conditions could possibly lay eggs through parthenogenesis.
What Will The Babies Look Like?
On the rare occasion that a female ball python does lay eggs through parthenogenesis, the babies will only have her genetics.
Unfortunately, this means that some of the babies won’t be viable. They might have missing chromosomes or genes and won’t be able to reproduce.
However, the other babies will be born as perfect copies of their mother. All babies born through parthenogenesis are perfect clones of the mother. Of course, this means that they will all be female!
Can Female Ball Pythons Lay Eggs Without A Male Ball Python?
So, we’ve established that females can lay viable eggs without a male present!
Females can lay eggs through parthenogenesis, or they might lay unfertilized eggs. If your female ball python lays unfertilized eggs, you’ll know immediately. These eggs are sometimes called slugs and look like decaying, soft, yellow sacs. This is a pretty rare occurrence and usually means your ball python is under some sort of stress.
What To Do If Your Ball Python Lays Unfertilized Eggs.
If your female ball python does lay these eggs, look of for signs of stress and illness.
We recommend taking your pet to a veterinarian to make sure that everything’s okay! But, there are a few things at home that could be causing your pet discomfort. If the temperature and humidity aren’t perfect in your snake’s enclosure, it could actually make them very sick!
Ball pythons need to be in temperatures of around 80F all of the time. They also require a relative humidity of around 60%. Environmental imbalances can cause snakes to become reclusive and irritable, can make them hiss at you, and could even be a reason why they strike at you! As a reptile owner, perfecting your setup for your pet is so important!
Ball pythons are also natural burrowers, so if they don’t have a place to hide away, you might notice that they aren’t as healthy as they could be. Anything that imbalances a ball pythons hormones and stress levels could result in an untimely egg drop.
How Often Can Ball Pythons Lay Eggs?
Ball pythons can lay 1 – 2 clutches of eggs in a year. These clutches will usually take about 2 months to mature. After that, the snakes will hatch and be pretty much independent of their mother.
Again, it’s not likely that your snake will lay eggs without a male present. But, if you are trying to breed your snake, you can expect around 2 glitches per year.
Do Male Snakes Lay Eggs?
Male snakes are not able to lay eggs. A male’s job in reproduction is usually to provide sperm and genetic mixing for the babies to come.
But, snakes are weird! And there are many cases where you could argue that a male snake did in fact lay eggs. Some snakes are hermaphroditic. This means that they have both female and male reproductive parts. In theory, you could say this is an example of a male snake laying eggs.
Even stranger, some species of snakes start out as males at birth and then grow into females as they age. So, while the snake is still a male it can’t lay eggs, but as it matures it would be able to!
How Do You Know If Your Snake Is About To Lay Eggs?
So, are there any warning signs that your snake is “pregnant”, or do the eggs just appear one day?
As a veterinary technician, I’ll let you know that the number one way to tell if your snake is pregnant is through ultrasound or an x-ray. Snakes can be difficult and secretive and might be able to hide the presence of eggs. An ultrasound or an x-ray will give you concrete answers and might even let you know how many baby snakes to expect!
Beyond that, there are signs that you can watch out for to tell if your snake is about to lay eggs. When your snake is about to lay her eggs, you’ll notice some small lumps towards the end of her body. You might also notice that she’s eating less than normal and that even her color has changed. As expected, pregnant snakes will be way less happy to be handled and might become irritable in the late stages before laying eggs.
What To Do If Your Snake Lays Eggs
If you’re just reading this and your pet ball python has already laid her eggs, don’t worry. You have some options!
If the eggs that your ball python has laid are infertile, you don’t need to keep them. Infertile eggs will start to rot and smell after a while so it’s best to remove them ASAP. If you have other pet snakes, you can try to feed these infertile eggs to them as a treat!
If the eggs are formed and fertile, you still have choices to make. The first step is to check these eggs to see if they are viable. This video shows the process of “candling” and how to check to see if your eggs have the potential to hatch.
No matter what your choice turns out to be, one thing is for sure, be careful when removing eggs from your snake’s tank. A snake that has just laid eggs is going to be extra protective and potentially even aggressive. It might cause your snake to strike at you, even if they never have before. If you’re not sure how to work around your snake to reach the eggs, you can always try using a snake hook or consult a professional for help.
Female ball pythons can and will lay eggs without a male around! Luckily, this phenomenon, called parthenogenesis is extremely rare and won’t likely occur for you and your pet. In the event that it does, you do have options, and you don’t need to raise 20 baby snakes if you don’t have the resources to do so.
So, if you ever find eggs in your female’s tank, don’t be surprised and get ready to take the next step, whatever that might be for you!