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  1. #1
    BPnet Veteran Quiet Tempest's Avatar
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    Maternal Incubation

    Maternal incubation is often considered a haphazard ordeal for both snake and her keeper but I must respectfully disagree. There is a lot of misinformation readily available out and successful ventures in maternal incubation tend to be overlooked or considered lucky gambles. There are certainly pros and cons to both methods of incubating eggs but I wouldnít say that one is better than the other.

    I find the maternal route to be less expensive and less problematic than the artificial method so it has become my preference when it comes to breeding ball pythons. I feel an experienced mother snake is better prepared to care for her eggs than I am and seeing things unfold naturally is absolutely worthwhile for me. The only requirement on the part of the keeper here is to provide the female with adequate housing. An enclosure that promotes healthy behavior and intact shed skins is likely suitable for females brooding a clutch. The main concern when it comes to maternal incubation is temperature and humidity. In an incubator, this is controlled entirely by the keeper. When maternally incubating a clutch, the keeper takes a backseat to the process. So long as all of her needs are met, there is no reason why maternal incubation canít be successful. The female will choose the best nesting site in her enclosure. Mine have a tendency to lay their eggs in the back of the tub near or directly over the heat tape. When I placed a probe in one of my female's clutches to measure the temps, I found that her nesting site was reading 87-88F throughout incubation. The urge to increase humidity should be resisted unless conditions in the enclosure have become arid and unsuitable for keeping ball pythons. This problem is more likely to occur in enclosures with screen tops or that are heated by lamps. Some substrates are better suited for holding humidity. I like to use cypress in my ball enclosures and keep humidity levels no less than 60% for my ball pythons - 70-80% being ideal for a brooding female. An easy solution for low humidity issues would be to make a humid hide. In the case of a gravid female, this would be a nest box large enough to accommodate her and her clutch. If you intend to give your female a nest box, be sure to provide this for her well ahead of her estimated lay date so that she can become accustomed to the new feature in her enclosure.

    When the female lays her clutch, they usually adhere to one another in a pile so that when the she leaves them to drink or feed they donít roll out of the nest. This isnít always the case, however. Snowflaking is an odd phenomenon that often occurs in colubrid eggs but can also occur in ball python eggs as well. A snowflaked egg appears to have spots or ďsnowflakesĒ on the egg shell. Snowflaked eggs may look quite odd but they are not defective and there is no need to throw them out. Most breeders believe that snowflaking occurs when there is a variation of calcium in the egg shell. Incidentally when this happens, Iíve noticed these eggs rarely adhere to one another as they should and this can be problematic for a brooding mom because there could be roll outs among them. A roll out is an egg that falls away from the pile. Sometimes roll outs are slugs or infertile eggs that have been deliberately pushed away from the clutch but in the case of snowflaked eggs, they may fall away from the pile on their own. This usually happens when the mother leaves the nest to feed or drink and. Mothers will usually use their bodies to pull these strayed eggs back to the pile when they return but sometimes they are missed. Itís a good idea to check on your brooding female regularly to ensure that all of her eggs are being coiled.

    Donít worry if a viable egg is turned or rolled out of the nest for some reason. So long as the egg hasnít suffered trauma, hasnít gotten dangerous cool and is returned to the pile and coiled by its mother, there is no reason why it shouldnít continue to develop normally and result in a healthy hatchling. Several breeders have conducted a series of experiments to see how turning eggs at different points during incubation affect the embryo inside and the results of those tests indicate that the eggs can self correct in the event that they have been turned during incubation. When I have found a rolled out egg in an enclosure, I have carefully removed the mother and placed the stray egg back into the pile before allowing her to return to the enclosure and wrap around the clutch again. It is very important to limit handling the eggs and irritating the mother through these sorts of interventions whenever possible. Excessive stress can force a mother, especially a new or young mother, to abandon her clutch if she feels that her nest is unsafe. Females that ordinarily exhibit a calm disposition may suddenly become aggressive as brooding mothers if you needed more reason to limit bothering the nest or mom.

    Females can and will continue to feed while maternally incubating. Some may refuse the first offered meal but this is not an indication that sheíll refuse all subsequent offerings. This was a mistake I made the first year I bred ball pythons and maternally incubated the clutch. The mother refused to eat and, largely because of the misinformation Iíd read on the topic, I assumed that mothers who were brooding a clutch always refused to eat and wouldnít take a meal until after the eggs hatched. Iíve since learned I was wrong and now offer food to maternally incubating females when I feed the rest of my collection. Sometimes they feel like eating and other times they donít. Thatís really nothing new or worrisome when dealing with ball pythons. A mother in the wild is not bound to their clutch for the entire duration. She will periodically leave her clutch to go eat, drink or bask. In a captive environment, there is no need for her to seek out a basking site because the entire enclosure is usually kept at comfortable temperatures for her so the only time she will leave her clutch is to drink or when offered food. When offering food, I find itís best to offer meals that are smaller than what the female was regularly fed. Smaller meals are easier to digest and are more readily accepted by brooding females. Very little energy is expended by a mother maternally incubating a clutch so even if she refused most or even all food offered while she is brooding, she is not likely to lose much body mass if any at all. The females who continue to feed regularly while brooding will gain body mass.

    As the eggs get nearer to hatching they will begin collapse or wrinkle, sweat and finally pip. The babies usually remain in their eggs for a while, absorbing the rest of their yolk, before fully emerging from their eggs. The mother senses that her eggs are hatching and will relax her coils to let her new offspring leave the nest. Some mothers can become very skiddish as the babies start emerging and bump into her or burrowing beneath the substrate but in my experience, she becomes accustomed to it and relaxes rather quickly. Once all of the babies have left the nest, sheíll leave as well. If, for some reason, you feel an egg is overdue or that some other reason necessitates cutting the eggs open, I would caution against doing so unless you intend to move those eggs to an artificial incubator until the hatchlings fully emerge. I say this because if you cut an egg, its shell loses its integrity and no longer provides a buffer for outside manipulation. A cut egg in a brooded clutch could be squished to the point of emptying its contents and/or injuring the baby inside. Maternally incubated clutches generally hatch anywhere from 50 to 70 days. An egg not hatching out on a specific day does not mean there is cause for alarm. Every clutch is different and the results of one may not always be mirrored by the next regardless of what incubation method is used.


    Hope it helps. Please let me know if I've left something unanswered.
    Ball Pythons
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  3. #2
    BPnet Veteran Skittles1101's Avatar
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    Awesome thread, stickie!
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  5. #3
    BPnet Veteran RestlessRobie's Avatar
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    Re: Maternal Incubation

    Great write up I enjoyed the read
    Robie


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  9. #5
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  11. #6
    BPnet Veteran Quiet Tempest's Avatar
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    Re: Maternal Incubation

    Thanks, guys.. I thought I weeded out the typos and errors before hitting submit but obviously missed a few here and there. Sorry.
    Ball Pythons
    1.2 Normals
    0.1 Normal het. Burgundy (? unproven)
    1.1 Normals 100% het. Piebald
    1.1 Albinos
    0.1 Butter
    0.1 Black Magic (VPI Black Satin line)
    1.0 Lemon Blast
    1.1 Mojaves
    2.1 Pastels
    1.1 Piebalds
    0.1 Spider
    1.0 VPI Black Satin Black Pastel
    1.0 Yellow Belly

  12. #7
    BPnet Veteran Slashmaster's Avatar
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    This is a great writeup I think I'll try maternal incubation when I breed my snakes.

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  14. #8
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    Glue this one up... Great... Giving me some thoughts..

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  16. #9
    BPnet Veteran LotusCorvus's Avatar
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    Thank you so much for writing this! I've been having a tough time finding info on maternal incubation (almost all of it has come from your posts here, lol). I only just got my first ball, but I specifically got one with a great feeding response since I hope to maternally incubate, and feeding a brooding mom seemed to be the biggest concern.

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  18. #10
    BPnet Senior Member Mike Cavanaugh's Avatar
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    Re: Maternal Incubation

    No way Jose!

    Maternal Incubation would be something fun to "play" with if your breeding normals, or working with inexpensive snakes. But for those of us breeding higher dollar snakes it is something I would never even begin to consider, and for good reason.

    1.) Cost. You can build an excellent simple incubator for less then $300. Mine is four years old and still works perfectly. Considering it has successfully incubated more then $60,000 worth of snake babies, I would say that the less then $300 spent on it is absolutely irrelevant.

    2.) The babies. I have total control over the babies. Because of all the work our founding snake fathers have done, I know exactly what the perfect incubation temperature, humidity, conditions are and can consistently provide the best possible conditions to insure the highest hatch rate and the healthiest babies in the end.

    3.) The what if's. My incubator is a completely insulated large cooler. The bottom is covered with full water bottles for temperature stabilization. In the event of extended power loss, even in cooler weather, I will be fine. In fact it has happened. Because it is an insulated cooler it holds temperatures WAY better then a rack ever could. The water bottles on the bottom retain heat for a long time in that insulated scenario. When my power went out it was 24 hours before my cooler temperature dropped 10 degrees. At that point I ended up plugging the incubator into my car power inverter for two hours to bring it back up to temperature. About 20 hours later when I was ready to heat it up again the power was restored. The whole thing probably ended up costing me a gallon of gas. There was over $11,000 worth of eggs in the incubator at the time.

    4.) the mom. I want those eggs away from the mom the second they are out of her. The day she lays the snake is removed and the tub is scrubbed top to bottom. That next day she is offered food for first time. I then put her on a very heavy feeding schedule feeding multiple rats often. My number one goal is to get the weight back on her absolutely as quickly as possible so she is ready to lay an even larger clutch the next season. Yes the mom may eat some while she is incubating the kids but she isn't eating nearly enough. "playing around" with maternal incubation could cause her to not gain enough weight back in time for the next season. At this point in the game a missed year for some of my females could be a loss of $10,000 worth of babies.
    Mikey Cavanaugh
    (904) 318-3333

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