Thanks to suggestions and help from @eaglereptiles - I’m posting up some of my older blog posts so they can be preserved and enjoyed in this forum as well. You can see them in full at: https://jkobylkareptiles.com/the-journal/
Email question from a reader: – “It seems to be a debate as to when to breed ball pythons. I have read and in speaking with other breeders, females should wait 3 winters before breeding. There seems to be discrepancies and conflicting information out there. What are your thoughts on this? Thanks”
My view on breeding young females is different than the “conventional wisdom”. The fact is that males will breed females in the wild regardless of their size, weight, age, etc. There is no harm in this, its doesn’t hurt the female at all. Her body knows if if the timing is right and whether she can healthfully produce eggs. Thousands of years of self preservation instinct is way more reliable than your or my opinion on the topic.
When hobbyists argue how young you can breed a female, they lack the knowledge that a female will likely bred nearly every year of their life in the wild. Pythons are not like mammals where an egg is released / fertilized (internally involuntary). A BP female’s body has to actively develop follicles for up to months prior to ovulation. The body can reverse this process at any time prior to ovulation with no harm. If a female begins to absorb her follicles, there is nothing that I as a breeder can do to change that.
In my experience, of the few females who become egg bound, almost none of them are first time breeders. In my experience egg binding is more likely to happen in a proven breeder. The one time I had a first time breeder become egg bound she happened to be about 5 years old and 3000 grams.
When I breed a 1200g female starting in November, I know that if she wants to produce she will kick in good feeding and will be 1800g by the time she lays. If her instinct to produce doesn’t kick in, then nothing will happen and no harm will done.
Another perspective is that I really don’t want to breed a female that is not likely to produce, either from lack of weight, age or size. (Because it would be using a male on a low percentage chance of the female producing.) However a well timed breeding can sometimes keep a female on feed and avoid her going into a long fast. The point of this would not be eggs, just give the female a bit of motivation.
In short – Ball Pythons typically don’t produce eggs against their own will and best interest, so relax and let nature do what it does best!
Rather than focusing on age or weight, it might be best to teach new breeders to look for signs that the female is building follicles. I know this isn’t as clear cut as “wait until 2 years or 1500 grams” which is what most people were saying when I was new, but I think it’s a far better predictor of when a female is ready to breed.
Though I started off going by the advice quoted above, I had a female my second year that was clearly bowl wrapping and building at just under one and a half years old. She was near 1500 grams, so I paired her with a male and she put on a few hundred more grams before producing five large healthy eggs. Not a big clutch, to be sure, but they all hatched fine and the female went right back on food.
I’ve heard of some breeders pairing as early as 1000g. Not expecting anything, but giving the snakes an opportunity to get to know each other. I’ve even heard of an accidental pairing of a 700 gram female. If I remember correctly, she only laid one good egg and a boob egg, but the good egg hatched and the female went back on food and was healthy.
In the wild they likely breed as soon as they want. We all have our own way of managing our collections, but a lot of the popular guidelines people repeat are arbitrary and based on getting larger clutches. That may contribute to the false assumption that breeding earlier is dangerous. While maximum output is desirable, it’s not what everyone wants, and I’m not convinced it’s always what’s best for the snakes either.
Interesting observation on egg binding, that was not something I was aware of, I had heard to the contrary that it was more often a first time layer issue.
Was speaking with my buddy Joe a few weeks ago and he mentioned you were having great success with females that are ready around that 1200 gram mark, it’s definitely some great food for thought thanks Justin!
Ironically, while reading up on the topic of breeding I came across this tonight;
Is it still relevant?
I’ve seen this article before, as well as seen if referenced to in a YouTube video posted by a smaller breeder. I feel like this is the more “realistic” perspective of things as opposed to the “conventional” way of thinking and it really does challenge that notion that females have to be a specific size and age to breed.
Not to say that you should breed your females as soon as your males start showing interest in them, I personally would still wait until at least 1200-1300 grams to even introduce a pair for potential breeding.
This is exactly why I decided to go ahead and pair my pastel super mystic female, since she’s sitting around 1300-1400 grams.
She went nuts as soon as I put the male in with her, tail wagging and scent gland expressing and all.
After a few introductions, the pair locked up for the first time. My male is a super mystic, so I’m hoping for all mystic potions at the very least
Still relevant, I do things a bit differently now, but still a good guide.
I’ve only dealt with 1 egg bound female and it was a very seasoned proven breeder. I also had what was supposed to be 2x females get shipped to me. Turns out one was male. Months later surprise 2 eggs popped out of a 700 gram female. She had no issues, but only laid 2 eggs. Since then had laid 5-6 most years.
So my little experience would agree 100%
I’ve been saying exactly what Justin said above for years. The animals know when they’re ready. Last year I had several females lay 7+ eggs as first time breeders, two of which had clutches hatching before they turned two years old. Age has absolutely nothing to do with their reproduction, it is entirely about body condition. Just my experience.
Billy’s (Mutation Creation) helper Austin also recently put out a video where he talks about starting his pairings at 1250g if the female is eating well. The general advice has been 1500g, some even say 1750g+ before pairing.
Great information. I heard you share it on a podcast recently as well, I don’t recall which one. Good to see you posting in here again Justin. Thanks for sharing.
I agree with that the individual animal should be assessed if they could bring forth a good clutch of eggs, and also if it is good for her to even do so.
As I’ve stated many times over the years, the recommended minimum weight for females was 1000g 20 years ago. I’m not sure where the 1500g rule came from, and now I’ve seen as much as 1800g.
I’ll also add I’ve never had a young small female become eggbound but the couple of times I have seen it was in older animals that had several established clutches. A big breeder is not going to put their animals at an added risk for a small clutch…and that’s another topic in itself.
This is a great thread with some very solid information. I would like to add that this question is popular among those who have not bred ball pythons before, and that I hope that newcomers understand the nutritional requirements to support a healthy female through egglaying and recovery. A world of information is out there for us, and sadly a lot of it, is anyone’s opinion.
I truly appreciate JKR as a trusted source of quality facts and opinions weighing in on this subject in a public forum. Everything I read has rung true.
On the other hand, I hope folks with a pair of ball pythons they have raised on pet store live mice, understand that they need to elevate their offerings to provide a female with nutrition to handle the very taxing process that breeding puts on a female especially.
Again, it’s a common newbie question and one most of all of us have asked at one time or another. But responsible care is still of utmost importance as well all learn and grow from experience.
For what it’s worth, this is my first year breeding ball pythons, and the knowledge I have gained in experience is incredible, despite how many paperback books, Reptiles magazines, or internet searching I have read through, making sure our animals are healthy is of utmost importance, way ahead of wondering when we can breed them.
Thanks to the above posters for their valuable inputs. I mean all the best. We have a hobby that is continuously exploding. We will only learn more as we go, and it’s people like you leading the way!
Very well said.
There are so many variables in care that are important. Here here. I too am very intrigued by the topic.
I have females that have laid multiple time for me that aren’t 1800 grams still to this day. Wow.
I do remember the “common knowledge” being if you breed too early, then they would lay small clutches for the rest of their lives. I’ve never found that to hold true in my small experience tho. I could see these weight rules stemming from it or something similar
I have not personally seen these small clutches either. In my opinion, the smaller clutches are the results of underfeeding. I have had females under two lay eggs almost every year for the last 6-7 years and my smallest clutch has been 6 eggs. I’ve had as many as 12 eggs from a first time female under 1500g…I’m really not sure how that happened. This past summer I had two first time females lay 10 eggs right at two years old.
I did experience my very first eggbound female ball this season from an 11 year old female that was around 4kg.
I did have a 4 egg clutch (3 good, 1 slug) from a pewter female I bought earlier this year.
Though she was pretty lean when I first got her:
The breeder I got her from must have been keeping her lean on purpose to save money from feeders. Meh. I started getting her feeding, she was developing follicles so I bred her to my butter spinner male. She was pounding food and reached almost 2kg while gravid.
She’s 1600 grams now after laying and immediately going back on food, which is heavier than when I got her at 1400 grams.
Now she’s chunky and looks like a proper female.
EXACTLY!!! I have been saying this for years. Some breeders actually think they have control of when a female reproduces. As mentioned, in the wild, a female ball python breeds when SHE is ready. Has absolutely nothing to do with her weight, age, or anything like that. Point, blank, bottom line, female ball pythons breed and lay when they want.
This girl ended up laying 4 eggs, 3 healthy, 1 slug.
Hit pretty decent odds though, two females: a pewter bee (pastel cinnamon spider) and a butter spinnerblast (butter pastel spider pinstripe) both of which I kept! The male was a butter spider, ended up selling him of course.
Recent pictures of the two girls, because they’re so pretty:
The female is gravid again this year after taking 2021 off, but I’m not sure how many she’s gonna lay this time around. I wasn’t able to give her a proper palpating because she was being difficult about it lmao, I’ll probably update this with that, to see if she lays another small clutch or something bigger.
If they are ready they will go despite size and weight, if not they wont. (but just because they can doesn’t mean it is healthy or they should, human females can theoretically reproduce at around 12 but should they? is it safe or right?) its more complex than that.
If too early and they try, you risk serious complications or worse, and even if its not too bad you maybe will have to risk one or two years until they recover and catch up from the excess demand on their system and are ready to go again. even then it may have longer lasting negative affects.
Same goes for breeding every year.
Doesn’t seem worth it to rush things to me
The older and in best condition is my guide.
The reproductive physiology of snakes is so vastly different from that of humans (and mammals in general) that I’d be careful of putting too much stock in that comparison.
Granted, I’m not a breeder, nor am I an expert in reptile reproductive biology, so I realise my opinion probably doesn’t count for much.