Premature Death in Reptile Hatchlings

I unfortunately had another ball python hatchling pass away today. I’m not entirely sure when the death occurred, but I went to clean tubs and found the poor thing curled up and partially on his back in his tub.

So, I wanted to create a topic about it. Not a lot of breeders openly talk about this part of the hobby, and I’d love to hear some insight from fellow breeders on the topic.

Are premature deaths in hatchlings common?
If known what the cause was, was it an internal issue? Failure to thrive?

Here’s my experiences for my first breeding season, just with my ball pythons:

My first clutch of 8 eggs this season only had one surviving baby, and I had to assist feed him for a long time before he finally started taking live food on his own. A few eggs from this clutch had died early into incubation, and the ones that did make it to the end had a lot of deformities and issues and most died soon after hatching. I had to cull one because the belly ruptured and decided it was best to not let it suffer any longer.
I suspect the issues may have arisen from an incubator issue early on, but otherwise am not sure what happened.

I then had a baby from my second clutch die suddenly, though he wasn’t eating well and regurgitated his last meal. I assume it was just a failure to thrive, and nothing I could do about it.

This last one was from my 10 egg clutch, and all of the babies hatched out rather small since the eggs were small (which I think may contribute to a higher mortality rate if the hatchlings don’t get established fast enough)

This male in particular also regurgitated his last meal before passing away. I’m not entirely sure of the reason though, since these babies are a lot younger and haven’t had as much time to be established. 3 other males from this same clutch have also regurgitated meals, but one has resumed feeding without issues and the other ones will need more time before I can offer food again.

I’ve also had to assist feed 2 other snakes, one is eating on his own now, the other I am still trying to get established. Hopefully she pulls through!

8 Likes

Seeing all the new replies to other threads and new ones made… I genuinely hope people don’t plan to avoid this thread just because they’re afraid to or don’t want to talk about that side of breeding.

I again as a new breeder think these types of things should be more openly talked about among all breeders, so that other new breeders getting into the hobby can have realistic expectations with producing their own clutches. The deaths have certainly come as a shock to me, because while I was expecting things like this to happen, I certainly didn’t expect it to be this common.

8 Likes

To be honest, it sounds like you’ve had a lot more problems than is normal in one season. Whether this is just a case of bad luck, bad breeding stock, or mistakes, I can’t say. Incubator issues are a distinct possibiIity. I have had a few babies die over the years, but very few and I’ve been breeding reptiles for a very long time.

9 Likes

Thanks for your input!
I believe I did everything correctly, and the things I did mess up on I fixed immediately (like not sealing up the egg boxes to keep humidity in)

I’m hoping to invest in a hotbox incubator from CSerpents as well as a better quality thermostat for next season. So hopefully that will help alleviate any potential issues that may have occurred due to my homemade incubator.

I suppose I’ll see how next season goes, hopefully things turn out a bit better for me and any babies I produce.

8 Likes

I have lost babies, had them come out with deformations, and also hatched small hatchlings. Two observations I have incubation I think is your major issue. Each time you open your incubator or tub your causing huge temp swings. Constant temps and humidity are the key. Opening tubs causes humidity swings. Cutting too early is another enemy and extra 4 or 5 days incubating in the egg can make a huge difference in we’re your hatchlings are development wise. One other thing that can cause problems just because your female is 1200 to 1500 grams doesn’t mean she has the necessary fat reserves to produce big healthy eggs. True she will and can breed but she may not lay the best eggs. I tell you this my personal experiences. If your hatching out big healthy babies you will rarely have these issues.

14 Likes

I agree with everything @saleengrinch has said.

5 Likes

That’s fair! I didn’t check the eggs often with the last 3 clutches, only checked on them 1-2 times during incubation to make sure they were still healthy and then more often when it came closer to the time they should start pipping. Is there something I should be doing differently there?

I will admit that I cut the eggs early with the first clutch, which I shouldn’t have done, but with the other clutches I always waited for at least 1-2 babies to pip on their own before I cut the eggs.

All of my females that I bred last season were 1700-2000+ grams, with the exception of the one female that was around 1400 grams when I got her — but she bulked up quite a bit and still went on to lay 3 big eggs that hatched big babies. Those babies are doing well except one that didn’t want to eat and is being assist fed. She also went back on food immediately and gained back that weight within a short amount of time.

My only clutch with small eggs was from my big spider female, she was 1800 grams or so when I started pairing her so she wasn’t particularly small and she had a good body condition. She went on to lay 10 eggs and I think that was too many for her body to handle so they turned out small.

4 Likes

I don’t use press and seal and I don’t open the tubs at all until day 50. This has worked waaaaaayyyyyyy better for me! Personally I feel I always do more harm than good. Make sure your mixture is good put it in the incubator and forget about it. And weights are different for each snake. 1800 is huge for some females but I have a female I won’t breed unless she is over 5000 grams. She is a huge female and she has laid me a clutch of 13 big eggs. This same female if she didn’t put on enough weight would still breed and lay. But I would bet she would lay less eggs and probably smaller as well. Don’t get discouraged it’s all a learning curve.

6 Likes

I used press and seal since I guess the tub I was using wasn’t holding in the humidity very well. Is there a specific tub I should use that does actually hold in humidity well enough to not need press and seal?

I do 50/50 by weight with perilite and water, sometimes adding a little more water if it doesn’t seem like it’s clumping enough.

I’m not too discouraged, it’s really upsetting to lose so many animals but again I know I’m trying my best and can only do better from here. Eventually I’ll get everything down and learn what all I need to, but I’m still proud of myself for successfully breeding a clutch of hognoses and 4 clutches of ball pythons in my first season.

4 Likes

6 qt tub 4 cups perilite 1.5 cups water no press and seal. I can’t wait to breed my hognoses! I have never bred them before! I hatched out 8 kinked super black pastels a couple a years ago. It was extremely disappointing and discouraging. And frankly it was sad. You will have ups and downs breeding. All you can do is continue to educate yourself and learn from your mistakes!

6 Likes

This is absolutely the right attitude to take. Even though you’ve had some misfortunes, producing 5 clutches in your first season is a huge accomplishment and you should be proud.

7 Likes

Honestly, I had a couple young colubrids die over the past few months and it was heartbreaking.

I knew it could be an issue, but I wasn’t expecting it to happen to me, at leat not more than once. They were eating fine, there were no visible issues, and I didn’t have any equipment malfunctions on my end. Now, granted, they were all from questionable origins (my husband’s petstore cornsnake and two I adopted from people that couldn’t fully describe their origins), but all the vet was able to say was “failure to thrive”.

I admit, I felt like a horrible reptile owner, especially as they all passed within a month of each other (despite me having them for 6-18 months), but from what my vet told me, it’s more common than I think. For all I know, they had incubator issues of their own, or were fed poor quality feeders before I got them or kept wrong or who knows what, but apparently there was lasting damage.

It sucks, though, and I really do wish that I had known it would be a possibility more than I did. I’m very paranoid now and probably bother my snakes more than I should to make sure they’re okay.

3 Likes

The regurgitating across different clutches throw me. And the short time between deaths…where do you source your rodents from?

1 Like

I get my feeders from a local-ish rodent breeder that I know takes very good care of their rodents. They clean tubs once a week and feed mazuri to their rodents. Their business is called Prairie Rodent Farm.

Though I did source some live mice from someone I found through a local Facebook group one time since my usual source mentioned above was on vacation. Not sure if those may have caused any issues. Those mice looked healthy and well taken care of, so I didn’t think anything of it.

3 Likes

I just ask because I used to work at a fish store. People would come in asking why their fish are always sick…while trying to narrow it down, I’d realize that people would buy the super lage tub of fish food because it would last them a year plus. Not knowing the food goes bad after a month from opening…honest enough mistake, if you don’t know , you don’t know…some fresh food and their fish would be on the mend.

Sounds like food is not the issue here but if I where in your shoes I would try sourcing rodents from somewhere else for a short period. If for no other reason…to rule it out as a possibly

3 Likes

I would like to tag a few guys in here and see if we can get a average of sorts.
@osbornereptiles @jkobylka @balls2u @wreckroomsnakes @martin_ender @t_h_wyman @hinglesherps

How often are you guys hitting losses?

1 Like

The thing is, I feed these rodents to my main collection as well and have not had any issues thus far. All of my issues seem to be with the hatchlings I produced this year.

1 Like

@trnreptiles Imo I would say your feeders aren’t an issue. I breed feeders and sick/unhealthy feeders are pretty easy to spot. Do you feed live or frozen thawed?

1 Like

I’ve been feeding live but recently switched all my snakes to f/t just because it’s easier to stock up on frozen feeders. They all go crazy over food so I didn’t have any issues suddenly switching to f/t.
I also breed my own rodents but they haven’t been reproducing at all for awhile so I’m having to buy feeders for the entire collection.

So the only ones eating live are a few hatchlings that haven’t made the switch to f/t yet.

3 Likes

When I first read this post, I held off on replying because I had that feeling like I was forgetting something. I just figured out what- when there are certain viral diseases present, neonatal failure to thrive and regurgitation are often signs. Though many other things can result in death of young & regurgitation, it’s something to keep in mind as a possibility.

I would hold off on any exchange of snakes in or out of your facility until you can either take in the refrigerated-but-not-frozen remains (within 1 day, 2 max) of a baby that has passed into a reptile vet for a necropsy, or take the dam in for a vet visit so you can discuss testing. Let them know your concerns before the remains/animal is in the building so the staff can take appropriate precautions. If you have a collection, it is generally worth it to take any animals that pass away mysteriously in to your reptile vet for a necropsy. (Edit- when you have the necropsy done, make sure you get it with histopath.)

Here’s Mader’s list of most common causes for neonatal morbidity & mortality:

  • genetic/congenital conditions
  • temps or humidity are off
  • dehydration
  • exteriorized or infect yolk sac
  • sepsis
  • cannibalism
  • mites
  • fly strike
  • predation from prey species
    (From Reptile Medicine & Surgery, 2nd ed., p. 375)
8 Likes