Pure curiosity—why is artificial insemination not typically used in breeding reptiles?

I tried, but couldn’t really find a satisfactory answer anywhere online. I can see that artificial insemination HAS been successfully used in snakes, as part of scientific studies… but I’ve never heard of a reptile breeder using it in a commercial or hobbyist capacity. For clarity: I’ve never bred reptiles myself, so I don’t have a comprehensive knowledge on the topic. I do know that there are some species that are notoriously difficult to breed, or that are likely to cause injuries (or even become hostile towards each other), so it seems like a.i. would simplify it… It would also allow access to a much larger pool of genetics, since the animals wouldn’t need to both be on-site, wouldn’t it?

I know that it’s a common and easily affordable practice with horses, cattle, and a number of livestock species. Is it just that reptiles are more “niche”, and so the research/tech hasn’t really made it on to the scene? Are there other factors that would make it much more difficult or unsafe in reptiles? Since it’s been studied and used in laboratories over the past decade or two, is it likely to be an emerging technology/practice in the future?


Unlike commonly inseminated species, many snakes require the courtship to trigger the female to ovulate.


The problem is the safe collection, storage, testing, and shipment requires a lot of investment, equipment, and there has to be a demand. I’m not sure what is required to inseminate a female, but considering merely probing an animal can be dangerous if done incorrectly, I don’t necessarily think everyone would be able to do it. Plus there’s what @randall_turner_jr mentioned in regards to females.

Not sure where you got that information but it is most definitely not easily affordable, at least not at small scale. There’s price in the genetics of the sire, the storage and shipping of samples, holding of samples if they’re not immediately used, all of the equipment, training, etc. Also it’s not comparable expense wise even across the species you mention. It’s hundreds, if not thousands of dollars to inseminate a horse, whereas cows are much cheaper. On top of that, we know so much more about livestock species, while we know very little about reptiles. Some species require incredibly specific conditions to successfully breed that haven’t even been achieved in captivity yet. There would also likely need to be more research into genetics and diseases, because if you can’t screen for them, you can’t make sure they’re not in your stock. Honestly, I don’t see reptile AI becoming widely used outside of research & zoos, at least not any time in the near future.


My wife would tell you I only have the vaguest knowledge of human reproductive anatomy. I could probably stretch that knowledge to most mammalian construction. Beyond that, I’m pretty sure I’d have to let the reptiles figure it out on their own. Our MBK is of breeding age/size, but I’d be afraid she might eat any male I introduced her to. So, I’m
Nervous about letting her figure it out, too. That could get expensive!


Ah, I wondered if something like that might come into play… I’d heard the particulars of season, temperatures, brumation, etc. were factors, but I had assumed it was more to do with triggering the instincts of the animals to seek out or accept a mate. Is that true of most reptiles, or just snakes specifically? And thank you, that’s interesting to know!

So whereas a dairy farmer (for example) could expect a solid return on his investment in all of the equipment and process for cows, an average reptile hobbyist probably couldn’t count on that (especially if they had a veterinarian perform the procedure)? That was kind of what I was thinking the main issue might be, but I couldn’t really find much discussion on it. It makes sense, but I wondered if the costs might pay off for very rare or difficult to breed species.

I have a brother who breeds racehorses off-and-on, and I remembered him using a.i. some years ago for one of his mares… I never had the exact numbers on what he paid, but I got the impression from him that it wasn’t a major thing. It could be that one of the people he knew and worked with had access to equipment and/or experience using it, and so it wasn’t as cost prohibitive. :thinking:

Cattle I have zero personal experience with, but recall hearing how increasing numbers of dairies were moving to a.i., to avoid issues involved with keeping bulls. I wasn’t aware there was a significant cost discrepancy, that seems so odd! Is it because there’s much more demand with cows (as opposed to horses), so it isn’t as much of a “specialty” thing?

I imagine any equipment or facilities geared toward reptiles would be much rarer, and thus much costlier… but it does seem like there would be some degree of practicality or interest, at least for larger breeding operations. Though again, it would be interesting to know the exact numbers and profit margins in the reptile pet trade, specific to CB animals.


Yeah, that’s exactly the kind of case I was thinking of! :tired_face: It also seems like some species are too easily stressed, or have conditions for breeding that are hard to emulate in captivity… or else, are as likely to react territorially as they are “romantically” towards their potential mate.

@noodlehaus Not sure how I missed reading this the first time through. :confounded: The breeding conditions were actually something I wondered if a.i. could solve, in some cases? Is it usually an actual physiological reaction that needs to be triggered, or a behavioral one? Are the animals’ bodies not in the right state for reproduction, or is it that the captive conditions are “off” in some way that makes the reptiles think it isn’t the right time or place to breed?


Yep, basically that. Not sure on very rare or difficult to breed species, it’d need a lot more research to see if it’s a viable option for those applications.

It truly depends on what you’re breeding the horse for (Work? Show? Racing?) and the amount you’re willing to put in. Depending on the desirability of the stud, you could pay a small amount per straw, or over $1k. They have to be shipped overnight, and most places charge $200-$400+ for shipping. You might’ve gotten that impression because AI is often many measures less expensive than something like live cover. A top stud can service more mares via AI than he safely could via traditional means.

Cattle, at least for production purposes if you’re not going to anything highly refined, it’s a base investment but it can pay off. There are places that wholesale material to farmers at relatively low prices, sometimes single digit dollars. At the same time, you have to remember, a larger animal is going to produce a larger volume that can be used across more females.

Again, the issue here is we don’t know enough about some species to know whether or not it would work or even be worth investing. You have to remember, some species can’t even handle being kept in captivity without significant mortality, and some are too fragile to be handled as well. Artificial insemination is not simple, the animal would need to be properly restrained and to do that to a delicate species could stress it to death.

I should note that while looking into studies while crafting this reply, I found a Wired article from 2018 that makes note that no snake has been produced from once-frozen genetic material. That means AI in reptiles over any sort of distance isn’t even possible at this point until that can be achieved. As of now, you’d still have to have both animals in the same place, or within a travel window of material viability.


That’s a really fascinating article, thank you for the link! It’s sad how difficult it was/is for conservationists to secure funding for research to save endangered reptiles, as opposed to more “popular” animals. :pensive: So much essential knowledge—knowledge that could help SO many declining species— is missing, just because it’s a lot easier to sell “Save the pandas!” than “Save the snakes!”…

In any case… I hope they can perfect the science, even if just for the sake of preserving endangered species. In a perfect world, it would be incredible to have a.i. technology available for reptiles in general… but I guess it probably isn’t in the cards anytime soon. I do still wonder about its potential to circumvent difficult or dangerous situations… but as things are, that would still mean possibly causing a lot of stress for the animals, which could be as bad as (or worse than) the original problem. :woman_shrugging:


It would be way too expensive for the hobbyists to try with non-existant success rates. I am not taking into consideration the scientific community, just hobby breeders, or even big name breeders. They would go broke fast


I know horses can be in the 10s of thousands for AI. My friend was looking into it, and i think just the seman alone was almost 7k. That doesnt include, transportation of seman, storage or the vet doing tge procedures. That was 2 years ago


That depends a lot on the actual animals in question, though (not counting the technology, but just the sample/s alone). The stud fee for a champion racehorse or prestigious lineage could be way, way beyond the reach of most budgets, but that’s going to be the case whether you use a.i. or not.

Depending on the situation, the “stud fee” could be a non-factor in some cases—such as if the breeder owned both animals, and was using a.i. as a means for preserving samples from sires that were later gelded, sold, or otherwise unable to be bred normally. Since stallions can often be harder to train/work with, it can offer an alternative to keeping them “intact”, without sacrificing breeding potential. That still leaves the costs of everything else involved, of course… :tired_face: We live in a world where there are entire, professional polo teams comprised of multiple clones of a single horse, though… so horses are definitely an industry where absurdly huge investments can pay off. :dizzy_face:

In the case of reptiles, the “stud fees” are definitely going to come down to just how valuable the sire IS. There are animals with genetic rarities that have sold for… well… wow: https://a-z-animals.com/blog/at-445800-this-is-the-most-expensive-snake-in-the-world/

(At the end of the article, they mention a horse sold for 70mill… which actually makes the six-figure snakes seem more reasonable by comparison. XD)


My guess is that collection from males would be difficult. Many reptiles’ testes are closer to their kidneys than their vent, and I don’t know if the methods used to stimulate ejaculation in mammals have been tested in reptiles? Herp physiology is just incredibly different from mammals. I’m sure there are hundreds of species-specific additional reasons too.


In the case of the vipers in the 2018 article mentioned earlier in the thread, they talk about it briefly, and didn’t report having any difficulties—which is saying something, because I sure wouldn’t want to be the one collecting it from a live, wild-caught viper. :rofl: A 2007 article I read about corn snakes goes along with that: Successful artificial insemination in the corn snake, Elaphe gutatta, using fresh and cooled semen - PubMed

Interestingly, they successfully used refrigerated (albeit, not frozen) samples, as well. :thinking: I’m wondering what kind of window for transportation there is with refrigeration, vs. frozen? EDIT: I’m seeing 5 days as the refrigeration limit for humans (with use of a centrifuge), but since snakes are ectotherms… I feel like there’s got to be some variation in the “use by” dates. :joy: An interesting read from 2020: A model protocol for the cryopreservation and recovery of motile lizard sperm using the phosphodiesterase inhibitor caffeine - PMC


Yeah, frozen horse sperm can be pricey. In all my years working with horses, I only ever came into contact with one stallion…but he was really something. Big beautiful Friesian. Quite possibly the most beautiful and impressive horse I’ve ever seen in person. I remember seeing an ad for him that listed his stud fees. I think frozen sperm from him was $5k (just for the sperm), and that was 20 years ago. I’m assuming the price of horse sperm has gone up along with everything else.

Of course, as I recall, his owner paid around $20-30k to buy him, so with the right mare, $5k for his sperm could probably be pretty worth it.

I just don’t think there’s the money or infrastructure (or knowledge/experience) to make A.I. viable in the reptile hobby, at least for the time being. I feel like AI is most commonly used for horses and cows, and I suspect part of the reason why it was such an attractive option with those animals is at least partly the difficulties in keeping and maintaining intact males of those species. Bulls and stallions are huge, powerful, and hormonal, and that can be a very dangerous combination. It’s not hard to understand why it’s easier to use stored frozen sperm instead of keeping bulls or stallions on your property. It’s certainly safer, and might even be cheaper in the long-run. We don’t really have that issue in reptile breeding. Sure, a male iguana or male retic might get hormonal and reactive and could do some damage if you’re not careful…but it doesn’t compare to the risk posed by a 2-ton bull.


I think one of the big points that hasn’t even been addressed here yet that can’t be overlooked is that the reason AI is so well used in livestock species is because they have much longer reproductive cycles and smaller numbers of offspring than many reptiles. One AI attempt in a corn snake, for example, could possibly produce 10-30 eggs. At least one of those will be male (barring incredibly bad luck or sex-linked characteristics), and males reach sexual maturity faster. You could use AI, then within one to two years use male offspring to further the genetics in your own collection without the need to spend more money.

You also run the risk of certain sires being severely overused and having issues with inbreeding percentages and defects. For an example of this in mammals, look into Friesian horses. While many like to pretend that inbreeding isn’t as much of an issue in reptiles as it is in other species, something like AI has the ability to make for big headaches down the line unless there’s registries, stud books, etc.


There’s a really incredible farm not far from where I live that breeds Friesians… They are absolutely magnificent—and extremely spendy! Provided you had a successful pregnancy and a healthy resulting foal… that 5k would definitely feel like a bargain compared to buying the horse itself! :face_with_spiral_eyes: That breed in particular had a boom in popularity over the past couple of decades (at least from what I’ve seen!), so the demand is there to push the price up, as well.

Very good points on the amount of offspring. There are a handful of lizard species that have significantly lower birth rates (and correspondingly higher price tags!), but they’re definitely the minority. The greater appeal to me is in avoiding issues with aggression/injuries (or even just disinterest) between the potential match-ups, aiding species that seem to struggle with breeding in captivity, or even the potential to add genetics from otherwise inaccessible animals into a breeding program. For instance… I’m wondering if refrigerated sperm samples would be exempt from export/import regulations on the animals themselves? Provided that the species could be legally kept and bred in both the donor’s and the recipient’s countries/regions, would that be within the law? For instance, could sperm from an animal in Australia be legitimately sold to a buyer in the States for use with their own, domestically-bred animal?

I definitely agree on the risk of inbreeding. Careful record-keeping could help to avoid it, but over-saturation of one animal’s genes, in a dozen different breeders’ stock… would still be pretty problematic. :face_with_diagonal_mouth: I could see certain situations where it could get out of hand (a new, extremely popular morph that everyone wanted in on, for instance…).


The answer already exists, it seems, and is a resolute no. If the animal is subject to regulations, that includes reproductive material. Not only would CITES regulations apply, but there are also additional regulations in regards to the sale and transport of semen on top of that.


Shoot. :thinking: The only time I delved very far into it was in regards to a breed of domestic goat that has never been established in the U.S., but is plentiful in its native region. From what I gathered, the ban on importing them was tied to embryos and sperm samples due to a contagion that had the potential to be passed to domestic livestock through a.i. (which is also why the livestock ban was in place to begin with). From that, I had the impression that there wasn’t any kind of blanket ban or regulation in place… Is that across the board, regardless of whether the species is considered threatened?


Seems I may be wrong on that, however I do know that some poultry diseases are transmissible to reptiles, so it’s possible that if AI were to be an option, they may implement specific regulations and testing. This, however, is only in regards to the U.S. other countries may require permits to export, or not allow it at all. That is what makes it more complicated, there’s no one answer.


Navigating two (or more) countries’ worth of regulations is definitely no mean feat. :confounded: There’s also the issue of defining “wildlife”, which can be maddening in and of itself… A bearded dragon at Petco—descended from more generations of captive-bred parents than anyone has bothered to keep track of— is hardly what I’d call “wildlife”, but the laws don’t always account for that. :woman_facepalming: I still shudder when I see rabbits referred to as “exotic pets”, a term which has lost all meaning at this point. :woman_shrugging: So it’s definitely convoluted.

Import/export of livestock is closely regulated based on what countries have confirmed outbreaks of specific diseases… and those doors are opened and closed over and over again, whenever outbreaks are confirmed as still present, or considered to be wiped out. In example, Australia currently has no special restrictions on goats or sheep (live animals or reproductive material) going to or coming from the U.S. from what I can see, but that might be a whole other story for poultry, or horses. Regulations on “pet” species always seem to be the biggest hassle to decipher, legally…