Do Snakes Lay Eggs?

Cobra Eggs

It’s always interesting to think about the strange ways in which snakes give birth. We’re used to live births as mammals, and we are well aware of egg laying from birds. What we don’t always discuss is reptiles and how they give birth.

 I was curious if all snakes lay eggs or if they don’t and actually have live births. Perhaps it’s a combination of the two. I was curious so I found out for you. Your questions and worry stop here!

So, do snakes lay eggs? Almost 70% of all snake species lay eggs such as rat snakes and king snakes. The other 30% goes to snakes that produce live young, like boa constrictors and anacondas. There are also cases where female snakes carry eggs inside their bodies until birth and then either lay the eggs or produce the live young from those eggs. An example of this snake would be the copperhead. 

This may be one of the most interesting topics surrounding the life of snakes. It’s crazy to think that there is not one clear-cut way that snakes produce their young. It’s easy for us to say that humans bear live young and birds lay eggs, but when it comes to snakes, the answer is “it depends.”

Three Types of Snake Birth

It’s incredible to think that there isn’t just one general rule related to birth that encapsulates all snake species. Time and circumstance have dictated that some species require different birthing options than others. In reality, there are three different ways in which a snake can give birth. 

1.) The first kind of snake birth is referred to as “Oviparous.” This section of birth type is the production and laying of eggs by the female. This is the most common way that snakes give birth and it holds approximately 70% of snake species under its umbrella.

2.) The second option for snake birth, not that they get a choice, is called “Viviparous.” The species that give birth in this section have live young. The babies are carried inside the mother snake’s body being nourished and protected by her throughout the whole process. Then they are born live without any assistance from an egg.

3.) The final type of snake birth is a mouthful: “Ovoviviparous.” This word is a combination of the two previous words used to describe snake birth. This is a fitting title since this process include both eggs and a live birth! How is that possible, you ask? The mother carries the eggs inside her body for most of the pregnancy. When the babies are ready, they break out of the shell in her body and are born through live birth.

To help us better understand the types of snakes that are included in each category, I have included a pared down table with a few examples from each. 

Oviparous
(
lay eggs)
Viviparous
(
live birth)
Ovoviviparous
(combination)
CobrasBoa ConstrictorVipers
Mambas
AnacondaRattlesnakes
Bull snakesGarter snakesCottonmouthes
Rat snakes(most) Sea snakesCopperheads
King snakesWatermoccasins

Egg vs. Live Birth Determination

The fact that three different ways to produce young exist for snakes made me curious about why. Why would snakes need different ways to give birth?

According to my research, the answer stems from a snake’s general inability to regulate its own body temperature. This fact explains why we need to provide heat lamps for our snakes when we keep them as pets.

In the wild, snakes live in a variety of different climates and altitudes. Some live in hot deserts while others spend their days, or rather nights, slithering along leafy forest paths. Their origins end up dictating their natural reproductive cycles.

For instance, snakes found in deserts will most likely, but not always, lay eggs because it is warm enough to keep eggs incubated outside of the body. One exception to that rule is the rattlesnake. Rattlesnakes are one of the rare species that give birth to live offspring. 

Snakes found in particularly cooler climates will sometimes have live young because it’s harder to keep the eggs warm while the baby snake develops and grows. The idea that hot climate dwelling snakes have eggs and cooler dwelling snakes have live young isn’t as simple as that.

The fact is that 70% or snakes lay eggs, and only 30% have live young. It’s probably safer to say that live birth is the strange exception instead of a clearly defined group.

No matter how cut and dry the formula seems, these are just a few factors that may determine whether a snake lays eggs or produces live young. The good news for us in our learning process is that the same species will always produce their young the same way.

You aren’t going to have one garter snake having live babies while another is over there laying eggs. Snakes are pretty funny when it comes to birth, but they follow simples laws and patterns dictated by their species.

Number of Eggs Snakes Can Lay

As you may have guessed it, the number of eggs that a snake lays changes between species. There have been varying accounts of snakes laying 2-50 eggs or 4-12 eggs. These two pieces of information don’t match up very well, so let me break down a few species for you. 

Burmese pythons, for example, have the capability of laying close to 80 eggs. Sometimes this number is less and sometimes it’s more. On the other hand, a Ball Python may lay just a meager 6 eggs at a time. The difference can be attributed to just a natural difference in species or other factors entirely.

I have read that a possible indicator of how many young a snake has is linked almost directly to the number of natural predators. Snakes that live in dangerous environments will produce a lot of eggs or young at a time.

This would make the survival rate much higher for that species of snake because they have a significantly higher chance of having young that survive infancy than if they only produced a small number of babies at birth.

On the flip side, this would mean that snakes with a less immediate threat of predators will produce less young because the risk is lower. They wouldn’t have to worry about the eggs surviving, for instance, because there aren’t many threats and eggs laying mothers will sometimes stay with their young for a short time to protect them from harm.

Another important thing to note is that Ovoviviparous species of snake, the ones that have eggs inside of them and then give live birth, will produce fewer eggs than the Oviparous species, egg-layers, because of the factors surrounding their birth.

Snake babies that are born in eggs are also known to be smaller than the offspring produced in a live birth because of the restrictions of their birth.

Number of Live Offspring

Taking a step back to learn some of the snake reproduction terminologies will improve our understanding. A group of eggs, for instance,  is commonly known as a “clutch” of eggs; whereas, a collection of babies in a live birth scenario is referred to as a “litter.”

The number of snakes in a litter of live offspring have been known to get up to 30  in some cases, but an average amount of young in a litter is probably closer to 10.

This is another part of snake information that completely changes from one species to another. This number may also be affected by the level of threat predators cause in the area, like what we talked about in the previous egg section.

The garter snake can produce up to 85 young, but the average is 13-26 slithering babies in a litter. Then there’s the anaconda that can have anywhere between 14-40 young at a time.

The health and body size of the individual snake mother is also a factor in the amount of offspring produced in any case. If you have a mother who may be unhealthy, hurt, or smaller than normal for some reason, you will most likely have a smaller litter or clutch (depending on the species).

The health of the snake, in general, can affect the number of babies conceived in the beginning or the health of an embryo later in the pregnancy.

Frequency of Birth

Every animal in this world has a time frame that they must wait before having more babies. Other factors at work may be the natural rhythm that animals follow that dictates how often they reproduce. For the human race, we have a time frame that we must wait before conceiving another child.

However, the frequency at which we reproduce is not static and is determined by personal choice. These same rules don’t apply to the lives of animals, however. Most animals have a set schedule for reproduction that they’ve known since birth. No one had to tell them, they just know from instinct.

Snakes give birth maybe once or twice a year. For egg laying species, there is typically one clutch of eggs for them each year. Some species will produce two clutches, and they very rare few will even produce three clutches in one year. An example of a snake that may produce three clutches in a year is the African house snake.

Time of Year

Once again, human reproduction is a free-flowing thing that can happen at any time. This is not the case for snakes. For reptiles, amphibians, mammals, and everything else in this world, there are a time and season for everything– even when to give birth.

Snakes will typically mate and give birth to their young within the time spanning June-August. This is true for the ringneck snake that typically lays its eggs in June or July. Other species may mate and give birth during April-May, like the gopher snake, depending on their location and species type.

A rough cut version of events would be to say that mating season is the spring and the births usually happen in the summer. There is no day that mating commences or the birthing process ends. It all happens within the same season but cannot be foreseen to a precise moment in time. 

Where do Snakes Go to Lay Eggs?

When thinking of turtles, they bury their young in the sand and leave them until it’s time for them to hatch. Birds keep their own high in trees to ward off many of the predators that may be after them. Snakes, on the other hand, will either bury their young or, in very rare cases, create nests for them.

I have always just assumed that the place that snakes lay their eggs, or produce their young, was called a nest. This is a common mistake that many of us make, apparently.

Snakes don’t make nests for their young, per se. If they are laying eggs and leaving them, snakes are probably burying them underneath loose dirt, or sand depending on the environment or hiding them beneath leaves.

The only snake species that truly creates a nest for their young is the king cobra. This snake will not only make the best accommodations for their young but will also stay around to incubate and protect their unborn children until the day they’re “fully cooked,” if you will.

Snakes that have live births will go underground to give birth and then leave them after they’re done. A lot of snakes that are born live are already naturally equipped to defend themselves to survive on their own, so don’t go blaming the mom for child endangerment just yet! 

Do Snake Babies Stay with Mom?

Most of the time snake babies are on their own almost immediately after a live birth. As mentioned in an earlier section, king cobras are one of the few species that stick around for any amount of time after the birth of their young.

It seems like the species of snakes that stay with their young are more likely to be those that give birth to eggs. The snakes that produce live young tend to leave their babies right away. There have been many instances, like in the rattlesnake, where baby snakes are born with fangs and venom to defend themselves after mom leaves. 

The most protective mothers are those who lay eggs and then have to protect them. Some snakes can leave their eggs to be incubated by the warm earth after being buried, but other mothers are required in the process further.

Some of the time the mothers who lay eggs will have to stick around to coil themselves around the eggs to keep them warm. The warmth will help the babies grow and develop until they’re ready to come out into the world.

This is also a way to protect them since it is hard for a curious predator to snatch an egg when an angry snake mama is wrapped around the entire clutch. Pythons are a good example of a snake species that does this.

Related Questions

Why are snake eggs leathery? The eggs produced by snakes are leathery because they are meant to stick together when being laid. This sticking process protects the eggs from getting lost or misplaced in the pack. The amount of eggs produced in one clutch can sometimes be numerous and being stuck together helps. The eggs are also permeable by water and so this poses a problem to the mother who will have to choose a birthing area with the right amount of moisture.

What temperature should snake eggs be kept at? Snake eggs in captivity should reach a constant temperature of about 82-88 degrees Fahrenheit. Pythons seem to like to have a warmer temperature to grow and thrive in so temperatures for their incubation should be in the 85-90 degree Fahrenheit range.

Do snakes stay with their eggs? Some snake species will stay with their eggs to incubate and protect them from common predators. Other snakes will bury their eggs loosely in warm areas and then leave them to hatch. The ones that leave their eggs to hatch on their own will always have a way to protect them naturally using camouflage of the elements and knowledge of less predator activity in certain areas. 

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