How to Tell the Difference Between a Male and Female Snake?

How in the world do you tell whether a snake is male or female? It is so difficult, right? Well, I did some research on the topic and have written it down to share with you.

Male snakes can most easily be differentiated from females because they have thicker tails.  If this does not clearly show the difference, a probe can be inserted in the slit in front of the tail to feel for a hemipenes.

Trying to tell by just looking for hemipenes is actually harder than it sounds.  So, what are the best ways to tell the difference between boy snakes and girl snakes?

Tail Characteristics as a Way to Sex Snakes

Male and female snakes have very different shaped tails. Who knew? The first thing you need to know is, what qualifies as the snake‘s tail? In every snake there is a slit along the underbelly, toward the end of the snake, this slit is called a cloaca.

The length of the snake from the cloaca to the tip of the back end of the snake is its tail. Because females lack hemipenes, their tails are skinnier and fade evenly to the point. Male snakes, on the other hand, have thicker tails that stay thick until they quickly come to a point at the very end of their tails.

This is a good way to tell whether or not a snake is male or female when you have two snakes side by side, but trying to figure this out with only one snake can be rather difficult, so they have invented a few other ways to determine the sex of your snake.

Probing to Determine the Gender of a Snake

The first way and the best way to find the sex of your snake is to use a technique that is called probing. Probing is a process that involves sticking an instrument into your snakes’ cloaca to determine if there are hemipenes or not.

To succeed in this technique it is important to, first and foremost, make sure you have the right tools. Manufactures make snake probes that can be bought in pet stores or online at places like Amazon.

It is important that when you go to probe a snake you make sure you have the correct sized prob, and that you have a rounded tip on your probe. Make sure that before probing your snake, you have figured out which size of prob to use.

For smaller snakes, use thinner rods and for larger snakes make sure to use larger rods. It is best to buy snake probing rods because you need to make sure they are rounded on the end or have a ball tip in order to ensure the safety of your snake.

When Probing a snake you must always remember these 5 important facts:

  1. Make sure to always have someone assisting you to hold your snake. 
  2. Make sure that your snake is awake.
  3. Make sure you have done your homework and have the right sized probe. 
  4. Make sure to always be sanitary. 
  5. Make sure you know what you are doing before inserting the probe. 

Once you have these 5 steps down, probing can actually be quite easy. First, make sure that your snake’s belly is facing you. Then make sure your assistant has a good hold on them. Next, you will want to lubricate your sexing probe.

Then, locate the cloaca and slowly insert the probe. You will want to do this, slowly and gently, spinning the probe so that it is slowly moving forward. On a female snake, the probe will be stopped against a harder surface approximately 3 scales in.

On a male snake, the probe will find one of the two hemipenes and will slide into a softer stop. On a male snake, the probe should go into the snake to about 9 scales.  Once you have figured out if it is male or female, slowly remove the probe.

Once again it is so imperative that you use the right sized probe in order to make sure you do not hurt your snake. Here and here I listed a few links to some nice snake probs that have really good reviews.

Popping Hemipenes (Caution!)

There is another way to find the gender of your snake although it is much more difficult and can actually be harmful to your snake if done wrong.

Popping the hemipenes at first sounds like we are going to pop a balloon or something, but to pop the hemipenes really is pushing the hemipenes out of the snake’s body. This reverting of the hemipenes only temporarily makes the hemipenes visible on the outside of the snake.

In order to pop the hemipenes, you need to find the vent or cloaca of the snake and then apply slight pressure, using a finger, below the cloaca where the hemipenes would come out. Make sure that the pressure is gentle but also firm. If this is done correctly, a hemipenis should pop out.

This is not the preferred way of determining the sex of a snake for a few reasons though:

  • The first reason is that it can be harmful to the snake
  • The second reason is that it is very hard to do right
  • The third reason is that if you don’t see a hemipenes pop out you can never be certain if it is because the snake is actually female or if it is because the process was done wrong and the snake really is a male.

For these reasons it is suggested that you stick to probing your snakes to find their genders. 

Pros and Cons for Male Snakes

A lot of people wonder if there is even a difference in owning female snakes compared to male snakes, and vice versa.

The answer is that in general there isn’t a huge difference, but there are some pretty interesting details that make some people prefer owning male snakes or female snakes.

Pros for Male SnakesCons for Male Snakes
*If you want a smaller snake, male snakes (in general) are smaller than females. 
*Normally are cheaper to purchase than females.
*Only really need one when trying to breed snakes.
*Male snakes are not as large and so they can be less easy to handle for snakes that are already smaller. 
*Male snakes cannot have babies and as such are not as valuable. 

Pros and Cons for Female Snakes 

As was stated in the previous section, unless you are a breeder there are very few reasons that one should buy a male snake over a female snake, but as stated before there are a few, so here is a list of the pros and cons about getting a female snake. 

Pros for Female SnakesCons for Female Snakes
*They are more valuable because they can have babies.
*They tend to be bigger which can look nicer and be easier to handle. 

*Female snakes tend to be more expensive because it is more beneficial to own a lot of female snakes when breeding. 
*Female snakes can get to be a bit aggressive when protecting their young.
*Because female snakes tend to be larger, you may need to use a larger terrarium to house them.

How do Snakes Mate in the Wild?

Snakes are like all other reptiles and they have a need to breed. The breeding process starts with the female though. When a female snake has matured enough to mate and is ready to start the mating process she actually starts to release pheromones that come from the skin glands in her back.

As she is moving about during her day she will begin to leave an odor trail as she pushes off of resistance points in the ground. This is where the male comes in. A male that is mature enough to mate and crosses the path of this pheromone trail will begin to follow the trail until he has found the female.

Once he has spotted the female he will begin to court her. He does this by knocking his chin into the back of her head until she is ready. Once she is ready to mate, the male snake will wrap the bottom of his tail around hers so that their vents or cloaca are touching.

At this point, the male will insert his hemipenes’ or penises into the female and will release his sperm.  Although sex for snakes generally takes about an hour, it can actually last all day.

Female snakes reproduce about twice a year but depending on the climate this may differ. Snakes in colder regions typically only reproduce in the spring or summer whereas some snakes in tropical regions can reproduce any time of year. The weather and the amount of food the snake is getting all influence whether or not a snake will reproduce. 

There are three ways in which a female snake can produce offspring. The most common way is for the female snake to lay eggs. Most snakes do not sit and watch their eggs like chickens and other animals, most snakes will leave their eggs once they are laid.

Like always though, there are a few exceptions to that rule. The second way that snakes produce their offspring is in live births. Not a lot of snake breeds do this but a few that do are certain types of Vipers and Boas.

The third way that snakes produce their offspring is actually a combination of the two. They have eggs but hold them internally until they hatch and then have a live birth. Rattlesnakes experience this form of pregnancy and birth.

How do Male and Female Snakes Reproduce in Captivity?

Although the same basic things must happen in order for snakes to breed in the wild and in captivity, it is quite a different process getting snakes to breed outside of their natural habitat. The breeding of snakes has become quite successful, but because of its complexities, it did not always start out that way. 

The first thing that must be done in order to help your snakes breed is allowing them to go through a cooling period. Most snakes become sexually active after the winter when the warmth of spring happens, so you will want to recreate this in your home.

Before reducing the temperature in your snakes terrarium it is very important that you do not feed your snakes at least 2 weeks prior to the start date for lowering the temperatures. Once your snakes are ready you can lower the temperatures.

Every snake breed will need different temperatures and tropical snakes will need lower humidity as well, so it is best to look up specifics for your breed of snake although in general male snakes temperatures need to be lower than females.

After a cooling period of about 60-90 days (preferably 90) you can return your snakes to their natural habitat and begin feeding them small consistent meals.

After it has been determined that their digestive tracts have not been compromised during the cooling process you can start then start feeding your snakes larger prey. You want to do this to ensure that the snakes are at optimal breeding weight. This is important because most snakes won’t eat while mating.

The next part of the mating process is bringing the two different sexes together. It is better to put the female in the male’s cage, be careful about putting two males together as they may get aggressive and hurt each other.

You can choose to put the male and female snakes together before or after the first post-cooling shed, but if you put them in before they may not mate until after.

If your snakes are struggling to breed, you can imitate a light misty rain by using a spray bottle pointed upwards so that it mists your snakes. This can sometimes spark the breeding process.

After your snakes have mated make sure that your female snake is returned to her terrarium and that she has plenty of heat and basking light to help her as her body grows her offspring.

When it gets close to time for the snake to lay her eggs, you will want to provide a moist deposition box for your snake to lay her eggs and may want to consider removing her water dish during the day so she does not lay her eggs there.

If you choose to remove the water dish be sure to offer your snake water for a few hours every evening before removing it again.

So as we can see, mating in the wild and mating in captivity are extremely different even though they have to go through many of the same steps to achieve reproduction.

Other Types of Snake Mating 

Although most snake mate one on one there are a few species that mate in what is called a mating ball. This technique is rather specific to garter snakes and a few anacondas.

Typically what happens is a female garter snake will come out of hibernation a few days after the males and will put off her pheromones. When other male garter snakes smell those pheromones they will all swarm the female snake and surround her in a ball.

During this period all the males are vying for the female to mate with them. Some males may try to suffocate the female, forcing her to open her cloaca to release waste and then mate with her. This is a unique way for snakes to mate and is not very common among any other species.

Related Questions 

Do Female Snakes Lay Eggs Without a Male? Sometimes a female snake will lay a clutch of eggs that have not been fertilized by male sperm. Because they have not been fertilized the eggs are not alive. Occasionally a clutch that has been fertilized will still produce a few of these dead eggs. 

Can I check the Gender of My Own Snake? It is safe and fine to check the own gender of your snake if you feel confident, have the right tools, and have help. But, if you don’t really know what you are doing and would rather have someone else do it, you can always take your snake to the vet and they can probe your snake for you.

Do Only Male Snakes Have Spurs? No, female snakes can have spurs as well, although theirs tend to be smaller than male spurs are. Not all snakes have spurs and those that do can have them located on their backs or on either side of their cloaca to help stabilize the female during sex.