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Black Rat Snake twins
Photo by Ruby Jung. All rights reserved

How to Hatch Reptile Eggs

Reader's Photos

Hatching reptile eggs is one of those obscure social skills you're almost never called upon to use but which is an excellent skill to have if the occasion should ever arise and it does so more often than you'd think! So here's the scenario: you're digging in your compost heap, and suddenly a cluster of leathery, oblong spheroids pops out; or your pre-adolescent sub-teen appears one evening with a clutch of soft-shelled, flexible white eggs; or, if you're like me, a small container full of eggs with a note appears on your doorstep... what do you do?

Well, if the eggs are leathery and flexible you can bet that they're reptile eggs of some sort. Since no poisonous snakes in our area lay eggs you can rest easy - you won't be brooding a clutch of rattlesnakes. So either call me to pick them up or do what I do...

The Method

Fill a glass container - I prefer wide-mouthed, gallon pickle jars - half full of coarsely sifted compost. (Be sure and include the bugs that inhabit the compost as well since it's these creatures that will eat any fungus as it appears. Fungus infestation has been the downfall of many a clutch and is potentially fatal to your eggs). Using the ball of your thumb make a depression in the surface - one for each egg- and place an egg in each depression. Place them in such a way that the eggs don't touch one another. If your eggs are stuck together in a solid mass don't try to separate them, just plant them in the center. Then using a mister, thoroughly moisten compost and eggs until you can see water just beginning to gather at the bottom of the jar. Cover the opening with plastic wrap, secure it with a rubber band, and poke a single, tiny hole in the center.

And that's it. Using this method I've never lost a clutch of eggs

If the eggs begin to look dry while they're incubating mist them again as necessary. Keeping the eggs moist (but not wet) is critical. Reptile eggs actually grow as they incubate because the eggs absorb water through their shells as the embryos mature.

Clutch of Black Rat Snake eggs hatched out
Photo by Ruby Jung. All rights reserved

When they Hatch

Your eggs should hatch toward the end of August or early September.

I like to keep mine on the dining room table where they're constantly visible. Apart from ease of observation, they make a great conversation piece when friends come over for dinner. (If they come back, you know they really are your friends!) Shortly after hatching we throw a party and release the little reptiles as close to where they were found as possible.

While most people reading this will probably never have cause to use this information, it's a good bit of trivia to know since this ability impresses the heck out of people - after all if you can successfully raise a clutch of reptile eggs to maturity there are no limits to your knowledge and abilities! And hatching eggs of any sort is fun and extremely satisfying.

Egg Traps

For those of you unwilling to wait for a beneficent Providence to randomly bless you with a clutch of eggs, here's an excellent way to get some with very little effort. It's also an excellent way to census the breeding reptiles in an area as well:

First locate a weedy fence row, forest edge, or any habitat reptiles frequent and isn't likely to be disturbed. Toward the end of April or early May take several 8" flowerpots and bury them upside down halfway into the soil about twenty five feet apart. Make certain that there are plenty of rotten leaves and forest duff under the inverted pots to make them attractive to reptile Moms and plant in shady areas. Then walk away.

Check them weekly. Eggs should appear by the second week of July.

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The information on this page is tailored to Southern Illinois, Southwest Indiana, Western Kentucky, and Southeast Missouri
Copyright © 2004 Jim Jung