Female ball pythons can become pregnant(gravid) even if she hasn’t been with a male in years. She can even lay eggs if they aren’t paired up with a male at all. These unfertilized eggs are called slugs and they won’t form into baby snakes.
The majority of us don’t have access to an x-ray or ultrasound machines to find out if our ball pythons are pregnant or even if they have follicles that will grow into eggs.
Luckily, there are behavioral and physical changes that provide signs that our ball python is gravid. Here are some behaviors to look out for to tell if your ball python is about to lay eggs:
- Bowl wrapping
- Soaking in water
- Rejecting food
- Midsection growth
- Pre-lay shed
- Tail suck
- Inverted laying
1. Bowl wrapping
Ball pythons will ovulate for about 6-8 weeks. While they ovulate, ball pythons will seek cooler temperatures to help with the ovulation process.
Bowl wrapping is the female’s way of lowering her body temperature to save energy and protect her newly forming eggs.
It’s also a way of your ball python soothing itself from the discomfort of follicle growth.
It’s common for any ball python to slither and hang around their water bowl, but this will look different. Female ball pythons that are ovulating or even during the follicle growth stage usually coil tightly around their water container and stay there a while.
Like bowl wrapping, soaking is another way for your ball python to stay cool during ovulation.
Soaking in their water is another way for a female ball python to cool down its temperature while ovulating perhaps to save energy, just like bowl wrapping.
Eventually the follicles will grow big enough to become fertilized eggs and be laid by momma snake, but it takes weeks before that happens so you’ll probably see soaking and bowl wrapping more frequently than any of these other signs.
Female ball pythons can retain sperm for long periods of time, so she will fertilize them when and if she is ready.
3. Refusing food
A lot of changes happen when your ball python starts ovulating. She is growing eggs after all.
Mom ball pythons will start to refuse food while this happens.
This is completely normal and as long as your female is at a healthy weight before they go off of food, it is no trouble to the snake.
She may seem interested in food, sniffing around and showing behaviors searching for food but completely refuse it when offered.
This just means that she is reserving her energy for follicle growth instead of digestion, where her energy would normally go.
An obvious sign of ball python pregnancy is growth. Ball pythons reach adult size around 4 or 5 years old. Before that they grow at a steady pace proportionally on all parts of its body.
It looks a little different when a female is growing from pregnancy.
A pregnant ball python will grow wider at the lower 3rd section of their body when they’re ovulating. It will be a slow growth but their lower section will look like an overstuffed sausage. Their bodies will grow to the point where they look uncomfortable.
Further into ovulation your ball python will have a wide lower body that they keep a little more stiff than other parts of their body.
5. Pre-lay shed
About 2-3 weeks into ovulation your ball python will shed. This is called the pre-lay shed and shortly afterwards you should find eggs in your ball python’s enclosure.
The pre-lay shed is something that most ball python breeders look out for to predict egg-laying dates.
A study done on reproductive activity on ball pythons, monitored 129 gravid, female ball pythons in captivity and they all laid eggs approximately 24-32 days after their pre-lay shed.1
It’s most likely not the pre-lay shed if a ball python hasn’t laid eggs and it’s been over 32 days since their last shed.
The favorite part of pregnancy for all of us…the glow.
Believe it or not ball pythons get a glowing effect when they’re pregnant just like us women.
It’s most noticeable far into their ovulation, usually after their pre-lay shed.
Ball pythons all have unique patterns and colors depending on their morph and pregnancy won’t change either of those drastically.
However, you will see your ball python have a bit of a brightness to her when she is pregnant.
Brighter colors in your ball python is another sign that she could be gravid. For some morphs it’s harder to tell, but nonetheless their pregnancy does something magical to their scales.
7. Tail suck
Tail sucking is a physical change in a female that is ready to lay. Ball python bellies are usually full and plump.
Tail suck is when the underside of a gravid ball python caves in.
The tail suck looks odd because it’s an abnormal shape for any ball python and you’ll usually see this during ovulation.
8. Inverted laying
In late stages of ovulation ball pythons will look very uncomfortable. There comes a point when the females have grown so large that they will start laying sideways.
Their lower section will become plump and eventually they will lay inverted in what looks like uncomfortable positions.
Inverted laying is a very good sign that your ball python is pregnant. This usually happens very late in pregnancy when a ball python is about ready to lay their eggs.
Ball pythons will lay fertilized eggs if and when they are ready as long as they have reached maturity.
There are ways to tell if a ball python is pregnant/gravid even if you don’t have fancy machines to help you.
These eight signs that your ball python is pregnant will help you predict dates for egg laying and help you prepare for any surprises.
Ball pythons can retain sperm for up to five years before using it to fertilize their eggs so even if you never pair your ball python with a male they could have sperm from previous owners.
Congratulations if your ball python checks off any of these boxes and good luck.
Can a ball python lay eggs without a male?
Yes. Ball pythons can lay unfertilized eggs called slugs. These slugs will look yellow and small compared to fertilized eggs and will not grow to be anything.
How long is a ball python’s pregnancy?
Ball pythons stay pregnant for about 44-50 days they they will lay eggs that should be incubated for 50-60 days.
How long does it take for ball pythons to lay eggs?
The egg laying process can last anywhere from 1 hour to several hours. You should always check for eggs that your ball python can’t push out themselves to avoid any issues.
- “Monitoring the reproductive activity in captive bred female ball pythons (P. regius) by ultrasound evaluation and noninvasive analysis of faecal reproductive hormone (progesterone and 17β-estradiol) metabolites trends” Mara Bertocchi, Igor Pelizzone, Enrico Parmigiani, Patrizia Ponzio, Elisabetta Macchi, Federico Righi, Nicola Di Girolamo, Enrico Bigliardi, Laura Denti, Carla Bresciani, Francesco Di Ianni. Published: June 27, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0199377