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Home Natural History Captive Care Feeding Reproduction Photo Gallery

Captive Reproduction in the 

African House Snake (Lamprophis fuliginosus)


I remember the first time I was looking into getting a pair of House Snakes.  I called one of the major importers (captive-born babies were very rare back then).
"Have any African House Snakes?" I asked, hopefully.
"Yep, we just got a batch in from Tanzania a few days ago," replied the importer.
"I'm thinking of getting a pair. Do you think I'll be able to breed them this year?" I knew that wild caught snakes often take a period of acclimation before they will breed in captivity.
The voice on the other end of the line seemed amused.  "Yeah, that's a real possibility, since they were breeding in the bags all the way over here from Africa!"

Such was my introduction to the prolific African House Snake!


Requirements for breeding

The only real requirement needed to breed House Snakes is to have a mature male and a mature female.  That's it!

When I received my first pair, I remember keeping them separately for the first few weeks, waiting for them to settle in and for the female to shed.  When she did, I gently lowered the male into her cage the next evening, and turned off the lights.  Within 5 minutes, they were copulating.  Nine months later I had to separate them again because she kept laying eggs and my meager mouse colony couldn't support the number of baby House Snakes I was producing!

This is a typical situation for many House Snake breeders.  They have to separate their adults, not to stimulate breeding as in some other snakes, but to prevent it!  This can be a real problem, for House Snakes can (and will) lay a clutch of eggs every 60 days if allowed.  This can cause problems for the female snakes.  Even though they will frequently feed while gravid, it is very difficult to maintain the females condition under those circumstances.

House Snakes are from tropical and subtropical climates and don't appear to require any cycling to stimulate reproduction.  Even in the wild there are records of these animals breeding all year.  Typically well fed adults will reproduce every couple of months in captivity.


Sexing House Snakes

Sexing house snakes is a relatively easy matter for adults.  Adult males rarely exceed 2 feet (60 cm) whereas females can exceed 4 feet (120 cm).  For subadult snakes, it is easiest to separate them by the relative tail shape.

This diagrams shows the relative difference in the shape of the tail for two snakes of approximately equal length.  The male's tail will be significantly longer and will remain wide for more of its length (this is due to the retracted hemipenes inside the tail).  The female's tail will frequently widen just posterior to the vent, but will then taper fairly quickly.  Remember, this is relative tail length, a large female may have a tail that is longer than that of a smaller male!

This is not as evident in hatchlings but can be ascertained with some practice.  However, it is relatively easy to sex a group of hatchlings by measuring their tails (in millimeters).  They will fall into two groups, short tailed females and long tailed males.  Probing and "popping" also work but are more invasive ways to sex babies and should only be done by someone with experience to avoid harming the snakes.


Growth and sexual maturity

I have seen House Snakes raised from neonates to sexual maturity (usually at around 2 feet (60 cm)) in less than 6 months for females and less than 4 months for males.  In every case that I have seen like this, the female breeds a few times in her first year, and then stops eating and dies.  I have seen this pattern repeated numerous times by several overzealous breeders, and in several unrelated lineages of House Snakes.  I recommend you do not breed female House Snakes until they are at least 30 inches (75 cm) long and over 250 grams in weight.  At this point, the female should be eating adult mice without stretching her skin too much.  It should take at least 18 months to get a snake to this size.

As can be seen from the graph below, I kept one of my females from breeding until she was over 3 years old and was approaching 500 grams in weight.  She has been the most productive breeding female I have ever had.  She consistently produces larger clutches of larger babies than any other female I have had.  She was worth the wait!

Monthly weights of three captive born House Snakes

This graph represents the monthly weights for three captive born and raised African House Snakes.  These snakes were maintained on a feeding schedule of three small meals per month throughout most of the period.  (Although this seems like very little feeding, I think it is probably more representative of their natural feeding patterns.)

The data for the females starts when they were at least 6 months old, for the male when he was hatched.  The sudden drops in the weights of the females represent months were eggs were laid.

This graph clearly demonstrates the difference in adult size for females and males.  You can also see the dramatic affect on the body condition that repeated breeding can have!  The smaller female has never attained the size of the larger one, even when given a year off from breeding.

I am not trying to discourage anyone from breeding House Snakes!  I am only trying to convey the facts about premature breeding of these often overanxious snakes!


Egg-laying

Like most other colubrids, House Snakes lay eggs approximately two months after mating and the eggs take between 60 and 75 days to hatch.  Females will usually stop feeding after the first month of gestation and will begin a shed cycle.  After she sheds, she will lay her eggs within 5-10 days.  I provide an secure (covered) egg-laying box of moist sphagnum or other material (see the picture at the top of the page where the female has laid in a container of moist Perlite) and the females will usually lay in there at night. If you don't provide a secure laying box, females will frequently lay eggs in the water bowl.  Such eggs invariably die.

Frequently, there will be infertile eggs laid with the clutch of viable eggs.  In the photo at the top, the brown egg is infertile and will not hatch.  If it can be removed from the clutch, I remove it.  If not, I just leave it attached.

The following table gives some of the relevant reproductive data for a pair of wild-caught adult House Snakes.

Clutch data from a wild-caught pair of African House Snakes
Days from mating to egg-laying Days from pre-laying shed to egg-laying days to next clutch Days incubation hatch rate
60 - 76 - 7/8
- - (165)* 83 6/7
59 7 (107)* 83 7/8
- 7 96 - (0/7)**
- - 93 72 8/8
- 9 65 77 11/11
- - 73 67 12/12
- 6 80 70 10/11
- - (260)* - (0/10)**
~60 8 76 73 14/14
(~129)^ - 69 76 8/8
(~191)^ - - 75 3/3 + 8 slugs
avg = 60.25 avg = 7.4 avg = 76.8 avg = 75.2 mean clutch = 9.5

- dashes represent unrecorded data
* = Snakes were separated between clutches. Not used in calculating mean values.
** = These eggs appeared healthy but were accidentally destroyed.
^ = These two clutches resulted from the previous mating. The adults were separated throughout the period.

Clutch Mass

I have noticed a significant difference in the clutch makeup in several of my female house snakes.  I have bred one female for several years who laid 8-11 eggs per clutch.  I have had another female who consistently laid 14-18 eggs per clutch.  However, the clutch mass (the combined weight of the eggs) was the same for both females - i.e. one female laid a few large eggs while the other laid lots of small eggs.  The large eggs produced big babies that fed readily while the small eggs produced frail little babies that were sometimes difficult to get to feed.

Incubation

House Snake eggs are highly adhesive and the clutches are usually stuck firmly together.  I make no attempt to separate them, even if there are some infertile eggs attached to the clutch.

House Snake eggs can be incubated like any other colubrid eggs.  I use dampened vermiculite (I wet it and squeeze all the water out). I place the eggs on the surface of the vermiculite in a small deli cup or similar sized container.  That cup is then place in a plastic sweater box that has a few centimeters of water standing in the bottom.  I check the eggs a couple of times a week and open the container up if they are "sweating" or give them a spray with water if they are drying out (collapsing).  My experience with House Snake eggs is that in the absence of some catastrophe, good eggs hatch.

You can build incubators for the eggs and incubate them at temperatures as high as 85F (29C), however, these temperatures are not necessary.  I have found that any temperatures between 75F and 85F (24 to 29C) are suitable.  Temperatures above 85F (29C) may lead to increases in developmental deformities and decrease the hatch rate of the offspring.  I have recently hatched a clutch of eggs that went through some low temps during development that produced 4 live snakes, three of which only had one eye.  They are feeding and growing well in spite of missing the eye.

Hatchlings

Hatchling house snakes vary from 6 to 10 inches in length.  They usually shed within a week of hatching and then will be ready for their first meal.  They should then accept one or two meals a week.

Hatchling House Snakes can be house successfully in relatively small containers.  I have seen a few cases where hungry hatchlings have eaten their smaller brothers and sisters, so it is best to house them separately.  This is especially true when feeding!  Some hatchlings can be very aggressive feeders and will eat all the food offered and prevent the other, less aggressive snakes from getting any.  It is also very dangerous to just throw a handful of pinkies into a cage with some hatchlings as one or two hatchlings may actually gorge themselves to the point that they can die.  And even if you can avoid this catastrophe, house snake babies will invariably attack and try to swallow prey that other babies are already eating, resulting in one snake eating the other.

Hatchling house snakes will usually feed on previously frozen pink mice as soon as they have shed the first time.  Occasionally I have a hatchling that refuses to feed at first.  For these hatchlings I try the following steps:

  1. Feed in a deli cup or similar container at night.
  2. Try a live pinkie.
  3. Try braining a dead pinkie (to to this I take a paper clip and poke a hole in the head of a frozen pinkie and smear some of the brain material onto the snout - I don't know why this works, but it often does).
  4. Try removing all the other snakes from the cage (if the clutch is housed together).  Leave the problem snake in its normal cage and try feeding it there.

Hatchling House Snake should be handled carefully for the first few weeks, as they are very excitable and prone to diving out of their cages or your hands!


Home Natural History Captive Care Feeding Reproduction Photo Gallery

Chris Harrison
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