Breeding Your Reptiles
For many reptile enthusiasts to successfully breed from their pets is the ultimate achievement. This is because reptiles often do not adapt well enough to captivity to feel comfortable enough to mate. Thus successful breeding indicates a high standard of skill in reptile husbandry. For all reptiles, whether lizard, snake or turtle, successful breeding relies largely on ambient temperature and humidity as well as clear seasonal and/or day-night cycles.
Breeding LizardsHumidity - For lizards, one of the key factors for successful breeding is environmental humidity. It is vital to know the natural conditions of the lizard’s place of origin. for example, whether it is an arid desert or humid rainforest and to attempt to replicate this in its artificial home. Simply by providing an environment that approximates its natural habitat, there is a good chance that the lizard will mate and reproduce successfully. Leopard geckos, for instance, will breed several times a year if given a sand/gravel substrate, a shallow water dish (to keep humidity levels low) and good hiding areas.
Space - The other key factor is space as lizards are territorial in the wild and males will defend their territory against other males. In the restricted space of a pet terrarium, it is vital that there are not too many male lizards to the given area (this does not apply to females). In fact, chameleons are even more sensitive and not only do the males have to be in separate caging but they must not even be allowed to see each other to ensure successful breeding.
Day-Night Cycles - also play an important role in lizard breeding. Again, it is essential to know the natural cycles in the lizard’s place of origin. For example, Australian blue-tongued skinks are used to the hot weather and longer days of the Southern Hemisphere summer (November through to April) and will take time to adapt to the reversed cycle of the northern hemisphere. Note however that certain species, such as the leopard geckos, have been bred in captivity for so long that they are relatively ignorant of natural cycles and will successfully breed simply with the provision of suitable environment and quality food.
Temperature - For lizards that naturally hibernate, you may need to lower the temperature and lighting levels for a period of time (eg. 60-90 days) before restoring the conditions and introducing the sexes to each other.
Deposition Site - Egg-laying lizards will need to be provided with an egg deposition site. This can be as simple as a margarine tub with a layer of sphagnum moss and a hole cut into the lid for access. The eggs should be incubated at 80-84 degrees F and will usually hatch in about 55 days. Some lizards bear live young and these need to be provided with a secluded area without threat from predators. However they are born, all young lizards must be supplied with a constant source of tiny insects, such as hatchling crickets and wingless fruit flies.
Breeding SnakesJust as with lizards, it is essential to know the natural conditions of your pet snake’s place of origin. Many snakes need a session of hibernation before they are ready for mating. Others may have the ability to breed at any time of the year (eg. corn snakes) but will usually be more predictable and successful following environmental temperature manipulation.
Following the recommended hibernation period and once the temperature has been increased to one appropriate for breeding, start feeding the snakes heavily - although still keeping males and females separated. The female will often shed at this point, which is a good signal for introducing it to the male’s enclosure. If you have cannibalistic species, such as king snakes and milk snakes, make sure you monitor the encounter! Once they have mated, separate the pair and try again after a few days to ensure that the female will lay a good clutch of eggs. If you have docile snakes, such as corn snakes, then you can safely leave them together for a week to give them the best chance of repeated matings and fertile eggs.
Snakes, like lizards, can lay eggs or bear live young, although the former is more common. Like lizards, again, female snakes should be provided with a secure egg-laying area, such as a plastic container placed in the cage. This should have a hole cut into the lid and be large enough for the female to fit inside and lay her eggs. Again, the eggs need to be incubated, ideally in a reptile egg-incubator with the temperature set depending on the breed of snake.
Turtle BreedingTurtle breeding is not that different to snake breeding in that it revolves largely around the essential hibernation period. For example, most terrestrial turtles, such as the box turtle, will emerge from hibernation between March and May and begin mating soon afterwards. If you are keeping several turtles together, you may need to watch out for aggression at this time and to separate the larger specimens from the smaller ones, especially the males. it is not unknown for turtles to bite each other's heads off!
Again, it is essential that you fully research the species you are planning to breed and to understand its natural living conditions. Choose healthy, strong specimens for mating and remember that the formation of eggs is especially draining on the female turtle’s health. It is important to provide a top quality diet at this point.
Once they have mated, female turtles will naturally look for a place to lay their eggs and they prefer areas of shelter with plenty of soft soil, surrounded by rocks or logs to help give a feeling of security. The soil must be at least 8 or 9 inches deep as turtle eggs are very soft and fragile and need to be buried. Covering them with a screen mesh will help to protect them from scavengers. As the eggs will absorb moisture from the soil, ensure that there is enough and add water yourself if the soil feels dry.
Most turtle eggs hatch in about 90 days and again, the hatchlings will be very fragile. They will need constant surveillance and protection in the early days as they grow extremely slowly and are easy prey to a whole host of animals. You will also need to ensure an adequate diet and that there is no fighting amongst them for food. For this reason, it is often a good idea to keep young turtles indoors in a terrarium in the first year, even if the species normally lives outdoors.
If done with thorough research and careful planning, reptile breeding can be an extremely rewarding hobby