With a global distribution of over 3,600 different species of snake spread across 20 unique families, it’s not really surprising that there is a huge amount of variation between them in terms of size, locomotion, diet, hunting tactics, and reproduction.
All snake reproduction is internalized, but birthing their offspring varies. The majority of snakes lay eggs, around 70% of species in fact, while the remaining 30% give birth to live young.
Snake Eggs vs. Live Young
Once mating between the female and male snake occurs, the gestation period can last from as little as 2 months in some species for as long as 9 months in others. After this period, giving birth to offspring can occur in two main ways – laying eggs or giving birth to live young. In total, there are three main mechanisms of embryonic development in snakes:
Oviparous – The majority of snake species are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs, which are typically abandoned. The resulting eggs must then be incubated for gestation to be completed and hatchlings to emerge. Over 70% of snakes lay eggs, including adders, cobras, rat snakes and grass snakes.
Ovoviviparous – These are the snake species in which gestation of the fertilized eggs occurs within the body of the female. Once fully developed, the offspring are born live, since the egg is retained within the mother’s body. This includes snake species such as Rattlesnakes.
Viviparous – These are snakes species that don’t utilize an egg during any stage of reproduction. Instead, the embryos are developed within a placenta and yolk sac, which is extremely rare for all species of reptile. The resulting offspring are then born live. This includes species such as Boa constrictors and green anacondas.
How to Identify Snake Eggs
Differentiating snake eggs from bird eggs isn’t too difficult since there are a number of key differences that anyone can identify. For example, snake eggs tend to be laid in very large numbers referred to as clutches, which can vary from 1 to 100 eggs. The eggs also tend to adhere together in a clump and require some minor force to be pulled apart from each other.
Most snake species abandon their eggs, with the exception of the cobra and python which will provide “brooding” – that involves guarding and providing incubation for their eggs until hatchlings. In fact, the King Cobra will not only build her brood a nest but protect them for a short time after hatching. Other easy ways to identify snake eggs include the following:
Unlike birds, snakes do not lay their eggs in nests or trees, instead, they lay them in places such as beneath logs or foliage and within the soil to provide natural incubation from the Earth or vegetation. Finding out about the snake species that are found in your country and area can also be useful since it will help you rule out a large number of snake species from the start.
Therefore, if you’re wondering if you are dealing with a snake egg, the location in which you found it can be extremely helpful.
Another tell-tale sign you are dealing with a snake egg is its appearance, texture, and hardness. Snake eggs typically have a soft, leathery texture and oblong shape – much different to the hard, tough shell of a familiar oval-shaped bird egg. The reason for this is because snake eggs aren’t incubated by body heat and therefore don’t require the strength needed for weight bearing.
The majority of snake eggs also tend to be white in color – since they are hidden there is no need for patterns that act as camouflage as is often observed with bird eggs.
What Snake Species does the Egg Belong to?
Since the majority of snake eggs look extremely similar, it can be very difficult to identify the species simply from the appearance and texture of the egg alone. Still, there are some small variations between some eggs, for instance, the racer snake egg has raised bumps on them. However, these types of minor characteristics that can aid identification are quite rare, so in most cases, the only real way to find out is to consult an expert.
Snake experts and others who have had a lot of experience with snakes may be able to help identify snake egg species or at least help differentiate it from other similar types of eggs such as reptiles. To do this, they can examine the contents of the egg under a bright light, which will allow them to see the embryo and hopefully identify whether it’s a snake or not. In some cases, although rare, the egg may boast certain features that also help with species identification.
It’s important to remember that exact species identification can be difficult, and even for the most experienced snake enthusiast it isn’t always possible; sometimes it won’t be possible or practical to identify the snake until it’s hatched.