After we have dealt intensively with the types of incubators and incubation as well as suitable incubation containers in another article, here follows the second part on the subject of reptile offspring: We are primarily concerned with incubation accessories such as suitable substrates, the annoying mold problem and the operation of the Incubator until the animal’s hatch.
Most Important Incubation Accessories: Suitable Substrate
Since certain demands are made on the substrate during growth (is used synonymously for incubation and denotes the time until hatching), you should not use the normal substrate here. Instead, you should look at special icing substrates that are ideal for use in the incubator. These substrates should not only be able to absorb moisture well but should also not become too silty or stick to the eggs. It is also very important that they have a pH value that is as neutral as possible, similar to that of water (pH 7).
The most commonly used reptile brood substrate is vermiculite, a clay mineral that is germ-free does not rot, and has a large moisture-binding capacity. These properties make it the ideal breeding substrate for reptile eggs that have a high need for moisture. A problem with vermiculite can arise, however, if it is moistened too much or if the grain size is too fine: In this case, it sags and becomes “muddy”. As a result, the eggs absorb too much moisture and the embryo dies. It can also happen that the necessary oxygen exchange can no longer take place due to the substrate sticking to the egg; the eggs rot due to lack of oxygen. However, if you have the difficulty of correct moisture dosage under control, vermiculite is a great breeding substrate. A principle is that the substrate should only be damp, not wet: If you squeeze it between your fingers, no water should drip out.
Another substrate that is becoming increasingly popular is the Japanese Acadamia loam soil. This natural substrate comes from bonsai care and has the advantage over conventional, heavy bonsai soil that it does not become so badly muddy when watered: an ideal property for a breeding substrate.
Like vermiculite, it is offered in different qualities and grains, in addition to the unfired or burnt version. The fired version is particularly recommended, as it retains its shape and is (kept dry) very durable. The pH value of around 6.7 also contributes to the incubation suitability, as does the well-functioning air exchange in the substrate. The only complaint is that there is a higher rewetting rate than with other substrates. A combination of vermiculite and clay is therefore ideal, as this mix helps retain moisture.
In addition, there are peat-sand mixtures that are used as a breeding substrate; less often one finds soil, various mosses, or peat.
Prevent Mold in the Clutch
When laying, the eggs come into contact with the soil substrate, which adheres to the shell. Under certain circumstances, it can happen that this substrate starts to mold and becomes a life-threatening danger for the embryo. This problem can be counteracted by mixing the incubation substrate with activated charcoal. This substance originally comes from the aquarium hobby, where it is used for water purification and filtration. However, you have to dose very carefully, as the activated charcoal first reliably removes moisture from the substrate and then from the eggs: the more activated charcoal is mixed into the substrate, the faster the incubator dries out.
Basically, it is important to quickly separate eggs infected with mold from the rest of the clutch so that it does not spread any further. However, you should wait to dispose of it, because healthy young animals can also hatch from moldy eggs; So, as a precautionary measure, put the egg in quarantine and wait to see whether something really changes inside over time. One cannot always infer the outcome of the newspaper from the look of the eggs.
The Time in the Incubator
When preparing the incubator and “transferring” the eggs from the terrarium to the incubator, you have to proceed carefully and, above all, hygienically so that infections and parasites do not occur in the first stage. The incubator should be set up protected from direct sunlight and the effects of heaters.
After the female has finished laying eggs and the incubator is ready, the eggs should be carefully removed from the enclosure and placed in the incubator – either in the substrate or on a suitable grid. Since the eggs still grow during the time of shredding, the spacing should be large enough. When moving the eggs, it is important that they are no longer allowed to be turned 24 hours after they have been deposited: the germinal disc from which the embryo develops migrates to the egg cover during this time and adheres there, the yolk sac sinks to the bottom: if you turn that Now, the embryo is being crushed by its own yolk sac. There are counter studies and tests in which turning did not cause any damage, but better safe than sorry.
To ensure that the incubation runs smoothly, you should regularly check the eggs for pests such as mold, fungi, and parasites and also keep an eye on the temperature and humidity. If the air humidity is too low, the substrate should be re-moistened with the help of a small spray; however, the water must never come into direct contact with the eggs. In between, you can open the lid of the incubator for a few seconds to ensure that there is enough fresh air.
The time has finally come, the little ones are ready to hatch. You can tell this a few days in advance when small liquid pearls form on the eggshells, the shell becomes glassy and collapses easily: This is nothing to worry about.
In order to crack the shell, the hatchlings have an egg tooth on their upper jaw, with which the shell is broken. Once the head has been freed, they remain in this position for the time being in order to draw strength. During this rest phase, the system switches to lung breathing, and the yolk sac is absorbed into the body cavity, from which the animal feeds for a few days. Even if the entire hatching process takes several hours, you should not intervene, as you risk the little one’s survival. Only when it can stand independently, has completely absorbed the yolk sac in the body cavity, and is moving around in the brood container, you should move it to the rearing terrarium.