To incubate a clutch of your reptiles once and raise your own offspring, that is the dream of many hobby terrarium keepers. However, the undertaking often fails due to a lack of knowledge or wrong ideas about the effort. So today we are talking about the basics of incubating reptile eggs.
General Information on Incubation
Incubation (from the Latin “incubatio”) refers to the artificial hatching of eggs in a chest (the incubator). Not only is this easier and safer than incubating in a terrarium; it is also faster, you can better regulate the climatic conditions and thus reduce the risk that the parent animals will eat their offspring after hatching.
As interesting and exciting as the incubation is: it is essential that you think about what should happen to the offspring in advance. Because of the marketing of wild-caught animals and the many offspring offered by hobby terrarium keepers, the reptile market is currently completely overcrowded. In addition, you cannot just start breeding: As soon as you exceed certain progeny quantities per year, trade and breeding are subject to application in accordance with Section 1 of the Animal Welfare Act (TSchG). As you can see, breeding is associated with bureaucratic effort and the expected yields are low. Therefore, you shouldn’t waste another thought on commercial breeding.
However, if you would like to experience this event out of interest, you should only hatch a few eggs. In this way, you can accommodate the young animals in a species-appropriate manner until you have found a buyer for them, for example. After all, incubation and rearing will not only cost you more space and time but also more money.
The Heart of the Matter: Reptile Eggs
Depending on the species, reptile eggs have different requirements when it comes to incubation. An important point here is the right temperature, which above all influences the sexual development of the embryos: For example, at colder temperatures around 25 ° C, mostly females are born, at temperatures around 31 ° C, on the other hand, mostly males. In addition, the lower the incubation temperature, the longer it takes to hatch.
The second decisive factor in incubation is the humidity (RH), which is usually around 85 – 90 percent. Depending on the type, there are also differences in the demands here. While the temperature is relatively easy to maintain, the LF is considered to be a more difficult matter: If it is too low, the eggs will collapse, if it is too high, the reptile eggs will start to go moldy.
Types of Incubation
There are basically four types of incubation: a) substrates incubation and b) incubation in the substrate, c) open, and d) closed incubation.
In the substratless incubation, the eggs lie on a suitable grid. The required moisture is only absorbed through the air, and the eggs cannot get too wet.
If, on the other hand, the eggs are hatched in the substrate, they are embedded in a suitable incubation substrate that usually covers them up to halfway. Depending on the species, the eggs are also completely buried. Incubation in the substrate is particularly suitable for reptile eggs that require a lower LF (i.e. below 98 percent). The tricky thing here is adding the right amount of water to the substrate.
With the open incubation, the lid is missing, which means that the air circulates better, but it has to be re-moistened more often; there is also a risk of an outbreak. The closed incubation, on the other hand, prevents the animals from escaping and is therefore used more often. Here, however, you have to make sure that condensation that collects on the lid does not drip onto the eggs.
The eggs are usually placed in incubators. The three most popular are a) motor hatchers, b) area hatchers and c) commercial aquariums.
The motor breeder is probably the most complex incubator. It works with circulating air and can not only create heat but also lower the temperature in a targeted manner, which means that it can also be used for winter rest by turtles, for example. These devices are difficult to build yourself, but easy to use, and have a bowl on the bottom of the incubator so that you can ensure the right humidity even if there is no substrate. As an incubation container, you need a closed bowl, which may have a maximum of very small holes.
In contrast to the motorized incubator, our second incubator can be built by yourself: The area incubator consists of a box (e.g. made of Styrofoam) with a heating element in the lid. In combination with a plug-in thermostat, the temperature is regulated so that the conditions are constant. Again, you should use closed cans. You can provide fresh air by opening it briefly once a week. Due to the closed climate, the eggs can develop well and the substrate rarely needs to be re-moistened.
The aquarium method is based on a heat-insulated, waterproof container (for example an aquarium). Here the entire floor is filled with water, which is heated with a thermostatic heater. The eggs are stored on a grid that is placed in the middle of the box without contact with the water. The breeding containers should not be completely closed, for example, cricket boxes.
Suitable Incubation Containers
In general, cricket tins have proven themselves as open containers among the breeding containers: They are inexpensive and easy to obtain. They are also practical because they have pre-punched air holes. In the meantime, many incubators have also been calibrated to operate with them.
As an alternative, many hobby terrarium owners also use commercially available vegetable bowls, for example, those made from mushrooms or tomatoes: the handy boxes made of transparent plastic with pre-cut holes are just as suitable for incubation as house cricket bowls.
Another possibility is S.I.M. Containers that were specially developed for substrate-free incubation. They consist of a plastic box that is filled with water or substrate at the bottom and which has a grid in the middle on which the eggs are laid.
The third solution is the geo. This is a circular plastic jar with a plastic insert for a total of eight eggs. Because it takes up less space, it is particularly suitable for hobby breeders. Here, too, the eggs are separated from the substrate by a grid, which in turn ensures the necessary humidity.