There are many misconceptions about snakes, especially where reproduction is concerned.
Even though snakes have similar body structures, their environment and lifestyle dictate how their young are born.
Some snakes lay eggs, some give live birth, and astonishingly, some species do both.
Keep reading to learn about the 11 different species of snakes which give live birth.
Sea snakes are from the species of snake known as Elapidae.
However, sea snakes differ from other Elapids such as cobras, adders, and mambas because they give live birth.
Since they live in water where there is no viable place to lay or incubate eggs, it only makes sense for sea snakes to give birth to live babies.
The sea krait is the only species of sea snake which lays eggs.
A sea krait usually seeks out land to mate, digest its food, and lay eggs.
Rinkhals, also known as ring-necked spitting cobras, are ovoviviparous.
While they are closely related to true cobras, Rinkhals differ in their reproductive habits because true cobras usually lay eggs.
Rinkhals are very aggressive creatures, and this behavior is thought to be why these snakes developed the ability to give live birth.
The self-defense mechanism of Rinkhals allows them to protect their young effectively.
Vipers and Pit Vipers
Most species of vipers and pit vipers, which include copperheads and water moccasins, are live-bearing snakes.
Their natural habitat includes Asia, Africa, Europe, and North, Central, and South America.
Vipers and pit vipers are also venomous snakes, and they tend to prefer a cooler climate.
Water snakes are a part of the Colubrid family, including rat snakes, corn snakes, and garter snakes.
Water snakes are one of the few colubrids which give birth to live young.
This is likely due to their habitat consisting of wet areas such as freshwater ponds and swamps.
There are not many warm, dry places to lay viable eggs in these water-logged areas.
Snake eggshells are also thin and fragile, which creates a drowning risk if they are laid near a body of water.
Water snakes are viviparous, and their young develops inside of a placenta or yolk sac.
And have you ever wondered how these reptiles swim? Check out our post on how snakes swim to learn more.
Garter snakes are also members of the Colubrid family, and they are ovoviviparous.
They also prove to be fascinating animals.
Garter snakes also have unusual mating habits, as multiple males will go for the same female.
This may result in up to 25 males breeding with just one female.
As if their mating habits weren’t different enough, female garter snakes are also capable of storing sperm for several years.
They increase the viability of their offspring by only releasing sperm to be fertilized when environmental conditions are favorable.
Female garter snakes give birth to anywhere from 3-80 babies, staying pregnant for 2-3 months.
Boa constrictors are viviparous snakes.
Female boa constrictors are usually pregnant for 4-5 months, and then they give live birth to around 10-60 neonates.
While other Boa species are thought to give live birth due to their natural environment, it is unknown why boa constrictors became viviparous.
Death adders are a member of the Elapidae family, including cobras, kraits, and coral snakes.
Most Elapids lay eggs, but death adders differ because they give birth to live young.
A female death adder will give birth to anywhere from 10-32 neonates in a single litter.
The word “adder” comes from an Old English term meaning “snake,” and most adder species are venomous.
However, contrary to their name, death adders are nonvenomous snakes.
Death adders will usually resort to playing dead when they are threatened, and they rarely bite, even though they are capable of striking in less than one-tenth of a second.
White-lipped snakes are a subspecies of Elapids.
They are very small and are usually only recommended to experienced reptile keepers because of their temperamental personalities.
White-lipped snakes are viviparous, and it is believed they evolved to give birth to live young because of the frigid temperatures in their native habitat.
A gravid white-lipped snake can get into the sun to warm itself and, in turn, the babies growing in its body.
This ability allows the developing embryos to achieve much higher temperatures than in a nest underneath some leaves and soil.
All anaconda species, including the yellow anaconda, green anaconda, darkly-spotted anaconda, and the Bolivian anaconda, give birth to live young.
It is believed they developed this trait because anacondas are aquatic snakes.
The large size of the anaconda also plays a factor in why they give live birth.
There are many predators in an anaconda’s natural environment, and these animals would likely be successful in stealing eggs.
However, they are much less likely to want to face a 15-foot gravid female anaconda to steal her babies.
Amazon Tree Boa
The Amazon Tree Boa is an arboreal snake species, and they give birth to live young.
There are two subspecies of Amazon Tree Boa.
The corallus hortulanus hortulanus subspecies are native to the Amazon and South-eastern Brazil.
The other subspecies, corallus hortulanus cooki, lives in the southern areas of Central America and Venezuela and Colombia.
Amazon Tree Boas become sexually mature at three years old, and they are pregnant for 6-8 months before giving birth.
There are several species of rattlesnake, and all of them give live birth.
Rattlesnakes are ovoviviparous, which means the eggs are incubated inside of the mother’s body.
Once the embryos are fully developed, they will hatch, and the rattlesnake will give birth to live neonates.
Rattlesnakes are highly venomous, and it is much easier for a snake to use this self-defense mechanism than it would be for her to protect a nest of eggs.
Understanding Oviparous, Viviparous, And Ovoviviparous Snake Reproduction
There are three different ways a snake will reproduce.
These methods vary according to the snake species.
Check out our article on how many babies snakes can have for more relevant information.
A majority of snake species are oviparous, which means they reproduce by laying a clutch of eggs.
Once a female snake has laid her eggs, she will then incubate them by keeping them warm.
When the hatchlings are fully developed, they will break free from their shells.
A viviparous snake gives birth to live young without developing eggs at any point in the process.
The baby snakes receive all of their nourishment through the mother’s placenta or yolk sac.
Ovoviviparous snakes produce eggs where their young will develop, but the eggs do not have shells.
These snakes usually give live birth, and the eggs remain inside of their body where they are reabsorbed.
The eggs hatch while still inside the mother, and the live babies are born without the shells.
Why Did Viviparous Snakes Evolve?
The earliest known snake species were all oviparous, meaning they laid eggs.
Over time, snakes had to adapt to dangerous environments.
Many species also adapted to living in or near bodies of water.
These new environments made it more difficult to produce viable offspring.
Many neonates were dying due to predators, lack of food, cold temperatures, and a lack of dry land.
Eventually, snakes evolved to become ovoviviparous and viviparous to ensure the survival of their species.
How Different Types Of Snakes Raise Their Young
When snakes give live birth, the young offspring are usually left to survive on their own almost right away.
The baby snakes are fully developed and capable of caring for themselves, especially since most live-bearing snakes are venomous.
Oviparous snakes have a different parenting method since they need to keep watch over their eggs after laying them.
Snake eggs are a prime target for predators, so they must be looked after until the babies hatch.
Once the hatchlings emerge from their shells, they are also developed enough to be on their own, and no further assistance is needed from the mother.
The Benefits Of Giving Live Birth
Snake eggs are very vulnerable to predators who enjoy eating them.
Sometimes these predators are other egg-eating snakes.
And if you’re interested in learning how snakes eat eggs we have a post on that which is very interesting.
A live birth method makes it much easier to protect the neonates.
Many live-bearing snake species are either very large or venomous, and these characteristics increase the snake’s ability to protect its young.
Since snakes are ectothermic, they rely on the external temperature to regulate their bodies.
Snakes who give live birth can easily keep their young warm by moving into the sun and curling their bodies around them.
This is an advantage over egg-laying snakes, who may have more difficulty in keeping their eggs warm.
Eggs are not very portable, so it is harder to move them to a warmer area once laid.
Many live-bearing snakes live in cool climates, so it makes sense for them to warm their young more easily.
Another advantage of live birth is the snake has more of choice about where it chooses to live.
Live-bearing snakes can live closer to bodies of water, whereas the wet conditions of these areas are not ideal for eggs to thrive.
If a snake egg gets wet, the shell may be damaged or develop a harmful mold or fungus.
Because of this, wet snake eggs are usually not viable.
Should You Choose A Viviparous Or Oviparous Snake?
Unless you are a breeder, choosing a snake based on how it reproduces probably does not factor in your decision on which type of snake to choose.
Choosing A Snake For A Pet
If you want a snake to keep as a pet, it is usually better to choose a male, no matter what type of species it is.
There are typically more male snakes for sale than females, and their price is generally lower.
If you are getting a male snake, it makes no difference whether or not it lays eggs or gives live birth.
You will be able to make your decision based on the snake’s care requirements, size, appearance, and personality.
When purchasing a female for a pet, the snake’s reproductive methods may factor in your choice.
An oviparous female is capable of producing a clutch of eggs even if she has not mated.
The eggs will be infertile, of course, but the female may have difficulty laying them.
When a snake cannot lay her eggs, she is suffering from dystocia, also known as egg binding.
Dystocia is a very serious issue, and in most cases, if veterinary care is not sought as soon as possible, the snake may die.
The risk of dystocia is very low, but it is still something to consider.
A live-bearing female is far less likely to have any reproductive problems.
Choosing A Snake For Breeding
How a snake reproduces is a much more serious issue for a breeder.
Egg-laying and live-bearing snakes each have their own set of issues to consider.
If you are breeding egg-laying snake species, you will need to have the space for incubating the eggs.
You will also have to monitor and care for the eggs for 2-3 months until they hatch.
Some egg-laying species, such as pythons, will wrap their bodies around the egg clutch.
This makes removing the eggs for incubation much more difficult because the mother will be very defensive.
With live-bearing species, you do not need an incubator because the gravid snake develops the embryos inside her body.
This gestation period usually lasts for several months, and it takes a significant toll on the female’s body.
A live-bearing female will take much longer to recover and restore her fat reserves after breeding than an egg-laying species.
Some live-bearing snakes may need an entire year before they are healthy enough for another breeding cycle.