Male vs. Female Snakes: Understanding the Subtle Differences

Unlike mammals, male and female snakes don’t have many visible differences. There is also little to no difference in temperament or behavior. However, many snake owners are still interested in learning the sex of their snakes. 

Male and female snakes have different internal sex organs. To verify which organs your snake has, you will need to probe them. However, you may be able to estimate your snake’s sex based on the thickness of their tail. There is also a size difference in some snake species when they reach maturity. 

Probing a snake to determine their sex is a delicate process that a novice pet owner shouldn’t try. Improper probing can injure your snake. If you’re not confident in your ability, please consult a veterinarian or reptile expert to probe your snake safely.

Does Knowing Your Snake’s Sex Matter?

Male and female snakes don’t behave differently, but egg-laying female snakes have slightly different nutritional needs. Like all reptiles, egg-laying females need more calcium than males. This is because their bodies use calcium to create eggshells. 

The other reason why you might want to know your snake’s sex is if you are interested in breeding. Knowing whether you have a male or female will tell you which sex you’ll need to shop for if you want your snake to reproduce. 

Comparatively, you may want to know your snake’s sex if you plan on having multiple snakes in the same enclosure. Unlike dogs and cats, people don’t usually spay or neuter reptiles, so keeping same-sex snakes together prevents unintentional breeding.

Male vs. Female Snakes

Here is a quick table highlighting the major differences between male and female snakes.

Two hemipenes inside the bodyNo hemipenes
Generally smallerGenerally larger
Will never lay an eggWill lay unfertilized eggs on a regular cycle at maturity
Thick tails with an abrupt taperThin tails with a smooth taper

How to Tell if Your Snake Is Male

Male snakes have two penises inside their bodies. These are called hemipenes, and they’re located inside the cloaca near a snake’s tail end. A male snake has one hemipenis on each side of his body.

Without Probing

Visible differences are subtle and vary by species. Because they have internal hemipenes, male snakes have thicker tails than females. Male snakes are also typically more muscular than females. You can gauge your snake’s musculature by feeling them.

With a few exceptions, such as the rat snake, male snakes are smaller than females. In the vast majority of domesticated species, a female will be noticeably larger at maturity.

Hemipenis Popping

In small snakes, you can firmly press the area below the cloaca to push the hemipenis out of the snake’s body. However, like probing, popping is a delicate process that can cause injury if done improperly. This method also doesn’t work for large snakes like Burmese pythons.

With Probing

To probe a snake, you need to insert a thin metal rod into the cloaca. The procedure starts the same for both males and females. If you probe your male snake, the probing rod will insert further than it would in a female because it will enter the hemipenis.

How You Can Tell Your Snake Is Female?

Female snakes don’t have any hemipenes. They do have a cloaca near their tail, but the cavity inside will have more open space.

Without Probing

Female snakes are larger than males in the majority of species. However, it should be noted that size differences won’t be apparent until the snake reaches adulthood. Most snakes mature at approximately four years, but there is a variance between species.

Female tails are thinner than male tails, and they taper smoothly instead of abruptly. This is simply because of their lack of hemipenes. 

Egg Laying

If your female snake lays an egg, don’t be alarmed. Like chickens, female snakes regularly lay unfertilized eggs when they reach maturity. A snake’s regular egg-laying cycle varies between species. However, some snake species can lay fertilized eggs without a male.

Asexual reproduction is rare but occasionally happens. Ball pythons are the only popular pet snake where this might be a concern. Most ball python owners won’t experience this phenomenon, but if you want to eliminate that risk, consider a different species.

To avoid surprise hatchlings, ask about your ball python’s history. If a female ball python mates with a male at some point during her maturity, she can store and re-release his sperm inside her body for years. Again, this concern is unique to ball pythons and is a non-issue with most pet snakes.

With Probing

If you probe your female snake, the probing rod will hit a dead end earlier than it would with a male. This is because female snakes don’t have hemipenes, so the rod can’t go much deeper than the cloacal cavity. The rod will enter one of her scent glands instead.

Final Thoughts

Because their physical differences are so subtle, it’s difficult to tell the difference between a male and female snake without an opposite-sex counterpart for comparison. 

If you’re interested in breeding, probing is your best bet. For a casual pet owner, it doesn’t matter much. You will know that you need to increase your snake’s calcium intake if she starts laying eggs. If that happens, you will see her eggs in her enclosure, so it won’t be any secret. 

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