Since the 15th of June 99 I am taking care of three Morelia virdis. Mike van Alphen, owner of the Jungle Corner reptile store in Rotterdam, loaned these animals to me for breeding purposes. Two were adult males of the Sorong type en the large female (aprox. 210 cm) was of the Aru type.
All three were housed separately, the males in terrariums measuring 50x50x90 cm (wxdxh) and the female in a terrarium measuring 150x50x100 cm (wxdxh). From day one the animals were taking mice and rats on a regular bases and were shedding their skins without any problems. Twice a day the snakes were (and still are) sprayed with lukewarm water. The summer of 99 was fairly warm and since my snake room is facing southeast, temperatures were running pretty high.
From the moment the temperature went down and it became cooler in the snake-room, the two males became restless and stopped eating. At that time I sprayed the terrarium that housed the female very wet and put a male in with the female.
Within 15 minutes they mated and stayed joined at the hips for thee hours.
The male than moved to the highest branch in the terrarium and showed no more interest in the female.
After two days I moved the male back to his own terrarium. After one week I repeated the same procedure and again they mated. This time I left the male in with the female, which resulted in many matings. After a week or two the female became very hostile towards the male when he tried to approach her. That was the time to take out the male. The female accepted one large rat and from than on she refused to eat. She became extremely irritable as time went on and several weeks later she started to show signs of pregnancy. Several hideouts were created for the female to lay her eggs in, such as a plant pot placed upside down on a flat dish and a plastic container with a hole cut in the front. Both were placed high in the terrarium. The temperature in the top half of the terrarium was kept at 29C and the humidity at 90%. The female shedded her skin on the 21st of September and on the 5th of October around 20.00 hrs 21 slightly dented eggs were found on the bottom of the terrarium, The eggs were removed at ones and placed in an incubator (in doing so I was constantly attacked by the very aggressive female). That night two more eggs were found and placed in the incubator. After five days all the eggs turned brown and were thrown out. The female took two rats that same day and resumed her normal behavior and feeding pattern. During the last two weeks of May I found the female stretched out on the floor of the terrarium many times. After those two weeks she curled up on her branch and acted normal again.
The second attempt
By the end of August the two males became very restless and one of the males was placed with the female. On September 5, 6, 8, 10 and 11 and in October matings were observed. After 14-11 the male kept his distance from the female and was placed back in his own terrarium. From 29-11 on the female refused all food offered to her. She often checked out the hideouts. A heat pad was placed under the pot and dish for extra warmth. From 29-10 to 13-11 she stayed in the plastic container, than she returned back to her branch. On 19-11 she was found belly up, with loose, open coils under an Elstein lamp. From 21-11 to 26-11 she stayed in the plastic container.
On 27-11 she was back on her branch again looking very blue. On 3-12- 2000
she sheds her skin and from than on she became very restless again. During the day she was found high up in the branches where it was warmest. At night she explored the terrarium. On 11-12 I found her inside the pot for the first time and this time she did not come out. On 16-12 I could see eggs when she relaxed her coils somewhat. Because the female was very aggressive again, I decided to let her hatch the eggs herself. I did not want to run the risk of damaging the eggs while trying to remove them. The humidity was kept at a constant 90%. On 30-12 three dead eggs were found outside the pot. On 5-1-2001 a fourth dead egg was found. I opened the egg and found a half developed young inside with one black eye. On the morning of February 2, three hatchlings were found hanging in the branches. The female was still inside the pot behaving very aggressively, so I decided to leave her alone and waited. On the morning of February 3 I found one more hatchling, female still inside the pot. I can assure you that the next 24 hours were pretty nerve wrecking.
What to do next? According to the books you need to wait 36 hours after the first egg hatched to open all the eggs that did not hatch. After 34 hours I gathered all my courage and band aids and removed the female from the eggs that did not hatch.
I took the pot out of the terrarium and counted 22 eggs. Plus the four I found earlier makes it 26 eggs. Four eggs were empty (the ones that hatched) so that left 18 eggs in the pot that did not hatch. A number of eggs were brown and snotty and a number of eggs were small and dried out. Nine eggs still looked good so my wife Marion and I took the scalpel to hand to open them up. The first egg revealed a fully developed but dead young snake, with its tongue hanging out. I can tell you that it is a heartbreaking sight. The other eight eggs also contained fully developed but dead young snakes.
One of the dead young was colorless with normal colored eyes. The female lost a lot of weight but took two rats right after the eggs hatched. The hatchlings are kept separately in full glass terrariums measuring 20x20x20 cm with only a bamboo stick and a water container. Temperature is 28 C and humidity is 100%.
This story shows ones again that you cant compare breeding with Morelia viridis to breeding with Elaphe or Lampropeltis. There are still many things we dont know about this beautiful species, like what would have happened if I had opened the eggs sooner or if I had taken out the eggs and put them in an incubator? I am pleased with the four young snakes, no mistake about that, but nine of them dying in the egg still bothers me a lot and probably will for a long time to come. I will never know weather I could have saved them or not.
Photos, by the author.
The photo of the colorless hatchling is by P. Schu (Reptilia, nr 7, June 1999) and is placed as an example for the dead young snake I took out of the egg.