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Step by Step how to build your own incubator, easily and cheaply.

The following is a description of how to build an incubator easily and CHEAPLY! It is, by no means, my own idea as it was shown to me by a fellow hobbyist some years ago. Whilst this design is widely used by many professional breeders and hobbyists up and down the country it is still unknown to many just starting up, so I hope some of you out there will find this of some use!

Most of the items needed to construct your incubator you may already have lying around the house, or they can be obtained fairly easily, even if you have to buy everything on the following list, it should cost you no more than £40, a cost easily recouped with the sale of a few hatchlings!

All you need are:

1. A Polystyrene packing box. These are easily obtainable from aquarists or fishmongers, usually at no cost if you ask nicely. The one I have used here is 18” square by 18” deep, although they are available in various sizes so simply adjust the other items to suit the size box you have managed to acquire. If you are unable to get a polystyrene box, an ordinary cardboard one will do, but it would be a good idea to fully line it with inch-thick polystyrene sheet, not forgetting to insulate the lid as well.

2. A heat mat of suitable size - my example utilises one twelve inches by sixteen inches.

3. A thermostat suitable for the mat.

4. Two pieces of wooden dowel, stiff plastic tube or bamboo cane.

5. A suitably-sized piece of wire mesh (the type used for aviaries is ideal). If necessary, this can be attached to a wooden frame to make it rigid.

6. A thermometer. Standard is okay, but I prefer to use a digital one with a sensor lead.

Some 1Kg ice-cream or margarine tubs to incubate the eggs in and some vermiculite (or which ever medium you prefer) as an incubation medium.


Cut the two pieces of dowel about an inch longer than the internal length or width of your box. The two pieces of dowel can now be carefully pushed through the side of the box, at a point about 4” up from the base of the box and equally spaced apart (see fig I). Note: If you are having trouble pushing the rods through the sides try using a pointed tool, such as a Phillips screwdriver make the holes.

Using this tool, make another hole in the centre of one side at the base, to allow the heat mat cable to be passed through. Now, place the heat mat in the bottom of the box and feed the cable through as shown in fig. 2.

Next, lay the wire-mesh across the two rods to make a platform on which your tubs will stand (see fig. 3). Now, attach the thermostat to the side of the box, for which I used some double-sided adhesive tape. On the same side, make another hole about 2” down from the top edge (this should be large enough to feed the sensor end of your thermostat through). Push the sensor through the hole (along with the sensor-lead from the digital thermometer if you are using one) (see fig. 4) and pass sufficient cable through the hole so that the sensors can either rest on top of the screen platform or be inserted into the side of one of the incubation tubs. In the past, I have used both methods with equal success, although I do favour the latter as it gives a more accurate reading of the temperature the eggs are experiencing.

Wire up your heat-mat to the thermostat, as per the manufacturer’s instructions. ENSURE ALL ELECTRICAL CONNECTIONS ARE SAFE! Once you have checked all fittings and connections are secure, plug-in and switch on. Adjust the thermostat until the desired temperature is achieved. Remember that, if you use a basic thermostat, a small fluctuation in temperature will occur, so watch for the highest temperature shown by your thermostat when it has ‘clicked off’. Now, adjust the thermostat to get the optimum temperature. Note: Temperatures lower than the optimum is safer than those which are higher! This fluctuation can be eliminated by using a pulse-proportional thermostat, but these are, of course, more expensive.

I have used the incubator shown with great success over the years and produced, from this one incubator alone, over one hundred Colubrid hatchlings of various types just one year! The hatch rate too has always been close to 100%, results I’m sure anyone would be pleased with professional or beginner!

Remember this design is not set hard and fast, if you can improve it or feel you need to alter it to suit your own requirements then please do, all that matters is that it WORKS!

I hope that the above information has been of some use and that your incubator works as well for you as it has for me.

Reproduced by kind permission of the Reptilian Magazine.
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