Alter incubation temperatures to achieve optimal/desired sex ratio: Snakes & lizards

How is the evidence assessed?
  • Effectiveness
    not assessed
  • Certainty
    not assessed
  • Harms
    not assessed

Study locations

Key messages

  • Four studies evaluated the effects of altering incubation temperatures to achieve optimal/desired sex ratios on snake and lizard populations. Two studies were in each of the USA and China.



  • Reproductive success (3 studies): Two replicated studies (including one randomized study) in China and the USA found that toad-headed agama hatching success was lowest at the highest incubation temperature tested and southern alligator lizard hatching success was highest at intermediate temperatures.One randomized study in the USA found that survival of garter snake offspring was highest when females were maintained at intermediate temperatures.



  • Offspring sex ratio (4 studies): Three replicated studies (including two randomized studies) in China and the USA found that hatchling sex ratio of stripe-tailed ratsnakes, toad-headed agamas and southern alligator lizard was not affected by incubation temperature. One randomized study in the USA found that sex ratio of live garter snake offspring was not affected by the temperature females were maintained at.

About key messages

Key messages provide a descriptive index to studies we have found that test this intervention.

Studies are not directly comparable or of equal value. When making decisions based on this evidence, you should consider factors such as study size, study design, reported metrics and relevance of the study to your situation, rather than simply counting the number of studies that support a particular interpretation.

Supporting evidence from individual studies

  1. A randomized study (year not provided) in laboratory conditions in California, USA (O’Donnell & Arnold 2005) found that maintaining pregnant female garter snakes Thamnophis elegans at intermediate temperatures in captivity increased overall embryo survival rates, male offspring stillbirths was also reduced at higher temperatures and temperature did not affect live hatchling sex ratios. When pregnant female garter snakes were maintained at 26.6°C, embryo survival rate was higher than at lower (21–24°C) or higher temperatures (28–33°C; data reported as model outputs). Rates of male offspring stillbirths reduced at intermediate and higher temperatures (data reported as model outputs). Incubation temperature did not affect the sex ratio of live offspring (see paper for details). Seventy-four wild pregnant female garter snakes were brought into captivity and maintained at one of nine constant temperatures (21, 24, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 32, and 33°C; 2–14 females/temperature) until giving birth. Females were on average in the 20th day of pregnancy when temperature management began. In total 504 snakes were born.

    Study and other actions tested
  2. A replicated, randomized, study in 1998 in a laboratory in Zhejiang, China (Du & Ji 2008) found that altering the incubation temperature of stripe-tailed ratsnake Elaphe taeniura eggs did not affect the sex ratio of hatchlings. The ratio of males to females varied from 2:5 to 13:6 and was not influenced by temperature (result presented as statistical test). In 1998, thirteen captive-born gravid females were acquired and housed in a wire cage (200 x 80 x 80 cm) at 30°C. Eggs were incubated at 22, 24, 27, 30 or 32°C, with eggs from each clutch split evenly between temperatures. Eggs were incubated individuals in covered plastic jars in vermiculite and water at a ratio of 1:2. Hatchlings were euthanized by freezing to -15°C to allow their sex to be determined.

    Study and other actions tested
  3. A replicated study in 2011 in Gansu, China (Tang et al. 2012) found that altering the incubation temperature of eggs from two species of toad-headed agamas Phrynocephalus przewalskii and Phrynocephalus versicolor did not influence the sex ratio of hatchlings. Sex ratio of hatchlings for Phrynocephalus przewalskii (61:53 ratio of females to males) and Phrynocephalus versicolor (50:36 ratio of females to males) were not affected by incubation temperature or moisture content of incubation medium. In addition, the highest temperature resulted in lower hatching success for both species (Phrynocephalus przewalskii: 34°C: 32–36%; 26–30°C: 40–53%; Phrynocephalus versicolor: 34°C: 11–22%; 26–30°C: 52–76%), although this result was not tested statistically. In 2011, wild female lizards of both species were captured and housed in groups of 15 in cages (800 x 360 x 400 mm) with a sand substrate. Temperatures of 25–37°C were available during the day and were 20°C at night. Eggs were collected (Phrynocephalus przewalskii: 263 eggs from 101 females; Phrynocephalus versicolor: 185 eggs from 66 females) and assigned to three temperature (26, 30, 34°C) and two moisture level (2 g water/5 g vermiculite, 2 g water/8 g vermiculite) treatments. Eggs were incubated in plastic containers (150 ml).

    Study and other actions tested
  4. A replicated, randomized study in 2010–2011 in laboratory conditions in Iowa, USA (Telemeco 2015) found that the sex ratio of southern alligator lizard Elgaria multicarinata hatchings was not affected by incubation temperature and that hatching success was highest at intermediate temperatures. Sex ratio was not affected by incubation temperature, and overall, 15 of 21 (71%) hatchlings were male. In addition, hatching success was higher at intermediate temperatures (19 of 24, 79% at 26°C; 21 of 24, 88% at 28°C) than at the coolest (2 of 6, 33% at 24°C) or highest temperatures tested (11 of 25, 44% at 30°C; 0 of 6, 0% at 32°C), though this result was not tested statistically. Eggs were incubated in individual glass jars (140 ml), half buried in moist vermiculite (water potential of -150 kPa), and jars were covered with clear plastic wrap. Eggs were split between five temperature treatments: 24°C (6 eggs); 26°C (24 eggs); 28°C (24 eggs); 30°C (25 eggs); and 32°C (6 eggs). Sex was determined by assessing gonadal morphology (at six months) or histology (at 30 days).

    Study and other actions tested
Please cite as:

Sainsbury K.A., Morgan W.H., Watson M., Rotem G., Bouskila A., Smith R.K. & Sutherland W.J. (2021) Reptile Conservation: Global Evidence for the Effects of Interventions for reptiles. Conservation Evidence Series Synopsis. University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.

Where has this evidence come from?

List of journals searched by synopsis

All the journals searched for all synopses

Reptile Conservation

This Action forms part of the Action Synopsis:

Reptile Conservation
Reptile Conservation

Reptile Conservation - Published 2021

Reptile synopsis

What Works 2021 cover

What Works in Conservation

What Works in Conservation provides expert assessments of the effectiveness of actions, based on summarised evidence, in synopses. Subjects covered so far include amphibians, birds, mammals, forests, peatland and control of freshwater invasive species. More are in progress.

More about What Works in Conservation

Download free PDF or purchase
The Conservation Evidence Journal

The Conservation Evidence Journal

An online, free to publish in, open-access journal publishing results from research and projects that test the effectiveness of conservation actions.

Read the latest volume: Volume 21

Go to the CE Journal

Discover more on our blog

Our blog contains the latest news and updates from the Conservation Evidence team, the Conservation Evidence Journal, and our global partners in evidence-based conservation.

Who uses Conservation Evidence?

Meet some of the evidence champions

Endangered Landscape ProgrammeRed List Champion - Arc Kent Wildlife Trust The Rufford Foundation Save the Frogs - Ghana Mauritian Wildlife Supporting Conservation Leaders
Sustainability Dashboard National Biodiversity Network Frog Life The international journey of Conservation - Oryx Cool Farm Alliance UNEP AWFA Bat Conservation InternationalPeople trust for endangered species Vincet Wildlife Trust