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Saturday, November 23, 2013

Why Petco Is A Rip-Off- Ball Pythons, Genetics, and You!

So, yeah. Still no job. Petco rejected me. I can nigh-guarantee that I know more about snakes than anybody else they're willing to hire, but since they did not want that, I will instead expose why you're pretty much guaranteed to get ripped off if you buy a snake from them - specifically, a ball python.

I'm going to venture a guess that the majority of ball pythons in Petco's tanks are normal, male ball pythons. They will probably cost anywhere from 50-80 USD. I will now be very blunt and say that you should be paying significantly less for the very same, if not a better, snake.

Why do I say this? Ball pythons are so overbred that they have been called the "dogs of the reptile world." Of all the ball pythons out there, the most useless, genetically, are the normal males. People will thus try to get rid of them as soon as possible, even going so far as selling them in bulk.

A brief refresher on how genetics work: Each parent has two alleles for any given gene. Both mommy and daddy pass on one allele each to the offspring. Each baby carries one allele from each parent, so no two babies will be exactly alike. There are a bunch of different ways to inherit traits (mostly recessive and co-dominant), but we will be focused on the almighty "co-dominant."

Ball python breeders, and snake breeders in general, love the word "co-dominant." It means that you can get something cool out of one breeding. Recessive traits like albinism are more widely-known, but take a grand total of 4-6 years to see the results of if you start with het babies. There is no way to tell whether the babies are het or not; this gets more problematic in future breeding, when you get things like "66% het." Co-dominance is favored because your first clutch might yield a baby that looks almost exactly like one of the parents. If you breed two co-dominants, expect even more craziness, but we won't be doing that. Instead, let's look at everybody's first python breeding: normal x pastel.

Square by NERD. Visit them for more awesome co-dominants!

This is a Punnett square for any normal x codominant ball python trait. For those of you who do not know what a Punnett square is, it is a grid showing potential offspring of two parents. In this case, the normal (probably the mom) is on the vertical axis, the pastel is horizontal, and the potential offspring are in the boxes.

NERD was awesome and used a subtle (or not so subtle, depending on your strain) color enhancer called "pastel" for their example. Pastels are ball pythons with the brightness/contrast messed with to the point where they look anywhere from bright lemon yellow to a slightly cleaner than usual normal. They are the cheapest of the co-dominant morphs. A lot of ball python traits, including the platinum and legendary banana ball, are co-dominant as well; if you're interested in those, simply copy-paste this Punnett with whatever fancy trait you like. Most of the good ones are co-dominant or dominant, and will thus pass their traits on in the first generation. This can lead to some amazing clutches!

That one normal in the back looks...kinda sad.

So, let's assume this clutch contained 4 ball python eggs with an even gender split. Four eggs, 2 male, 2 female. From what I've heard, this would actually be a pretty awesome clutch; four is OK for a first time ball clutch. The better size is 8-10, but let's keep it at 4 for simplicity's sake. Breeders breed so many of them that it seems like there are always more than enough. What we're looking for, here, is that codominant gene and the sex.

We have a 50% chance of getting another pastel ball just breeding a male pastel to a normal female. That one pastel could be male or female. The other members of this clutch could also be male or female. The pastels there can be bred/sold regardless. The normals might not be so lucky.

If one of the pastels is female, wow, we were lucky, right? Let's breed her back to daddy after a few years and see if we can get a super-pastel. Better still, cross her with a spider, pinstripe, mojave - whatever! Co-dominant traits blend excellently with each other and themselves. NERD has some 4-morph combos. I'm sure their prices range into the thousands, and if this sounds appealing to you, bear in mind that you're going to have to start with one trait like the pastel. With a female pastel, you're well on your way!


If we're assuming everything came out with a nice, even split, this leaves us with two magical mystery balls. These, like the pastels, could be either male or female. Remember how co-dominance and simple dominance work: you've either got it or ya don't. In other words, barring any hidden recessive traits, any normal males are useless for breeding.

If both pastels turned out to be male, however, we would lose the dreaded normal male. Then we would wind up with two pastel males and two perfectly good females. Remember, it doesn't matter whether the females are pastel or not; as long as one copy of the pastel gene is passed on, the offspring will still have the pastel trait. Sure, it'd be a bummer to not have a female pastel, but those two females can still be sold for a decent price, and can be used in future breedings. "Breeder-size" females do sell. Normal males do not...unless you're smart.

Snake breeders will get rid of their loser males ASAP.  If you see a tank of normal ball pythons in a pet store, I will bet you money that 90% of that tank, if not all of it, will be composed of dud males. This site is selling them for 25 bucks. Compare that to whatever Petco's selling them for. It's just another reason to buy locally instead of not knowing where you snake's coming from, too.

You might also see beautiful babies like these from Genetic Gems.

In short, unless you are breeding super forms to super forms, every day, all day, you will get a normal male ball python. He will not be a good stud, but he will satisfy the kid down the street who's just itching for a pet snake because you happened to have one (or twenty). Normal males can potentially come out of every breeding, they won't sell very well, and thus, there are a million floating around in miscellaneous pet stores for people who just want a good pet snake.

Now, this is fine if you just want a pet ball python. If, however, you do a little homework and look for reptile conventions, I can guarantee that you will get a better deal on a male ball. These make fine pets and are absolutely ideal for beginners. Also, says that they sometimes have co-dominant ball python morphs in stock; I have never seen these, so if you happen to find one for a decent price, snap it up.

P.S. - For those of you who might be interested, I still have baby corn snakes for sale! E-mail

1 comment:

  1. PETCO actually gets most, if not all of their normals from The Gourmet Rodent, according to TGR's facebook. They're also primarily unsexed, as I personally have two normal BPs from both petco and petsmart respectively, both of which actually turned out to be females. They're likely wholesale normals nobody really had time to bother sexing.
    Now personally, I don't really care for morphs and I'm fine with having my own normals. I'd much rather have a diverse collection of species like the reptile house at a zoo or something. But that's just me.