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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

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Creature Feature: Horned Screamer.

Well, it turns out I won't be getting a job this season because I won't be able to work Black Friday. There's always Christmas, but for now, I am formulating my revenge in the form of math and punnett squares. I'm not good at math, but reptiles will be involved. I do not mean snakes in mailboxes. For now, have an awesome bird:


This odd, not-pheasant is called a "Horned Screamer" (Anhima cornuta). It is the only member of the genus Anhima. It can be found in most of the top half of South America, specifically in lowlands and marshes. Despite their pheasant-like appearance, screamers are more closely related to ducks and geese than to chickens.

Right off the bat, the horned screamer is a weird bird. It looks kinda like a pheasant, but has slightly webbed feet. It's also huge- a little over a meter long. If a goose and a pheasant somehow managed to mate, you would get a screamer. Somehow. I'll get into the interesting-ness of avian genitalia at some point.

The Horned Screamer is odd by screamer standards, too. It is the one of the very few birds that has a horn - an actual piece of keratin loosely attached to the skull. The wings have very similar projections, making it look like an already-weird bird with batlike claws. These are fragile bits, and the tips are often broken off. Nobody really knows why it has this horn and apparently those claws, but it sure looks unique.

So why is this thing called a screamer? Let's go to YouTube and find out!

Well, it makes just as much sense as whatever the hell the fox says, right? I'm not sure I would call it "screaming," but what would you call that?

Oh, and by the way, this odd bird is not under any threats aside from perhaps habitat loss. Even though they are fairly easy to hunt, screamers don't make good eating. Their flesh is airy and overall unpalatable - in short, anyone who isn't starving doesn't actually eat that. Sort of a relief.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Halloween Bio-Art: The Centaur of Tymfi.

It's been a while since I did one of these. Vacations and a certain piece punched a ton of holes in my sense of time sense of duty, and I've actually all-but-landed a real job! My next post will probably talk about reptiles more; look forward to that. :)


Wait a sec....was that a real centaur skeleton?

No. It's a fake made for the International Wildlife Museum in Tuscon by sculptor and zoologist Bill Willers. The whole point of the exhibit is to make people question how we know what we know. That centaur looks pretty darn real, and, doubtless, some silly internet ad with "Real Or Fake?" will pop up. Don't even click that; it's a very well-made fake, but a fake nonetheless.

Everything about this centaur is a brilliiant piece of psuedo-science. "Tymfi" is not a real city in Greece, but it sounds Greek enough to make people buy it. The whole history of the centaur's excavation is fake, but adds more flesh on the bones, if you will. The exhibit tries its hardest to make you believe that centaurs once existed. It will be leaving in 2014, so if you happen to be around Tuscon (AZ?), check it out while you can.

The exhibit also features a few real skulls and bones. These are all tied into the whole "explaining myths" idea. For example, like the Field once did, they cite the Protoceratops as the likely inspiration for the gryphon, a mythical lion-eagle hybrid. They have also added a "cyclops" in the form of a Mastodon skull and a few other such specimens. Neat.

Museums do this sort of thing all the time. New York's Museum of Natural History had a "Mythic Creatures" exhibit that got extended by popular demand. The Field had something similar. Fantastic creatures are a huge draw, to the point where one wonders if such a thing is really OK for museums.

At some point, I likely mentioned the idea that it was not OK to put things like white tigers in zoos. The argument goes that white tigers are not natural, and thus do not belong in an exhibit detailing what tigers are really like. On some level, I agree with this; white tigers are indeed exceptionally bastardized, and are only found very rarely in the wild. Better there than in somebody's backyard regardless.

Unlike with, say, white tigers in zoos, mythological animals like centaurs and griffins are A-OK in museums. At one time, people thought chimaeras and dragons were real. It just goes to prove that science, and our perceptions of it, are constantly changing. I particularly like this quote emphasizing Willers's intent behind the centaur:

"I want to trigger that belief and extend it, to trigger a feeling of wonder that connects people to the natural world, to see a person like themselves as a wild animal," says Willers.

Does he succeed? Post below. :)