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Breeding Ball Pythons for Temperament? | Pocket Pythons

Breeding Ball Pythons for Temperament?

I have a point of discussion for today.

It’s potentially volatile, so I have a couple of rules:

  1. Read my entire post before you comment.
  2. All opinions are welcome, just keep it civil.

Some Backstory

So, I’ve had reptiles as pets off and on for 40 years. As a kid, these were wild-caught either by myself or the pet store suppliers. I’m not really sure when captive breeding of reptiles became either a viable business or a hobby. My first encounter with captive breeding came in the early 90’s. Finished with college and reasonably stable, I decided I could care for a snake again.

I was living in Nashville, and found a pretty marvelous pet shop called the Aquatic Critter. It was different from any other pet shop I’d seen, particularly in it’s very clean and professional handling of reptiles (still is).

This is where I got my first captive bred ball python. She was nearly 2 years old, and she was a normal. I don’t recall seeing other morphs at that time. I think albinos may have existed, but were prohibitively expensive.

She was a dream snake. Healthy, great temperament, raised on pre-killed and never refused a meal. This was consistent with my research, which listed ball pythons as one of the best snakes to have from the standpoint of temperament and hardiness. I soon got a second normal ball python, a male, which was only a couple weeks out of the egg when I got him. He was never quite as strong as the first, and was a bit of a runt of his litter, but I never had any problems with him. Again, he never refused a meal, never tried to bite, and never had a health problem. Within a couple of years I acquired a third. This was a rehoming from a guy who didn’t want it anymore. It was also a normal, but I suspect it was wild-caught and already fully grown when I got it. The guy told me it was a male, but she turned out to be female. Once again, this animal had a beautiful temperament, never tried to bite, and never refused a meal, despite the fact that I switched her from live to pre-killed.

Temperament of my Normals

All three of these snakes would let you boop their snoots (although I never heard that term until recently), touch their heads, handle them without issue. I was even able to let my very young niece and nephew, and later my young step-children, handle them (supervised of course, for the safety of the snake.)

For the 25 years that I had those animals, I got bit exactly twice. Both were during feeds, and both were entirely my fault.

The Growing Hobby

During the years that I kept those snakes, I became aware of the growing captive breeding movement, and the development of the various morphs that we see today (I remember the first time I saw a piebald and it had a price tag of over $5,000).

Athena, Cadmus, and Achilles the Ball Pythons
Athena, Cadmus, and Achilles in their playpen, aka “Ball Pit” during cage cleaning

My New Batch

Fast forward to today. After several years with no snakes, I decided to get back into it. I have acquired three new ball pythons. All are under a year old, and all are morphs: an albino male, a blue-eyed Lucy male, and a pastel red axanthic female. All are very beautiful.

But I’ve noticed something different about these snakes. All three have bitten me more than once. The female, which I got from a reptile show over two hours away, after which I had to drive her home, was particularly aggressive (I understand that it’s not aggression but fear, but she is the one who would actually come after me repeatedly).

Captive Breeding is Good

Now, to be clear, I love the growth of the breeding business/hobby. In fact, I dream of a day when snake morphs have equal status with dog breeds in the eyes of the world.

So the upcoming topic for discussion is not intended to elicit moral judgments about the existence of the hobby or how breeders conduct their business. That’s all given.

Athena ready to strike
Athena ready to strike

So here comes the topic:

Based entirely on my own experience, I’m wondering, with all the breeding that’s going on, are the temperaments of ball pythons changing over the generations?

  1. With so much breeding for color morphs, is inbreeding a factor? How diverse is the gene pool in breeder circles?
  2. Is temperament taken into account by breeders when choosing pairings? Is there any attempt to weed out certain behaviors or increase the likelihood of other behaviors? There is precedent for this type of behavioral change through breeding choices, the most notable being the notorious Africanized “Killer” Bees.
  3. With breeders caring for rooms full of racks full of snakes, is nurture becoming a factor? By necessity, it seems the animals today are being treated more like product, handled in an often abrupt manner, trucked to shows weekend after weekend, and sent through the mail. Do these factors contribute the snake’s long term behavior? AGAIN: THIS IS NOT INTENDED TO CRITICIZE OR ATTACK. Just to prompt discussion.

Thanks for contributing.

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