The morph python (Python regius) can take on a variety of hypnotic patterns, as many breeders have discovered over the years.

Text by Paul Catiang
Photos by Jeffery C. Lim

It begins with simpler varieties: the albino with its all-white appearance; the hypo with the muted black pigmentation on the otherwise normal scale pattern; the clown with its distinctive black dorsal stripe; the caramel albino and its creamy shades and red eyes; the axanthic and its grayscale coloration; and the pastel, with its many shades of yellow.

But the piebald is distinctive in that it combines the white of albino with normal coloration. Newer and newer piebald morphs emerge almost every year, as pythons with dominant and recessive traits breed in different combinations.

Breeders have already been able to produce piebalds that combine the albino with other pigmentation patterns, like the hypo, the cinnamon, or the very rare black pastel. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Time to start with the basics.

It’s a Morphin’ Time-With Math

According to Pitlair, our regular source, the most desirable pair for producing a piebald ball python is, well, a pair of visual piebald ball pythons. Not all breeders have such a pair on hand, but there are alternatives—this is where the math comes in.

The next best breeding pair involves a visual piebald and a heterozygous (or het) piebald—a normal-looking python that carries the piebald gene as a recessive trait. The resulting clutch (eggs laid) will have a 50% chance of visual piebalds and 50% for normal pythons.

A normal python bred with a het piebald will produce a clutch of all het piebalds. A pair of het piebalds will produce a clutch that has a 25% chance of producing piebalds, 25% normals, and 50% het piebalds—in this clutch, all normal-looking pythons can be considered 66% het piebalds.

Therefore, breeders starting their piebald ball python project with het piebalds may have to wait a few generations to produce a visual piebald. As Pitlair says, “Breeding for [a] recessive morph is difficult.” However, as this is a combination of simple and recessive traits, the piebald is still relatively easier to breed than pythons with double recessive traits. One such example is the relatively new and alluring super black pastel piebald.

Black and White and Rare

In February 2013 (a recent date where python breeding is concerned), the Virginia-based East Coast Reptile Breeders produced a female super black pastel piebald. The result of seven years’ breeding, the specimen featured a mostly white body with a black head and a couple of black spots near the tail end. As Pitlair describes it, the panda piebald is a piebald morph with the additional gene for black pastel or cinnamon—although some go a step further and breed for a super black paste.

This project requires a lot of planning, as each trait may need to be produced first before breeding for the final variant: black pastel, followed by a super black pastel, and finally, piebald. Still, the reward seems worth it, for breeders who like having a rare specimen in their care. Even Pitlair considers the panda pied as a top morph project for breeders, and has included it in his own projects. If he’s lucky, he expects to see one in around three years’ time.

An Average Type, Underneath

Piebalds are kept and raised just like any other ball python, according to Pitlair. While some breeders claim that the piebald is a less aggressive feeder than other ball pythons, Pitlair cannot personally concur with or dispute this, as his population of piebalds does not give him sufficient data. Still, this particular morph has no effect on the species’ hardiness, lifespan, and other characteristics; its appearance seems to
be the only effect.

The care and feeding is the same as with other ball pythons. They require either a terrarium or a rack system with a warm and a cool side to help the snake regulate its body temperature and a hiding place each for the warm and cool sides to help the snake maintain its sense of security. Like most ball pythons, the piebald is a pretty clean specimen, and can have no difficulty using most substrates, even newspapers. As with all snakes,
cedar substrates are not advised, as its oils are toxic for it.

Additional Resources:

• Royal Constrictor Designs, “Ball Python Genetics”

• World of Ball Pythons, “Care Sheet for Ball Python”

• The Daily Mail Online, “That’s expensssssive! Spectacular super black pastel piebald goes on sale for $16,000”

This appeared as “The Belle of Ball Pythons” in Animal Scene’s November 2015 issue.