The ball python (Python regius) has yielded a kaleidescope of colors and patterns due to breeding attempts. One distinct pattern among these variants is the calico killer bee or calibee. We asked our regular consultant breeder Pitlair for his experience with this morph.

Swirls and fades

According to him, the calibee is “a three-morph combination ball python” combining the pastel, spider, and calico genes. The spider gene provides the pattern morph, the pastel gene gives it color, and the calico gene distorts both color and pattern to varying degrees.

“The more desirable quality is for the calico gene to white out certain portions on the snake’s body, giving it some smudge-like erasures,” Pitlair says. “Essentially, you’d expect the pastel to give it a yellow-orange color, and the spider to have that black swirly pattern, but with the added calico gene, the color and patterns are altered; the sides will be smudged out, and the yellow-orange color fades out as well. The very extreme looking ones will only have a striped line pattern on [their] back.”

Folklore

Because ball pythons crawl on the ground, the Igbo people of Nigeria consider them to be a symbol of the earth and treat them with great care and reverence. An account from 1931 details how ball pythons are allowed to wander into villages undisturbed or gently picked up and moved away from any homes.

In the wild

Ball pythons originate in the grasslands, savannas, and sparsely wooded areas of Sub-Saharan Africa, where they prey on rats, shrews, mice, and birds. Thus, their role in this ecosystem is to control the population of small mammals and birds. The average lifespan is ten years in the wild, usually due to internal and external parasites and the greater dangers involved.

The ball python is crepuscular in its activity, hunting and moving around around dawn and dusk, before the heat of the African sun compels it to seek cooler temperatures near open water. During hotter summers, the ball python is also known to estivate – a period of summer dormancy similar to hibernation characterized by inactivity and lowered metabolic rate.

When threatened, the species rolls itself into a tight ball, tucking the head and neck in the middle of the coil, hence their name. Wild-caught ball pythons are best returned to their natural environment. They generally have difficulty adjusting to captivity by refusing to feed.

Calibee care

In recent years, the ball python has become popular with reptile fanciers who have produced several morphs of varying scale patterns, one of which is the calibee.

Like any ball python morph, the calibee has no special considerations. This species needs either a terrarium or a rack system with both warm and cool sides to help the snake regulate body temperature, and a hiding place each for the warm and cool sides to help the snake maintain a 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.

On average, ball pythons lay eggs in a clutch of six after reaching sexual maturity around two years old. The eggs hatch in around 60 days. Python owners usually incubate the eggs artificially in temperatures between 88 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

Photos by Jeffrey C. Lim
This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s July 2019 issue.

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