The ball python scene is filled with a dazzling array of morphs. From the Normal to the Pinstripe, from the Mystic to the Axanthic, it seems like the only limit to the colors and patterns that can be produced is imagination.
Striking morphs are highly prized in the ball python world, and it can take many attempts to produce a genetic combination of two or more morphs. That is why whenever a five-gene morph emerges, the herpetologist world takes notice.
So, what does it take to produce a five-gene ball python? We interviewed one such individual, Dave Choi from Pasay, who is caring for 13 snakes.
Choi began his journey with ball pythons four or five years ago, although he encountered the scaly specimens earlier, about seven or eight years ago. He was hesitant to even touch the snakes, and never showed any interest in caring for snakes himself.
Then about four years ago, a client came to him who was interested in reptiles. The client’s enthusiasm for snakes was contagious, and Choi paid the client a visit at his home. “I arrived at around 10 or 11 in the evening, since the client’s home was in Taytay. Really far from Pasay,” he remarked.
One day, another pet parent decided to trade him a ball python for fish, and he found himself more and more engaged in his new snake companion.
In particular, Choi was interested in designer morphs. “If you become familiar with genetics,” he explains. “you more or less get an idea of what morph you want to produce in your snake.”
Choi has a ball python named Kobe, after the late great Los Angeles Lakers playters, because of its purple and gold color, just like the Lakers colors. Years of experience has produced a striking 5-gene ball python morph from an unlikley combination of genes.
“You need a male who is at least two years old, better if three,” says Choi. “and a three-to four-year-old female. These are the ideal ages, although I have heard of others who start them earlier.” He compares these immature snakes to teenagers, in that while it is possible for them to reproduce, it may not be healthy to do so at such a young age.
“If you are after a particular pattern or color, you should choose the right genes. Not just a healthy snake but the right lineage, one without defects. You need to know your snakes’ lineage because just like people, they aren’t just from a single lineage.”
Warm weather, cold-blooded
Choi explains that although ball pythons are originally from Africa, ball python morphs started in the US. “Every year, they discover a new lineage,” he says. “From there, they made their way to the Philippines. Because our climate is closer to Africa’s climate than the US,” he adds. “It’s easier for us to [care for] ball pythons.”
So, what happens when the climate isn’t warm? “In the States, it’s too cold for ball pythons. They don’t like it. They can get sick and they can have loose stools. Also, the seasons in America don’t match up with the breeding season, which kind of starts in October, but officially starts in November.”
Because Philippine climate is close to the ball pythons’ home climate, Choi does not use any heating. “Just don’t let it get too cold in December, January, or February, because they don’t have those temperatures in Africa. Also, pay attention to the temperature during monsoons and typhoons.”
“Because ball pythons are carnivores,” says Choi. “I start them young with eating baby mice. Newborns or less than a month old, I give them pinky mice. They start eating at around three weeks of age, so I give them food weekly if they’re still infants. When they get bigger I give them one baby mouse, then feed them more often, maybe twice or thrice a week, although bigger meals once a week is fine. You learn through experience what’s best.”
Choi keeps his snakes in 36×18 inch plastic drawers, as snakes don’t need much vertical space. They do need their own space, however, so each snake gets a drawer. He avoids placing small snakes in large enclosures, however, because they get afraid and try to hide. “Once a snake is afraid, [they] won’t eat,” he says. So, he always provides a hide in each of his snakes’ enclosures.
Starting with snakes
Choi wholeheartedly recommends ball pythons for those who want to be first-time snake parents. “My youngest child could handle ball pythons as early as three years old,” he says proudly. “They are not venomous, although they do bite. When they bite, it doesn’t mean they want to bite to hurt you. They’re usually feisty when children handle them because they can’t distinguish what is food and what isn’t. They don’t know their own size. But as they grow older, they lose their feistiness.”
While ball pythons don’t require a lot of time and attention, Choi still recommends doing research before taking on the responsibility. “[People who want ot care for snakes] need to know about how to feed and keep them. The most important thing is not to buy without preparation. Some people discover they don’t like morph and they lose interest,” he says.
What they should do, suggests Choi, is care for a morph they really like, instead of one that just matches the budget. “Also,” he says. “Alwayts [get a morph] from a trusted breeder. A bad breeder can give you a sick snake or one with the wrong sex or morph.”
This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s November-December 2020 issue.