At the beginning of the 1990s, the ball python was a snake that everyone in town danced with, but no one wanted to take to the prom. Despite their perfect size and temperament, attractive colors and pattern, they were inexpensive and common snakes. Nearly everyone started out with ball pythons and boa constrictors as their first exotic, tropical snakes, but the roving eyes of young snake keepers would nearly always begin to look at other snakes that seemed more worthy of their lusting obsessions. It's interesting now to see how at the end of the 1990s, ball pythons have become one of the most high profile and popular snakes in all of herpetoculture. It's like looking back and suddenly realizing that the kid next door who you snubbed has grown up to become an international super model.
This is a large adult male axanthic ball python. This wild-caught animal is the founder of the VPI lineage. These axanthics have no yellow or brown in their pattern at any age. This lineage, crossed with the t-albino lineage, will produce a white "snow ball."
Photography by Dave Barker
We started to collect ball pythons in 1989, and until 1991 we bought beautiful ball pythons from the importers for $5 extra. We found all manner of color and pattern anomalies, beautiful ball pythons that were "in the trade" and about to be sent to some small pet store to sell for $15 or $20. But it all changed and changed quickly in 1992, when the first captive-bred albino ball pythons became available for $7,500 each. Since then, every single one of the tens of thousands of ball pythons that are annually imported has been carefully scrutinized to see if it's different, if it has some additional market value because of some quirk of pattern or color unique to that snake.
In 1990, there were ball pythons, striped ball pythons, two piebald ball pythons and one albino ball python. Today there are axanthic, clown, labyrinth, jungle, pastel-jungle, tiger, spider, banded, black, black-backed, ghost, narrow-striped, wide-striped, ringer, black-and-white, high-gold, tyrosinase-positive (t+) caramel albino, tyrosinase-negative (t-) albino, leucistic, piebald (of course) and who knows what else. There are dozens of web pages and entire sites devoted to ball python variations. This past week, three keepers sent us photos of new and different varieties of ball pythons that (as incredible as this may sound) don't even have names yet.
Still today, the genetic basis and patterns of inheritance of many of the identified variations are not known. Of those that are known, some of the variations seen in ball python appearance are apparently random individual variation and not inheritable, some are polygenetic traits created by the interaction of multiple genes, and some are the results of single mutations. Determining which is which is achieved by selective breeding.