East Coast Reptile Breeders http://ballpythonbreeder.com Ball Python Morphs by Colin Weaver Fri, 10 Apr 2015 17:36:15 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.2 The Enigmatic Ball Python Appetite http://ballpythonbreeder.com/2014/08/the-enigmatic-ball-python-appetite/ http://ballpythonbreeder.com/2014/08/the-enigmatic-ball-python-appetite/#comments Fri, 15 Aug 2014 16:37:49 +0000 http://ballpythonbreeder.com/?p=10026 Even before the designer morph craze, ball pythons were a very popular choice when selecting a pet snake.  Many people will agree that, across the years, the two most popular snakes to choose as pets have been ball pythons and corn snakes.  Their relatively small size and generally casual demeanor make them great choices for people who love snakes but aren’t down with wondering if they are about to get chewed on every time they open the enclosure.  When coupled with the staggering number of color and pattern variations (from both species) it’s easy to see why they are eternal staples of the reptile world.  But despite all of the wonderful qualities that make ball pythons a great choice there is one quality that keepers will inevitably lament:  the ball python appetite.  The feeding response of ball pythons can be nothing short of a mystifying source of frustration. Most ball pythons are great eaters but even the best of them can do an appetite-180, leaving you scratching your head, wondering what happened to their desire to feed.  One thing is true:  live with ball pythons long enough and you will eventually have one that decides to take a rodent swallowing hiatus.  And few snakes can rival the stubbornness of the ball python when it comes to these hunger strikes.

But why?  What makes ball pythons stop feeding and how do we get them to start again?  Better still, is it possible to get them to not stop feeding in the first place?  It would be nice to say that ball pythons are as gluttonous as Burmese Pythons or as ravenous as kingsnakes but they aren’t.  Many experienced ball python keepers will agree that the on-again-off-again feeding behavior is “just part of keeping ball pythons”.  I wish this statement lacked merit but in my experience it, unfortunately, does not.  Ball pythons can and do stop feeding for sometimes prolonged periods of time without an immediately discernible reason.  This statement is true for even the best reptile keepers.  But a feeding hiatus is not always an irreconcilable span of time through which you must endure; there are often subtle causes that, once corrected, can get your snake back on food.  This is because ball python feeding is not purely formulaic or mechanical.  Unlike some snakes that will eat anywhere, anytime, ball pythons need to be offered food in a way that works for them.  This means that the mechanics of snake feeding (i.e. open enclosure, insert food, close enclosure) may also require a bit of artistry on your behalf.  Let’s explore.

I have been keeping snakes for a very long time.  The number of species I have kept is impressive but the number of ball pythons for which I have cared outnumbers them all and pretty much every day of my life is spent in a sea of python regius.  And being around so many ball pythons for so long I have learned some things:

      1. Ball pythons (like all snakes) have individual personalities and unique dispositions.  No, they do not have the personality of a dog, but they have a certain charm that is unique and unmistakable.  People who have read this far already know this.  
      2. Ball pythons have varying levels of self-confidence.  Some ball pythons, even hatchlings, think they can take you down while others are scared of a hopper mouse.  Through the years it has been my experience that ball python dispositions are present at birth and don’t tend to change much with age.  Ball pythons with a ‘flighty’ or fearful disposition tend be be less strong feeders.  Keep in mind that the onset of fear is usually situational.  Almost all pythons in uncomfortable surroundings will be fearful.  But some ball pythons are fearful even when kept in idyllic environments.  A ball pythons reaction to fear is more likely to be “flight” than “fight”.  There are always exceptions, of course.
      3. Ball pythons can differentiate people.  I don’t really know whether this recognition is sight or scent-based (I suspect both) but I can assure you that my ball pythons know the difference between me and other people.  I don’t anthropomorphize though.  The distinction is more of a “that is a threat” or “that is not as much of a threat” thing.  Or perhaps, “he wants to eat me” vs. “he probably does not want to eat me”.  You can name, love, kiss and snuggle your ball python all you want but the most you should ever really hope for is for him/her to put you in the “does not want to eat me” category.  This is a close as your ball python is ever going to come to loving you.  Don’t feel bad, though.  Trusting you to not eat him/her is a big leap for an animal that hovers somewhere in the middle of the food chain.  This is particularly true considering the fact the trust is being given to the apex predator (i.e. you).
      4. Ball pythons can have different ‘taste’ preferences.  Rats, mice, African Soft-Furred (ASF).  Live, fresh killed and frozen/thawed (F/T).  While some snakes seem to be willing to eat anything there are others that are quite picky about the what, when, where and how of a meal.  For example, I can offer a ball python a fuzzy rat and it will completely ignore it.  I can leave that fuzzy rat in the enclosure and offer a live mouse and the snake will take it instantly.  More than a few times I have watched a ball python crawl over a fuzzy rat on their way to get a mouse.  And you will also encounter the opposite; a snake who won’t take mice but will gladly readily take rats.  If your snake is picky about type of rodent it will be up to you to figure out exactly what he/she wants.  Keep in mind that the type of food offered is only one factor in the equation.  A lot of people struggling to get their ball python back on food only consider the type of food offered.  There are other factors.
      5. Ball pythons can have a food size preference.  Some ball pythons will only eat meals that are impossibly small compared to what they could take.  Others are just the opposite; some ball pythons seem to like the challenge of a rodent that pushes their limits.  The overwhelming majority, fortunately, take appropriately sized prey.  It is not unusual for a snake to ignore or avoid a rodent that is too large or too small while waiting, like Goldilocks, for the size that is just right.  This is easy to deal with if you breed your own rodents but is a bit problematic if you are getting rodents one at a time from the pet store.  If you watch closely you may see your ball python “sizing up” the food you offer.  Their brains quickly work through some set of equations that let them know whether or not it’s go-time on a rodent.  There is no way to know, other than through trial and error, what size rodent your ball python is willing to take.
      6. If your ball python gets bit you may need to settle in for a feeding outage.  If you feed live food to your snakes it is inevitable that it will get bit by the rodent during the process.  Sometimes they just don’t get them wrapped up quite right and the rodent will sink its teeth into your snake.  I’ll wager that 99.9% of the time the bite doesn’t break the skin and your snake will show no signs of the rodent’s final efforts.  But every now and then (the other 0.01%) a rodent will get the elusive angle correct and the result is an actual wound on your snake.  If it is bad enough I have seen snakes who were once great feeders become trigger shy for a lengthy period of time.  They seem to remember that the last time they ate they came out of it with some battle damage and the hurt they felt is a vibrant enough memory to make them reluctant to have another go at it.  How long a bite-initiated feeding hiatus will last is incredibly variable but I have found that one of the best ways to get them going again is to offer much smaller food.  It has to be big enough for them to wrap around but should be a good bit smaller than what their normal fare would be.  You can mitigate the damage of a bite by chaperoning the feeding process (which I always recommend).  I usually keep a pencil or a set of forceps/tweezers handy in case the rat does sink its teeth into the snake.  When I see it happen I calmly put the tip of the (unsharpened) pencil or tweezers into the rodent’s mouth.  It will immediately start chewing on it rather than the snake.  It is a very effective way of making sure a bite injury is minimized or eliminated.
      7. A ball python that is ‘cocked and loaded’ is an opportunity not to be missed.  If you open an enclosure (assuming you are using rack systems) you will often see your snake with it’s head up, neck coiled into an ‘S’ and giving you what I happily recognize as “the look”.  Snakes giving you the look are ready to feed.  Repetition has taught your reptile that:
        • A) a tub that is opening is a potential feeding event
        • B) that rodents always seem appear on one end of the enclosure
        • C) odd as it may be, rodents fall from the sky (those of you who notice how your ball python looks up when you open the enclosure can appreciate this).
        • If you snake is giving you The Look you should be prepared to feed it (Note:  The picture seen later in this article is a textbook example of The Look).  I almost never let The Look go unanswered.  You can leverage The Look to get your snake to take a rodent they might normally ignore.  If you drop a rat into the tub in such a way that it will walk straight to the nose of the snake (walk, not run) it is an almost surefire way to get the snake to strike and wrap, even if the food is not a type it normally prefers.  This is often a one shot opportunity; if you do not drop the rat in just right the snake will be removed from it’s ‘feeding zone’ and will often not take the rat as it roams about the enclosure.  I have a few snakes that prefer mice but I can often get them to take rats using this technique.  If the rat roams the cage they won’t take it but if the rats falls from heaven just in front of them and walks directly toward their nose they will frequently strike and wrap first and wonder what they ate later.
      8. The ball python appetite is linked to its environment.  This is incredibly important and often overlooked.  If the environment is wrong, even the hungriest of ball pythons is unlikely to eat.
      9. Ball pythons will not conform to a one-size-fits-all approach.  Don’t think that your snake will adapt to the way you want to keep and feed it.  You will find success faster if you acknowledge that it’s the other way around.  Ball pythons, I have found, are much more patient that I am.
      10. The more ball pythons you have the more likely you are going to be baffled by their feeding behavior.  For example:
        • Suppose you have a ball python that has taken two rats each week since you got it (and even eats while in shed).  One day without explanation, it will stop eating.  It may be months before it feeds again
        • To your amazement your finicky ball python will begin to eat like crazy, even going so far as to shoot out of the cage whenever you open it even a little bit.  And then, one day, it will return to its normal finicky demeanor.
      11. Sick ball pythons rarely eat.  If your snake is not healthy none of the discussion in this article will help you.  Good husbandry greatly reduces the likelihood that a snake will become sick.
        [bgarea]Very Important Note:  While sick snakes do not tend to eat do not mistake a non-feeding snake for a sick snake.  Perfectly healthy snakes stop feeding, too.  There are many more readily apparent signs of sickness that you can/should notice long before considering its lack of appetite as a symptom of illness.[/bgarea]

//www.youtube.com/watch?v=kLOCiJm_L_I

Over the past 20+ years I have dealt with more ball python feeding issues than I can count.  And despite my experience with the species I continue to deal with them today.  Assuming I’m not a bad keeper, this gives a lot of credence to the argument that temperamental feeding is part of keeping ball pythons.  Neither I nor anyone else has deciphered a magic formula that makes ball pythons eat like kingsnakes.  Like any experienced parent I have learned to roll with things over which newer keepers tend to fret.  A healthy ball python that stops eating for a few months hardly even registers on my worry-meter.  My annoyance levels may be off the chart but I know it’s nothing to worry about.  When I offer my snakes food it is not unusual for several of them to refuse.  But on a different day the majority of them will eat.  My wife can tell how well feeding went by my demeanor when I get home at the end of feeding day.  If I’m happy and upbeat she knows that snake appetites were good that day.  If I’m short-tempered and grouchy she knows that a lot of rodents got put back into a holding tub at the end of the day.

Despite having acknowledged that it’s part of keeping the species I don’t throw up my hands in defeat and wait for them to snap out of it.  I am much more proactive than that.  I actively work, with varying amounts of success, to get them feeding again.  Keep in mind that my desire to have my snakes on-feed are directly related to profitability, not the snake’s health.  It is highly unlikely that a healthy ball pythons will starve to death.  Even the most stubborn mouse feeder will eventually take a rat (on his timeline, not yours).  If breeding for profit is not a motivation of yours you do not need to worry about about a healthy ball python not eating for several months.  If, however, you endeavor to make baby ball pythons in a timely and profitable fashion you need to have your snakes eating as consistently and as often as possible.  This is what motivates me to get my snakes feeding again. Over the years I have encountered many different situations where I was able to influence a non-feeding snake’s behavior and coax them back into my good graces (i.e. a feeding snake is a good snake).  When a ball python stops feeding I have a list of possible causes.  They are:

      • Wrong type of food (rats vs. mice, live vs. f/t)
      • The enclosure is too big.
      • The enclosure size just changed (usually because it just got bigger).
      • The location on the rack just changed. (assuming you use rack systems)
      • The substrate is wrong/different.
      • The snake doesn’t feel safe.
      • The food is too big/too small.
      • It’s breeding season.
      • Changes in weather.
      • The snake’s age/size.
      • The snake suffered an injury during a recent feeding.

Interestingly enough (read that as ‘Frustratingly enough’) several of the things that seem to make ball pythons stop feeding will also make them start again.  It is never a given nor is it a simple formula for success.  The logic of ‘IF a, THEN b‘ doesn’t always apply.  It’s more like, ‘IF a, then b. But if b doesn’t work, try c.  Or maybe b and c.’  This means there is no one specific way to respond to a non-feeding snake.  But I am often able to find success through trying multiple different approaches.  Many are successful, but not always.  Every snake is different. By way of example I would like to discuss several of the items listed above.  To do this I want to share a few anecdotal stories that illustrate the apparent randomness of a ball python’s feeding response and follow with a discussion on why I feel the snake was/was not feeding.

#1:  The Hated Clown

Several years ago while at at a fellow breeder’s facility I was shown a tub that had a 1,200 gram female clown in it.  My friend proceeded to tell me how much he hated this snake because it would not eat.  The snake had been in his collection for a full year and had not taken a meal (Note:  a healthy adult ball python not eating for a year does not surprise me.  Annoy?  Yes.  Surprise?  No.  I have seen it several times over the years).  The previous owner (who was worthy of trust) had reported no problems getting the snake to feed (it didn’t get to 1,200 grams by not eating).  Exasperated, he told me to take it and see if I could get it to eat.  After working out a deal that made both of us feel good  the snake was bagged up and driven across town to my facility.  I set it up the way I do all of my animals and about twenty minutes later it took a small live rat.  And then it took another.  And then another.  After having refused food for a full year it took three rats as soon as it got to a new place.  And it didn’t stop there; the snake ate 10 rats in the following three weeks.  That snake, which is still with me today, remains a solid feeder (although it does occasionally stop feeding for a month or two).  Why?

#1 Why (The Clown) – In a word:  substrate.  Breeders can be picky about the substrate they use in their cages.  Some of the most common choices for ball pythons are newspaper, cypress mulch, sani-chip and shaved aspen.  Other solutions may be viable in the pet trade but are not often seen in use with collections of considerable size.  The clown in question began its life on newspaper (which is a fairly common practice).  The original owner moved the snake to cypress mulch where it remained until it was an adult.  When it was moved to my friends collection he put it back on newspaper and the snake stopped eating.  When I took it to my facility it went back on cypress mulch.  Let me summarize the bedding:feeding chronology:

      1. (Hatcling) Newspaper:feeding
      2. (Well-started hatchling to 1,500g) Cypress Mulch:feeding
      3. (1,500g to 1,200g)  Newspaper:not feeding
      4. (1,200g – 3,000+g) Cypress Mulch:feeding

Over the years here is what I have found to be generally true:  Ball pythons kept on paper do well on paper.  If you move a ball python from paper to cypress mulch it typically continues to feed well (or better).  If you move a ball python from cypress mulch to paper they frequently stop feeding.  How long they stop feeding has been highly variable in my experience but a hiatus in excess of 4-6 months would not surprise me.  The same is true for moving snakes from aspen bedding to paper (or cypress mulch to aspen).  Every breeder has their favorite but I am a firm believer in the value of cypress mulch for creating an environment conducive to ball python feeding.  It holds moisture well, resists mold and absorbs waste.  It is fairly inexpensive (but far from free), easy to spot clean and is aesthetically pleasing.  The down-side of mulch is that it is more expensive than using old newspapers collected from your neighbors recycle bins.  It is also dusty when it dries out (but not as dusty as aspen bedding).

[bgarea]Another note about cypress mulch: Unprocessed (i.e. not baked) cypress mulch can also have things naturally living in it.  Tiny little critters that naturally live in the wood can frequently be found in mulch after it is milled.  These creatures are completely harmless to your snake.  It is absolutely false that snakes can get snake mites from cypress mulch.  This is a myth I often hear spread around by misinformed pet store employees.  There are more than 48,000 known species of mite in the world (some estimate there to be more than 500,000).  To my knowledge only one of those species feeds on snakes (Ophionyssus natricis) and they do not naturally occur in places where cypress trees grow.  If you have snake mites in your collection they did not naturally come from the cypress mulch.[/bgarea]

The substrate question is a very important one especially when coupled with the size of the animal when you acquire it.  Hatchling or well-started babies will almost always readily feed when moved from one location to another (or from one substrate to another).  The same is not true for subadult or adult animals.  By far the most common feeding issues are not with baby ball pythons; they are with subadult and adult animals.  When you buy an animals that is kept on aspen or cypress and decide to move it to paper you need to be prepared for the very real chance that a hunger strike is in your future.  Your best chance for success when acquiring animals of larger size is to replicate, as much as possible, the conditions in which they were kept with the breeder.  Moving a larger animals to a bigger enclosure and/or changing the substrate is an almost sure-fire way to get them to stop feeding.  Please keep in mind that bigger also includes the transparency of the enclosure.  A non-translucent grey tub with dimensions of AxBxC is NOT the same as a translucent version of the same tub.  Ball pythons do not like a lot of light and translucent/clear tubs afford them no protection from the perceived exposure of excessive light.

#2:  The Enchi Orange Dream

A few months ago I moved an enchi orange dream female from a hatchling baby rack to a medium-sized grow-up rack.  And when I did she immediately quit eating.  After two months of trying to get her to eat I moved her back to the baby rack.  She at a live rat about 20 minutes after I moved her back to the small rack.  Why?

#2 Why (Enchi Orange Dream) – Two reasons:  Enclosure size and enclosure change.  You will find near-unanimous agreement from experienced ball python breeders that moving a snake from a small enclosure to a larger one comes with a very high degree of likelihood that a feeding hiatus is imminent.  For reasons I do not fully understand ball pythons stop feeding when moved to a larger cage.  This is especially true when the snake already has some size.  Hatchlings seem to do better than sub-adults or adults when moved to larger enclosures.  Once moved the feeding strike can last for highly variable amounts of time.  Moving them back to a smaller enclosure will often end the strike and feeding will resume.  Overall, I attribute the stoppage to feelings of insecurity.  Ball pythons feel more secure in small spaces and the move to a larger space leaves them feeling exposed and unsafe.  Snakes that do not feel safe do not eat.

#3:  The Finicky Pastel Genetic Stripes

A few years ago I hatched out a pair of pastel genetic stripes.  They came from the same clutch and were set up right next to each other on the rack.  And from the start both were mediocre feeders.  They ate once for every 2-3 meals of the other, unrelated snakes around them.  Since they were both poor feeders I very much wanted to blame it on ‘bad genetics’ but both parents have consistently voracious appetites.  After a few months of randomly taking meals I moved one of them to a different type of enclosure.  The snake that was moved to the new enclosure is now about 3-4X  the size of her sister.  Ever since the day I moved her to a new enclosure she has been shooting out of the tub, striking at the first sign of movement.  Her appetite is amazing and she is now a joy to feed.  Here sister, who remained in the original rack still lags way behind.  Why?

Ball Python - 50-series ARS tub

Ball Python in ARS 50-series tub with built-in hide

 

#3 Why (The Pastel Genetic Stripes) – In a word:  safety.  Normally I will tell you that a bigger enclosure will lead to a temporary feeding break but the ARS 50-series tub, made by ARS Caging, has a built-in divider that turns the whole back part of the tub into a hide.  A small opening on one side creates a simulated burrow hole in the back and almost every ball python I have responds incredibly well to it.  The natural sense of safety the snake has is unmistakeable and almost immediately noticeable.  They sit with their body safely hidden in the hide and their head poking out of the hole, hunting (see picture).  This list of snakes that had dramatic (positive) changes in feeding when I put them in this rack with this tub is not to be discounted.  As far as I’m concerned this is the single best tub on the market for keeping ball pythons.  And no, ARS Caging didn’t ask me to endorse them.  The snake that was not moved into this tub is the one that still lags behind.

#4:  The Flighty Het Pied

Almost a decade ago I bought a het pied female.  From day one the snake was a terrible feeder.  She has always been flighty and quick to bite (a decidedly non-ball python characteristic).  She ate only occasionally and only took food items that were comparatively small.  As recently as 2011 she went the entire year having only taken two (2) rats.  To say that I was over her was an understatement.  I would have sent her packing but I couldn’t pass such an animal off to somebody else; doing so violates my personal ethics and it’s not good business.  And so the years went by with her taking up valuable rack space.  And then one day I moved her to a new type of enclosure.  Same building.  Same temperature.  Same substrate.  Same everything except the size and type of enclosure.  And now she easily falls into the ‘solid feeder’ category.  It was pretty much Story #1 above all over again except this time the animal didn’t go into the hands of someone else, it just moved across the room.  Why?

#4 Why (The Het Pied) – Once again, safety.  Ball pythons that bite don’t do so out of aggression or anger.  They do so out of fear.  This particular snake is, for reasons unknown, very fearful.  She has always been that way.  Because she is always afraid she is unable to feed with any consistency.  When I finally found an enclosure that helped her to feel safe she began feeding consistently and aggressively.  The tub, the same ARS 50-series tub referenced above, was the fourth tub size I had tried her in over the years (Sterilite 32 qt, Sterilite 32 qt blacked out front, CF-750, & ARS 70-series were the others).  The ARS 50-series tub with the built-in divider helped her feel safe.  Once safe, she fed.

#5:  The Speckled Ivory

Several years ago I sold an ivory ball python at a trade show.  A few weeks later I got a call asking for help getting the snake to eat.  We talked through many options and things to try.  Advice was given and husbandy specifics were relayed.  The owner insisted that his husbandry was excellent and that his collection was mite-free.  A few months went by with no positive results; the snake remained unwilling to eat.  The snake had been an excellent feeder while it was with me.  This is a frustrating situation for everyone involved.  Stress levels are high for the buyer because the snake won’t eat.  Tensions are equally high for me because I only sell healthy animals that are feeding well and it frustrates me when a snake does not immediately settle in to things at their new home.  Going against all of my operating guidelines I offered to temporarily take the snake back to see if I could get it to eat (Note: this experience cured me of ever doing this again).  The snake was brought to me at a trade show and it was immediately noticed that it had acquired mites while in the new owner’s collection (my collection was and is completely mite-free).  I resisted the desire to inquire how someone fails to notice little black bugs on a solid white snake.  The snake was treated for mites (in an off-site location) and was then brought to the quarantine area in my facility.  I set the snake up the same way it was set up when it was originally with me and two hours later it ate a rat.  I forwarded pictures and video to the owner.  In the remaining days that the snake was with me it continued to feed well.  Why?

#5 Why (The Ivory) – Put simply: husbandry.  Snake mites are the bane of any reptile keeper’s collection.  While some breeders consider them to be something that need only be managed I consider them something that simply must not exist in a collection at all.  Being infested with snake mites is almost certainly uncomfortable, especially if it is a new sensation.  Getting rid of snake mites, while not always the solution, is a must for your snake to have any real chance at behaving in a way you want.  Please don’t misunderstand me:  snakes that have mites can and do feed but it never surprises me to learn that a snake recently infested with mites has quit feeding.

The other reason why this snake didn’t feed could have been related to enclosure size and substrate.  After being shown that his snake had mites the new owner admitted he had acquired too many snakes too fast and failed to implement good husbandry techniques (including quarantine).  The frustrating part is that the owner insisted to me that his husbandry was excellent prior to bringing the snake back.  Stories such as this are a big reason why breeders are frequently unwilling to get involved once the snake is in the new owner’s hands.  I have never met a snake keeper who claimed to be a poor one; everybody I talk to testifies with passion as to the quality of their husbandry.  The truth is that, while I’m sure that you (wink) are an excellent keeper, many others are not.  It is impossible, especially when everybody trumpets their snake-keeping prowess, for a seller to truly know the conditions in which a snake is kept when it leaves their facility.  Jaded by a long history of inaccuracies some keepers have adopted a pretty hard-core stance with buyers.  The need to balance ‘service after the sale’ with not being taken advantage of by less than stellar keepers is something all breeders must manage.

#6: The Wild-Caught Import

Many years ago a friend of mine acquired a freshly imported ball python.  I was there when the crate arrived from Africa and helped him pick the snake from those available.  He took it home where it proceeded to not eat for an entire year.  After a year went by he sold the snake to me where it came to my facility and proceeded to not eat for another year.  After two full years without a meal (yes, 24 months without a meal) I was convinced the snake was going to die.  Nevertheless I continued to offer it rats.  And one day I placed a rat in its tub and returned to find it gone.  After searching my building for the rat I returned to the tub to notice that the snake’s belly was definitely filled with a rat.  The next day it ate another rat.  A week later it ate two more.  From that point on it was a solid feeder.  I have never had another snake go this long without feeding and my previous record was a mere 14 months for a wild-caught ball python.  If I had not personally witnessed that snake go two years without a meal I would be reluctant to believe it.  Freshly imported ball pythons are notoriously finicky feeders.  Why?

#6 Why (The Wild-Caught Import) – Wild-caught adult and sub-adult ball pythons are in a class of their own when it comes to feeding.  While exceptions can and do occur it is pretty much a foregone conclusion that you are going to have feeding challenges with freshly imported animals.  The reasons why they do not feed seem to be most commonly associated with food type.  Normal rats and mice are often not seen as food by the snake.  Many people feel this is scent-based.  Some keepers have success getting them to feed with African Soft-Furred mice (ASF’s) but these can be expensive to buy or difficult to find.  Even if they do take ASF’s the end goal for most is to get them switched over to ‘regular’ rats.  This can take some time.  In most cases it takes weeks or months but in extreme cases it can take a year or more.  If you don’t want to deal with animals that are statistically more likely to be difficult feeders, stay away from freshly imported adult/sub-adult animals.  Long-term captive animals are an exception to this.  Once a ball python has been assimilated and begins to feed regularly they are no different than a captive bred animal.

[bgarea]Note:  Freshly imported hatchlings are not typically problem feeders.  They are, however, more likely to have internal parasites than captive-bred specimens (especially if they have had water or food prior to export).[/bgarea]

#7: The Mouse-Feeding Spider

I have a breeder spider female that I raised from a hatchling.  She is about 7 years old as of today and, despite eating rats early in life, has been an unwavering mouse feeder her entire adult life.  Feeding mice to big females is a chore.  They need to eat them like peanut M&M’s in order to get the same nutritional volume they would get from a single medium rat.  For this reason, many ball python breeders avoid snakes that prefer mice.  Across the years I kept my spider in tubs of varying sizes (and from varying cage makers).  None of them seemed to have an impact on what she was willing to eat.  Every now and they I could trick her into taking a rat (using the technique mentioned at the beginning of this article) but for the most part she was solidly on mice.  About a year ago I moved her to a new enclosure; one that is different from any she has been in before.  Since then she has been a solid rat feeder!  Why?

#7 Why (The Spider)Safety.  I don’t normally associate food choice with cage size but this case showed me that stranger things can and do happen.  For this particular snake it seems that the size of a rat was a source of intimidation.  It didn’t feel as safe as it needed to in the larger enclosure and seemed to lack the necessary confidence to take anything larger than an adult mouse.  Because I never offered her big crawler rats (about the same size as an adult mouse) I can’t be 100% sure that this was the case but the snake’s willingness to take a rat once it was in a smaller enclosure with a hide indicates that it needed a confidence boost.  More than anything this situation emphasizes my ‘smaller is better’ mantra when discussing ball python enclosures.

#8: The Transcontinental Sterling

Several years ago I sold an adult male Sterling to a friend on the West Coast.  While with me the snake was a great feeder on live rats.  Several weeks later, during one of our regular phone conversations, I asked how the snake was doing.  My friend said it had still not taken a meal.  We talked about how it was set up and I recommended one change.  The snake ate a few minutes after the change was made.  Why?

#8 Why (The Transcontinental Sterling)Substrate.  This snake was kept on cypress mulch while with me and it ate consistently and well.  My friend set it up on sani-chip and it refused to eat.  Once the substrate was switched the snake ate.

#9: The Seasonal Spinner Blast

I used to have a male spinner blast that would eat very well from October through January.  In February it would stop feeding and would not take another meal until the following September/October. Why?

#9 Why (The Spinner Blast) – Every ball python is different.  This snake has been on the same feeding cycle for years.  When the breeding season begins males tend to get into breeding mode and they frequently don’t eat.  They only want to breed.  Some males eat during breeding season, some don’t.  This boy is an extreme example of one that doesn’t.  It serves as a harsh contrast to other animals that continue to eat well all year long, even when breeding.  I was always careful to closely monitor this guy during the breeding season.  I offered him food but he never took it and he lost weight as the season went along.  For the most part I always assure people that their snake will eventually eat but breeding males are a special exception to this statement.  With a ball python male, it is possible to ‘breed your snake to death’.  If you have a male ball python that won’t eat and loses a lot of weight during the season you many need to pull him out of the rotation earlier than you would otherwise like in order to keep him from losing too much body mass and passing a point from which he cannot return.

#10: The Lesser Black Pewter

One October I sold a 600-700 gram lesser black pewter with a voracious appetite to a customer out west.  A few weeks later he emailed asking what I was feeding the snake as it would not eat.  I asked him to send a picture of the enclosure along with a description of his feeding process.  The picture he sent back was the snake in an empty bathtub with what appeared to be a 200-250 gram rat.    While you could feed a Burmese python this way you stand little to no chance of meeting success when offering ball pythons food in such a manner.   Finally, after several months without a meal, he took the snake to a friends house to see if it would eat there.  It ate 20 minutes later.  Shown below is a picture of the snake, taken less than a week before I shipped it out.  Experienced ball python keepers will readily recognize her as a well fed animal.  Ball pythons do not look like this unless they are healthy and feeding very well.  So why did such an amazing animal stop feeding for so long?

Lesser Black Pewter Ball Python

#10 Why (The Lesser Black Pewter) - Enclosure size and food size.  Placing a ball python in an enclosure with as much open surface area as a bathtub is tantamount to setting them in the middle of an open field with large birds of prey circling above.  She will feel exposed, vulnerable and very uneasy.   Combine this with the fact that the rodent was way too big for her and you’ve got the perfect anti-rodent swallowing recipe.  I traded emails with my customer on many of the items listed above and he continued to report a feeding hiatus.  There was something in the environment that the snake did not like and whatever it was, it created a feeling of insecurity that prevented her from having the necessary confidence to feed.  I cannot say what it was but the fact that the snake ate only a few short minutes after being set up in a new environment is strong evidence in support of a subtle (snake-specific) husbandry issue.  This also illustrates a very difficult point of contention between seller and buyer.  Ethical breeders only sell snakes that are healthy and feeding well.  I don’t sell snake that are not feeding but that does not mean the snake will continue to feed the same way when it is in the hands of a new keeper (even an experienced one).  This is part of ball python keeping; it comes with the territory and is one of the risks inherent in the business.  Assuming that you can trust the seller’s word on the feeding behavior of the snake (which is supported by the physical appearance of the snake when it arrives) it is ultimately up to the buyer to figure out how to get the snake to feed.  The seller can offer advice and insight but little else.  And that is not always a point of consensus.

The Ball Python Definition of “Safe”

Ball pythons are crepuscular terrestrial animals.  In the wild they are often found hiding in animal burrows and termite mounds.  They like the safety and security of small spaces.  Accommodation selection in the wild provides us with valuable insight into how they prefer to live.  We are wise to pay attention.  If you have ever had a ball python get out of its enclosure you probably found it jammed into a tight little crevice somewhere in your house; it probably wasn’t lounging in the middle of the room.   Being crepescular  by nature ball pythons tend to avoid being out in the brightly-lit open whenever possible.  When set up in enclosures that are clear, translucent or simply too big they do not feel safe.  Humans and ball pythons do not share the same definition of safe.  Ball pythons typically feel safe in small quarters …very small quarters.  A person, unaware of the conditions in which a ball python will thrive, might look at such accommodations as mean or inhuman when, in reality, they are perfect for the snake.  Webster’s dictionary defines inhuman as “not human in nature or character” and that is exactly what ball pythons need: to not be treated as human.  Humane? Yes.  Human? No. Why does a ball python that gets loose in the house find a dark, cramped place to hide?  Why do ball pythons in the wild jam themselves into deep recesses in a termite mound?  Simple.  They like it.  They feel safe.  And the only way a ball python is going to eat is if it feels safe.  This means that most people are keeping their snakes in enclosures that are completely wrong for the snake.  As a result, the snake feels vulnerable and afraid.  The lack of facial expression or other mechanisms of communication make this fear very difficult to convey.  You have to look for the other signs (like not feeding).  Because the act of constricting and swallowing prey is a very vulnerable thing for a snake to do they must feel that they are safe in order to do it.  If they don’t, they aren’t going to eat.  Unfortunately, snakes have no physical capacity to show us they are uncomfortable.  A balled up snake that is afraid looks like every other balled up snake.  No panting, sweating or relentless back and forth glances are ever going to come from your ball python.  If it’s afraid, it will just sit there and be afraid; and it certainly won’t eat.

The 1,000-gram Wall

The dreaded “1,000 Gram Wall” is the bane of a ball pythons breeder’s existence.  By far the most notorious time for a hunger strike to hit is when a ball python is in the 1,000 gram range.  It is particularly annoying with female ball pythons because most breeders will give serious consideration to trying to breed females in the 1,300-1,500 gram range and a strong feeding ball python can put on the remaining 300-500 grams of weight in a few short months.  Your snake may be ravenous from day one, racing up to near-breeder size in a year.  You begin to excitedly contemplate what you are going to pair her with only to find that she shuts down for several months somewhere near the 1 kilo mark.  The stoppage in feeding, which you are unable to overcome, causes her to miss the season, setting your pairings and your profits back by a full year.  It is a story told a thousand times each season and it is painful to endure.  Since you only have one shot per year to gets eggs from your girl it is very frustrating to have everything seemingly on track and get derailed at the last minute by a hunger strike.

I do not have a magical formula for dealing with the 1,000-gram wall.  I, like most keepers, suffer it rather than overcome it.  I keep trying different things but the only real fix I have for the Wall is patience.  I have been doing this long enough to know that if I have the environment right they will eventually start to feed again.  I just need to keep offering food.  Patience plus persistence are my best bets when dealing with the Wall.

To summarize, let’s run through the list of reasons why ball pythons don’t eat the way we want them to:

      • Wrong type of food (rodent size) – Every ball python has its limits on how big (or small) a prey item can be.  Big adult females, for instance, will often kill jumbo rats but they won’t swallow them.  They do much better with medium rats.  They “size” them up quickly and decide whether or not they can take them.  And some are more confident than others.  Trial and error will teach you what size prey your snake will accept.
      • Wrong type of food (live vs. frozen/thawed) – Ball pythons that are fed live food (like all of mine)  do well with live food (duh!).  How long it will take them to switch to frozen/thawed is highly random.  Some switch right away, some may take months.  I always tell people the same thing:  keep offering f/t but be prepared to offer an occasional live rodent during the process.  If you are patient, they will almost always switch.  But how long that will take is a question I cannot answer.
      • The enclosure is too big. – This is a central theme of this article.  Large enclosures are bad for ball pythons.  Yes, there are plenty of ball pythons that feed fine in large glass enclosures.  But I consider them to be well-integrated exceptions to the natural behavior of a ball python.  This article is not directed toward the hyper-confident ball python that feels safe in a large glass terrarium.
      • The enclosure size just changed (usually because it just got bigger).
      • The location on the rack just changed. (assuming you use rack systems)  – It may sound odd but moving a snake to a different side of the room or a different location on the rack can sometimes kickstart their feeding.  I suspect there is something I cannot detect in the snake’s perception of that particular location that causes them to feel unsafe.  It could be the way the light comes into the tub, the shadows that are cast when I walk by or some other factor beyond my ken.  By trying others ares in the room/facility you may be surprised to find a positive result.
      • The substrate is wrong/different. – I’m a big fan of pure cypress mulch and cannot say enough about its awesomeness as a substrate for ball pythons.  One side, note though:  I do not breed on cypress mulch.  I breed on unprinted newspaper.  This is done to create the best-case scenario for male hemipene health.  My rate of hemipene infection dropped pretty much to zero when I stopped breeding on a natural substrate (cypress mulch, aspen, etc.)
      • The snake doesn’t feel safe.
      • It’s breeding season.
      • The snake’s age/size.  – See my discussion on the “1,000-gram Wall” earlier in the article.

Other factors that can affect a ball python’s appetite:

      • Weather.  There is almost certainly a linkage between barometric pressure and ball python feeding and breeding activity.  Experience keepers tend to agree that feeding (or breeding) when a storm is approaching is a recipe for sucess.  I do not profess to know the mechanics of it but I have witnessed the results year after year.  Insomuch as I can tell it is not based on superstition; it is a tangible reality that snakes are more aggressive feeders when a storm is approaching.  If it’s storming, I’m feeding.  Or, if it’s breeding season, I’m pairing when the storm is approaching.
      • Time of year.  Ball pythons don’t tend to feed as aggressively during breeding season.  This is far from a safe statement, though.  Some of my animals (male or female) feed just as well during the breeding season.  But, as an example, the last time I offered my breeder males food (during the breeding season) only one ate.
      • Freshness of bedding. – I have found that ball pythons often don’t feed well when their bedding is ‘old’.  Some snakes are great feeders in fresh bedding but are reluctant to feed as their bedding ages.  Justin Kobylka wrote an article a few months ago on ball python feeding in which he suggests that feeding behavior can be linked to urates/feces in the tub.  Justin believes that remnants of the snakes own waste can cause a feeding hiatus.  My observations about the freshness of bedding may be in support of this because I often change both the tub and the bedding at the same time and experience better than normal feeding in the period of time that the bedding is ‘extra fresh’.  You can and should read Justin’s article by clicking here.

More unfortunate truth:  Correlation does not imply causation

The statement, “correlation does not imply causation” is often used in science.  It means that the observance of two variables does not necessarily mean that one caused the other.  For example:

      • Variable 1:  Snake stops feeding
      • Variable 2: The enclosure size changed

When variable #2 was changed we witnessed variable #1.  But was it really variable #2 that caused variable #1 to be true?  Or, was there another variable that went unnoticed that contributed to variable #1?  Or was it a combination of variable #2 and the unnoticed variable #3?  The possibility (and probably reality) that no one thing causes a ball python to start/stop feeding means that the question remains open to further study.  I do not have the answers.  What I do have is years and years of casual observation under my belt that lead me to believe that my assertions are credible.  But I concede that they are still open to further observation and learning.  Justin’s hypothesis about a snake’s own waste playing a role in feeding is an excellent example of the need to apply continuous analysis to the feeding behavior of ball pythons.  I have long believed that fresh bedding was the factor that lead to improved feeding response.  But now I’m open to the possibility that the freshness of the bedding may be either incidental or secondary to the lack of scent of the animals own waste.  I’m not convinced, mind you.  Ball pythons eat all the time with waste in the tub.  I never considered it as a possibility, meaning I never considered it as a variable.  I’m not sure if it is right or wrong but I respect Justin’s observation and will  look for ways to explore their validity.

Cheers,

Colin Weaver

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Else the Vector is Zero http://ballpythonbreeder.com/2013/12/else-the-vector-is-zero/ http://ballpythonbreeder.com/2013/12/else-the-vector-is-zero/#comments Mon, 09 Dec 2013 17:55:29 +0000 http://ballpythonbreeder.com/?p=10225 The ball python business, like all businesses, is evolving. I have seen a lot of changes and, through them all, I have endeavored to remain optimistic. That optimism has proved legitimate as the industry continues to be very good to me. Despite my love of the hobby (business) I’m not wearing rose-colored glasses; I regularly contemplate the negative aspects of being a reptile breeder and attempt to make sure I am doing what I can to mitigate them.

On a seemingly different note, the evolution of computer-related technology and, specifically, the Internet is even more fascinating and fun to watch. It’s growth is largely impossible to calculate and the ever-increasing ways in which we leverage the Internet to make our lives different/better/more simple/more complicated/less|more social is worthy fodder for many a master’s thesis. The evolving reptile business, which has been around a lot longer than the Internet, is one of many industries that has both benefitted and suffered from the ever-evolving Internet.

The Internet makes everything happen in fast-forward. The pace of change and the speed with which ideas spread can leave you reeling. Because the reptile business plays out largely on the Internet it also moves with the same breakneck speed. The moment an animal emerges from an egg it can be seen by tens of thousands of people. A smartphone combined with Instagram, Twitter and Facebook is all you need. Salt that with a quick post on the Pictures section of the relevant reptile-related Internet forums and your snake is viewed by most of the reptile world by morning. That is an amazing accomplishment that would be impossible in a world sans Internet. But the Internet is a two-edged sword. It helps us and hurts us simultaneously. The stupidity and silliness that permeates our hobby spreads equally well via TCP/IP.

There are many things that have a detrimental effect on the reptile business. In this article I would like to explore some of them and focus on one in particular. We have plenty of challenges but there is one in particular that is the most nefarious. It is not blatantly evil, mind you. It is its insidiousness that makes it so bad. It has always been there but is increasingly eating away at the economic viability of the business. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before going there let’s back up a bit, look back, and see how we got where we are today.

Back when I first got into reptiles the only thing we had was a few books and a small handful of availability lists sent out by reptile importers/distributors. The number of breeders was fairly small and the number of species being bred was smaller still. Back in those days ‘keepers’ pretty much kept; keepers didn’t breed. We didn’t have the Internet in any reptile-usable form. And for those of you who have grown up in a world where the Internet has always existed that means we did not have email, web sites, Internet forums, chat rooms, Internet classifieds, SMS/text-messaging, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Google, JPEG’s, PNG’s, mobile phones of any kind including smartphones, camera phones, camcorders smaller than a Dachshund, tablet computers, wireless networks, bluetooth, Google Maps, and GPS (that was affordable). All of the things that are regular, normal and an omnipresent part of today-life simply did not exist in any form most of us would recognize 15-20 years ago. Purveying your reptile inventory to a pool of buyers was not simple to do. It was, in fact, quite difficult. If someone wanted a picture of a snake you took them with a camera loaded with film, not an SD card. You took the film to the photomat to be developed, not to your computer to be imported. You put the pictures in an envelope and dropped it in the mailbox rather than attaching them to an email and clicking send. The process took a week or more if you were on the ball (pun intended). That’s a far cry from the world of today where I can be on the phone with you, take a picture of a snake and text it to you while we continue to talk. We should all take a moment to appreciate what is now available to us.

Way back in 1990 I was a college student at Virginia Tech. While there my good friend Ian Gniazdowski (some of you may know him) and I used to sell reptiles to students on campus. How did we do it? Late at night or in-between classes we would walk the campus and staple paper fliers with little hand-cut pull tabs at the bottom to real cork bulletin boards that were, at the time, all over the place in the buildings. Do you know how today, when you post a new ad on your favorite Internet classified site it quickly gets buried by newer ads? Well, back when Ian and I were doing this, our ads got buried, too. Paper ad stapled over paper ad stapled over paper ad. We wallpapered the hallways of campus buildings with our ads for candoia aspera, basilicus plumifrons, p. molurus bivittatus and a dizzying array of lampropeltis. You couldn’t bump your ad to bring it back to the top; you had to re-wallpaper the cork bulletin board with freshly photocopied fliers. Looking for that flyer with info about the band playing at the Sigma Nu keg party on Friday night? Sorry, that flyer was covered up with ads for reptiles! We plastered the campus over and over, covering cover band’s flyers with our own. We stapled them to trees, taped them to windows, and slid them under doors, anything and everything we could to get the word out. People called. Transactions were conducted. Money was made. It was entrepreneurial genesis admittedly limited by the transmission media of the time.

And then, in the latter part of the 1990′s, I remember being at a trade show (Mid-Atlantic Reptile Show if my memory is accurate) and seeing a small table set up with an outfit called Kingsnake.com. They weren’t selling any animals, they just appeared to be trying to get people to sign up for or enroll in their new web site. The Internet, which I was very aware of by that time (personally and professionally), was getting its footing in a big way and it appeared that someone was trying to do something with snakes and the Internet. Unfortunately, I didn’t think much of it at the time. Classified newspaper ads, hometown ‘trading post’ publications, word-of-mouth and the few reptile trade shows that happened each year were the way to sell snakes. At that time, so few people were using the Internet for commerce it didn’t really register to me that it would become the way to sell snakes in the future. I don’t know if Kingsnake.com was the first shop to really take reptiles to the Internet but I was there and can say that they were definitely one of the first. Kudos to them for their vision. This was not less than a year before Google opened its doors, Facebook was almost a decade away and there was a fledgling little company called eBay that had only been around for a little while. My how times have changed, huh?

In the years that followed, the Internet market for reptiles really took shape. And in the on-line world that shape was in the form of the Internet classified. Some people set up web sites but, across the board, they were generally terrible. Not only were they sad from a design perspective but they were also not maintained with any consistency (a problem that persists today). But for all of their inadequacies these sites were laying the foundation for the Internet as a tool for reptile commerce. By the very late 1990′s and into the early 2000′s personal email had become very commonplace. The dot-com bubble was about to burst but even in its wake the Internet remained for snake sellers to post pictures on-line or email them to each other. The Internet, as a tool for reptile sales, was growing.

Not too long after the dot-com bubble burst the prices of homes began to skyrocket. Many people found themselves suddenly equity rich and were lured by the opportunity to borrow against that (false) equity. If you happened to be a homeowner and a reptile fan the ball python business was waiting, arms open, for you to come in. Fortunately for the ball python business home prices were ballooning at the same time the python business was booming. It was a time of great speculation and ridiculous sums of money were spent on animals. Names synonymous with ball pythons and reptiles earned permanent positions in the reptile-geek vernacular: McCurley, Barczyk, Ian G. (because nobody knew how to pronounce his last name), Bob Clark, Pete Kahl and Ralph Davis, to name a few. Guys like that led the way in the ball python business. They were pioneers of the designer morph craze; speculators in a highly profitable, niche market that has since become a pretty big industry. The influx of cash into the business was impressive. That money, huge portions of which were the extracted equity of people’s homes, helped to finance the acquisition and subsequent proving of many new genetic mutations. Had that money not been spent we would not have the ball python business as we know it today. That money, whether it ultimately helped your or hurt you, did double-duty as both financier and lure. When the money from the days of soaring home values was no longer available it did not immediately prove problematic for the industry; catalyzed and perpetuated by such a large influx of cash there was still a lot of money trading hands. But that is changing. The amount of money changing hands has decreased in recent years. But it’s not because of a lack of money. Something else, as I will explain later, has happened.

Now let’s jump forward a few more years. Rather than being occasional occurrences that people looked forward to and saved money for, trade shows had become almost weekly events. The insatiable desire for reptiles, ball pythons in particular, had caused trades shows to pop up everywhere. Combined with the Internet, reptile sellers now had and oft-repeating ability to sell direct to people who drove endless hours to view their offerings in person. And that same inventory of animals on display at the trade show was simultaneously available to the entire country (or world) via their website and Internet classifieds.

Because shows have become so commonplace there is no longer any excitement leading up to them. Trade shows, in earlier days, were huge events. People planned and saved for them and buying at the shows could be frenetic as a result. But the frequency of shows is rivaled only by the availability of animals. The number of breeders has grown along with the number of shows. The buying pool has grown but the never-ending number of shows has dulled their show-enthusiasm and diluted their trade show dollars. For show vendors this has become increasingly problematic. Trade shows have become hit-or-miss events. Some shows are great and others are not. Being impossible to tell which will be which, vendors continue to support them all in fear of missing the one that will be profitable. After all, vendors are unable to identify when those select few people will come in and spend a few thousand dollars on a single animal. Skip a show, miss the sale. It’s an underlying fear that consistently lures vendors onto the nation’s highways going from show to show.

The excessive number of trades shows, now commonplace, will never be broken by show promoters. They make money independent of the vendor.  Only vendors, through their selective support can control the number of shows. That will was not there years ago and it is still not there today. We need a few really good shows, not dozens upon dozens of mediocre ones. The frequency of shows is not helping the reptile business. It is hurting it. Badly. The expense of being a vendor at a show is independent of the profits made at a show. Put another way; the cost of vending at a show is the same no matter how much you make in sales. Vending at an ever-increasing number of shows increases expenses. And because there are so many shows dulling enthusiasm and diluting spendable dollars, the profit margins are getting smaller. As of today, trade shows are usually profitable but their frequency and the resulting lack of enthusiastic spending is taking its toll. This is not new information, though. I wrote about this same issue a few years ago. Click here if you’d like to read about it.

Now let me shift gears and explore one of the supposedly newer phenomena of the reptile trade: Internet reptile auctions.  They are not new. The social networking reptile auction, however, is. Social networking combined with reptile auctions is still wet behind the ears compared to Internet classifieds, etc. It’s simple: snakes sold to the highest bidder.   Auctions always have been a great way to get a good deal. It doesn’t matter if you’re buying antique furniture, a lawnmower, a house or a snake. But retailers, as a general rule, don’t like auctions. Products comparable to the one’s they have for sale tend to go for less money at auction. If an expensive snake sells for two-thirds of its retail price at a local auction it doesn’t have much of a downward pull on the retail price of the animal; the auction price was only seen by a handful of people. But when the auction plays out on a social media site it can be seen by thousands upon thousands of people. And the price they see plants a seed that the morph is only worth that much (regardless of the quality of the specimen). That’s a totally different phenomenon and it makes the social media snake auction a legitimate threat to pricing structures in this business.

Another big downside to auctions, this time for the buyer, is that you have to bid on what is being auctioned, not necessarily on what you are looking for. It’s serendipity if the two happen to coincide but more often than not bidding requires you to be an opportunist that benefits from whatever comes up on the block. Plenty of people who buy animals at auction would not have purchased that animal had they not been able to get it at such a great price. If asked, they would say, “I didn’t really need it …but I can use it.” It’s a bit aimless on their part but what heck; it’s cheap, right?

The underlying motivation of an auction is that the seller wants the items (animals) to move more than his desire to maximize profit. Lower your profit margin, move more product. This is a business model that exists in many walks of life. Despite the timelessness of auctions I regularly hear reptile breeders bemoan the Internet snake auction as a death knell of the ball python business. While I do concede that this new form of auction is putting downward pressure on ball python prices they are not any less damaging than the complete lack of business acumen demonstrated by the average ball python breeder. No, I’m not writing about you, of course.  I’m writing about the other guy (wink).  The whimsy and stupidity applied to determining how much to sell their ball pythons for are nothing new to the industry.  Countless debates have been had on this topic and nothing has changed.  The most eloquent forum rant is not equal to a course in economics, even if the students were capable of processing the lesson.  There is a faction out there that attempts to end the argument by saying supply and demand is the ultimate determiner of price.  From a large scale perspective I don’t doubt this to be true.  But supply and demand controls ball python prices far less than general stupidity does.  Cash equals success to the average snake seller, sublimely oblivious to the time, money and effort they have put into producing that animal. And in most cases there is little to no attention paid to preserving the longevity of the business. Selling ‘product’ now in order to finance whatever today’s financial crisis happens to be (beer money, a bag of weed, car repairs, and other usual suspects) represents the full capacity and scope of their vision as business people. This is the part where someone clicks on the comment button and proceeds to flame me, educating me on the fact that a snake is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it. Let me go ahead and put that bromide to bed and tell you that a snake is only worth the least upper and greatest lower amount that buyer and seller can agree on, respectively. Buyers have a 50% say-so in the prices of animals, nothing more. I have been on many a tirade on this particular topic so I shall resist further digression on this angle. Please peruse my older articles for more.

These auctions should eventually reach a harmony with the reality of the business. Ball pythons, with their impossibly small clutches, can only be sold for so little before it becomes cost prohibitive to produce them. Long before we get anywhere close to that number breeders will be exiting the industry in large numbers. This exodus will make animals more difficult to come by which will have a stabilizing effect on prices. What remains to be determined is whether or not the market’s margins remain enticing enough for people to bother with all the associated headaches of reptile husbandry.

Historically, ball python enthusiasts are not afraid to spend money on new animals. We all have different financial tolerances but spending a few thousand dollars on a single animal is not a big stretch for someone bitten hard by the ball python bug. Combine this with the fact that ball python breeders are also a financially incestuous lot (i.e. we spend a lot of money with each other) and you have a recipe for legitimate wealth distribution. Let me explain using a snake show as an example:

When a vendor at a show has four different customers buy animals that total $10,000 a few very important things happen:

  1. The vendor has had a good show (only a tiny few vendors would consider this a poor showing).
  2. Using some of the money earned at the show, the vendor is likely to buy something from one of the other vendors. Of the $10k he made he might spend $6k with other vendors on new animals for his collection.
  3. The vendor-to-vendor transactions means a second, third or fourth vendor has also had a good show.
  4. Those vendors may take some of that cash and spend it with other vendors.

The most important thing to note here is that there was an influx of cash into the trade that created multiple sales with multiple different breeders. This creates a situation where multiple breeders will say, “it was a good show”.  Attitudes on the state of the industry are positive because the quality of your bank account and your collection are growing.  Breeders add animals to their collection and still have money left over to pay for some of their reptile-related expenses: rodents, electricity, new caging, table fees, Internet hosting fees, etc. Please note a very simple yet important item in the chronology: it all began with someone spending money on a new reptile.

So what is the biggest evil hurting the ball python business? Is it the increased number of breeders and the competition they bring? How about the massive rise in trade show frequency? Is that our biggest problem? Or maybe it’s the Internet auction; could that be it? How about the lack of business acumen demonstrated by the average reptile breeder? That has to be it, right? So which is it? While I acknowledge that they all take a toll I have come to believe that the single biggest problem with the ball python business (and quite possibly the reptile business as a whole) is something that has been part of the trade from day one.  It’s a normal, natural part of many businesses but I have watched it grow into something so frequent that it has replaced the normal processes of business and, if it continues on it’s current tack, will force all but the smallest of hobbyists out of the business. What is it that could be so problematic? Two words: snake trade.

The snake trade has become the single most devastating feature of our industry. I know, I know: snake trades are a long-standing and integral part of the business and people have been trading snakes since the reptile industry began.  I don’t deny the value of an occasional trade.  I do them from time to time.  But from a financial perspective a snake trade has, at best, a vector of zero.  When a trade is completed your collection has probably not changed (much) in size.  Your expenses have not decreased and you now are in another project that will create additional parity between you and your competitors.  Because your collection is growing it requires more resources to sustain it.  And the biggest of those expenses is your rodent bill.  Whether you buy your rodents or produce your own there is a lot of overhead involved.  Trading for snakes does not pay your rodent bill and it does nothing to profit your business in the short term.  How long do you think you can survive if all you do is trade for more and more animals?  Your business (and this industry) cannot survive without continuous infusions of cash.  And every time you agree to a trade you are taking money out of two different pockets, yours being the most important.  And because, for many people, trading has replaced buying as the primary mechanism of animal acquisition, the industry is becoming increasingly financially anemic.

Using last weekend as a typical example I witnessed two events in support of this:

While sitting at my kitchen table discussing the industry a friend of mine said, “I’m going to spend any money I make on new racks.  I can trade for all the animals I need.”  I immediately dug into him, explaining what I have written above.  He nodded, conceding the point.  I thought he might be cured but at a trade show the next day I heard him say the exact same thing to someone else.  Overnight the importance of spending money in the business oozed from his ears and put him right back into his “I can trade for that” mentality.

About an hour later another friend was admiring an animal on my table and said something to the effect of, ““I really want that <insert name of awesome morph here>. Come take a look at my table and see if I have anything you want to trade for it.”

I get it, though.  Why spend money when you can spend snakes?  I’m not saying that we shouldn’t do trades.  Again, I do them from time to time.  I’m saying we shouldn’t do as many trades as we do.  But let me be a little more specific.  We should not trade snakes for snakes as much as we do.  If you want to trade snakes for new tires on your car, go for it.  If you want to trade snake for rodents, rock on.  Got a landlord who will take snakes as a rent payment?  Woohoo!  In all of those situations you are turning a snake into a thing it was meant to become in the long run; something that perpetuates and sustains your existence.  I support that subtle distinction.  But trading snakes for snakes is the zero vector that drove the title of this article.  It’s a circular reference that leads to a downward spiral that ultimately leads to a business/hobby that cannot support itself.

Snake-for-snake trades do not support the industry; money does.  And it’s only when money is spent on snakes that people will have money to spend on snakes.  And electricity.  And rodents.  And plastic tubs.  And water bowls.  And …everything else.

Cheers,

Colin Weaver

 

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The Conundrum of Laissez-Faire Herpetoculture http://ballpythonbreeder.com/2012/07/the-conundrum-of-laissez-faire-herpetoculture/ http://ballpythonbreeder.com/2012/07/the-conundrum-of-laissez-faire-herpetoculture/#comments Wed, 18 Jul 2012 19:12:06 +0000 http://ballpythonbreeder.com/?p=4561 Conundrum of Laissez-Faire HerpetocultureLater this year someone is going to break into your house while you are sleeping. They are there to take things that do not belong to them; things you worked for, things you earned. Awakened by the noise they are making you confront them and are stunned to find that the thief is someone you had thought to be a friend. You toss him a loaded gun and scream, “Please don’t shoot me!” A few minutes later, as you lie bleeding on the floor, your precious possessions gone, you cry out, “I was always so nice to him. I can’t believe he shot me.” For reasons unknown it never computes that you put the gun in the thief’s hand. It was you that armed him with the weapon he used to wound you.  Who did you vote for in the last congressional election?  How about the last presidential election?  Who will you vote for in November?  More to the point: why did you vote for them? I can venture a few guesses. They include:

  • You always vote [Democrat | Republican | Independent].  The candidate doesn’t matter.
  • You vote for whoever is [Pro-Choice | Pro-Life].
  • You vote for whoever is [for | against] amnesty for illegal aliens.
  • You vote for whoever is [black | white | hispanic | asian].
  • You vote for whoever is [male | female].
  • You vote for whoever is [for | against] gun control.
  • You vote for whoever is [for | against] stronger environmental controls.
  • You vote for whoever is [for | against] unions.

I’m willing to bet that many people who read this voted the way they did because of their candidates position on as few as just one of these items/issues.  Some issues are so important to us that they act as blinders to everything else going on around us.  The pro-life/pro-choice debate is as good an example as any.  I know many women who want to know one and only one thing when deciding for whom to vote:  who is the pro-choice candidate.  Done.  Vote cast.  This is not a blanket statement, of course.  I know several women who vote for pro-life candidates, too.  What is important to understand is that the system in the United States is effectively a 2-party system; republican and democrat.  We can pretty safely categorize the republican and democratic tickets by the answers to all of the ‘for|against’ questions listed above.  But in the United States we do not vote on issues, we vote for candidates.  And in our current culture the elected candidates almost always vote along party lines.  This means that a vote for the pro-choice candidate is also a vote for the candidate who supports a larger, more powerful government, more entitlement programs, less individual accountability, amnesty for illegals, stronger gun control, more environmental regulations and stronger unions.  A decision made to only support the pro-life candidate is a vote for smaller government, more personal accountability, no amnesty for illegals, less gun control, fewer environmental regulations and no unions.  How do you feel about those other issues?  Did your vote for one issue just help to elect someone who does not reflect your position on the others?  Oops.

If you know how your candidate will vote when it comes to abortion, amnesty, gun control or unions ask yourself one more question:  will he or she vote for or against more controls (or bans) on the ownership of reptiles?  And is that position important enough to you to change the way you vote?  That’s a tough one, isn’t it?  If you are a snake breeder/keeper that feels that unions are a good thing and vote for the pro-union candidate you should only do so with full knowledge that you also just voted away your right to keep reptiles.  In our current culture of party-line voting you can’t have one without the other.  The decision to cast your vote based on a single issue may mean that you end up supporting things you didn’t intend.  It’s sad.  But that makes it no less true.

So here we have our conundrum.  “Leave us alone” we all shout.  The reptile community does not need regulation.  We don’t need the federal government telling us what kind of pets we can keep and we are sick of the continuous assault on the rights of responsible keepers.    But then about half of us vote for a candidate that is going to support that exact end result.  It’s a lot like giving a gun to the person who just broke into your home.  You let them in, you gave them the weapon and you are still wondering why they used it to hurt you.  Please wake up.

So let me cut to the chase and alienate about half of my readers:  When you vote for a Democrat there is an incredibly strong chance that you simultaneously vote to put an end to reptile ownership in the United States.  If you don’t believe me ask Congressman Bobby Scott (D), Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D), Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schulz (D) or Congressman Thomas Rooney (D).  Animal extremism (which includes fear-based bans on exotic animals) is mostly a party-line issue.  No, it’s not 100%, but it is heavily skewed toward Democrat support.  The fact is that if you voted for Barack Obama in 2008 you supported the creation of the perfect storm that led to the amendment of the Lacey Act in 2012 and if you vote for him again in November 2012 you need to do so knowing that you are supporting four more years of ever-increasing loss of reptile owner rights.  Barack Obama appointed Ken Salazar as the head of the Department of the Interior and it was Salazar that made the Lacey Act amendment happen.  Don’t be naive and think that Salazar did that without Obama’s blessing.  If re-elected I can assure you that Obama and Salazar are not done adding snakes to the Lacey Act and the HSUS is not done trying to use Congress to pass laws that strip you of your rights.  For whatever reason Democrats tend to support the objectives and aims of animal extremist organizations like the Humane Society of the United States.  If you don’t believe this please research which side of the aisle receives the bulk of campaign contributions from the HSUS.  The HSUS doesn’t support candidates that won’t support their agenda.

The decision to vote for a democrat is yours to make, of course.  But if you do please do me a favor:  be quiet about reptile-keeper’s rights.  Stop lamenting the increase in government control over pet ownership.  You condoned it at the ballot box.  Please stop supporting the fight for reptile keeper’s rights.  Do not contribute your money, your words or your time to the cause.  Please do not  give money to USARK, PIJAC or any other organization that claims to support the rights of exotic animal owners.  You are wasting either your money or your vote with your dichotomous actions.  If you vote democrat, please send your money to the HSUS or to Defenders of Wildlife instead.  You are supporting them with your vote so please have the courage of your convictions and support them with your dollars.  And yes, I am being sarcastic when I suggest making a financial contribution to the HSUS.  Every reptile keeper should have both a negative visceral and intellectual reaction at the suggestion to give them a single dollar.  So I can only wonder why the same reaction is not felt when you check the box to elect the candidate who is going support taking your snakes away from you.

Regards,

Colin Weaver

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Nobody Likes You Because You’re a Dragon http://ballpythonbreeder.com/2012/05/nobody-likes-you-because-youre-a-dragon/ http://ballpythonbreeder.com/2012/05/nobody-likes-you-because-youre-a-dragon/#comments Thu, 31 May 2012 06:52:01 +0000 http://ballpythonbreeder.com/?p=3971 Nobody Likes You Because Your'e a DragonI recently read my daughter a bedtime story (for the 987th time) which centered on a young dragon taken in by Princess Aurora (of Sleeping Beauty fame).  Starting with her husband, Prince Phillip, and continuing with each encounter with the story’s other characters Aurora is met with storybook disdain for her new pet.  The universal reason:  dragons are dangerous.  The dragon, in an effort to fit in, tries to emulate other animals who do not suffer the same unearned contempt.  But dragons are what dragons are and each attempt to be something he is not leads to moments of chaos involving, as you might guess, fire.  It’s not until the end of the story that the dragon comes to terms with what he is and finds a place in the life of the story.
None of the characters in the story offered anecdotal evidence as to why dragons are dangerous; they just knew them to be so.  Lacking direct negative personal experiences with dragons their seemingly innate knowledge must have come from somewhere.  But where? I can only conjure one place:  it was learned.  This learning was not from direct experience, it came from others.  It is second-hand knowledge from somebody else’s second-hand knowledge.  It’s exponential hearsay.  Hearsay isn’t sufficient to garner a conviction in a courtroom but it is happily accepted by people as gospel in many other situations.  So why is it that dragons are always hated in fairy tales?  Well, because somebody said they were dangerous and worthy of hate, that’s why.  Now I have never encountered a dragon in real life.  Despite this I know them to be dangerous.  How?  From a very young age every story I read and every person who shared told me so.  But the people who assured me of their viciousness and ferocity had never met a dragon either.  So how did they know they were dangerous?  Someone else told them, of course.  And I’m thinking it’s a safe bet that those people had also never met a dragon. 
Now, to be fair, I will admit that dragons do have two characteristics that help them earn their reputation:

  1. They look mean.  And to borrow from Eddie Murph in Raw, “[a dragon] don’t look like, you know, like he can’t fight. He looks like he can whip some ass, right?”  But looking mean doesn’t make someone mean, does it?  Like Jessica Rabbit said, they are “just drawn that way”.
  2. When provoked they actually can wreck stuff.  Having just typed that I wonder if that is really true.  All the wrecking I have seen done by dragons has been done in stories conjured by people who were brought up with the same misinformation that was spread across my impressionable grey matter.

I have witnessed this form of false knowledge exchange first-hand.  When I was young I was terrified of snakes because my parents, who, in my youth, were sources of unwavering truth, told me they were bad and dangerous.  An oft heard quote from my father while growing up was, “The only good snake is a dead snake.”  Unfortunately, there were a handful of times that snakes died because we happened to cross their path.  The memories of those events, which were celebrations at the time, are sad in hindsight.  Had it not been for a few select events during my college years I would still hold an angry fear of reptiles.  Through no intentional effort I was able to break the cycle of fear and see reptiles for what they really are.  The irony of my being a snake breeder having come from a seemingly long line of snake haters is not lost on me or my parents.  My parents, I’m glad to report, have been reformed.  They aren’t snake fans by any stretch but in recent years my father has coaxed a snake or two around his house into a bucket and let them go in the woods a few miles away.

Now let’s consider a recent poll from foxnews.com where the the question was asked, “Should people be allowed to keep exotic animals as house pets?”  As I type the 25,000 or so respondents are split with 45% saying “no” and 44% saying “yes”.  The missing percentage points are people who are otherwise undecided.  I’m a yes-voter, of course, so I am left to wonder why almost half of the respondents said no.  I’m going to wager that the answer can be distilled down to one word:  fear.  Fear, unfortunately, is a very powerful thing.

  • Fear is an emotion the inhibits rational thought.
  • Fear is a weapon used to manipulate the opinions of others.
  • Fear is a barrier to the expansion of knowledge.
  • Fear is a motivator that leads to aggression.

People in a state of fear are not open to logical discourse.  I know a woman who is so fearful of snakes that even seeing a snake on TV or snake jewelry causes her to become panicked.  How can I ever hope to have a rational discussion about keeping reptiles as pets with a person like that?  In short, I cannot.

Ours is a culture that has long let fear be the impetus for casting derision on snakes.  From Adam and Eve’s temptation in the Garden of Eden to Samuel L. Jackson battling it out with Snakes on a Plane snakes have been cast as the sinister enemy that is actively, thoughtfully and intelligently scheming toward your demise.  The fact that someone would want to keep such a malevolent creature as a house pet is, well, unthinkable.  When we look at it that way the fact that only half of the people say that snakes (exotics) shouldn’t be kept as pets is a pretty low number.  As skewed as our culture is toward snakes that number should probably be a good bit higher.

And so here we are, trying to be left alone to keep the animals we choose as pets in the midst of a culture that believes them to be dangerous.  Fear is the fuse and government control is the dynamite.  Animal rights groups (e.g. HSUS) are both the match and accelerant, constantly scheming to ‘start something’ and make it happen quickly.  Dragons!  Dragons!  Run for your life!  Dragons!  They are going to eat your children, kill all of the native wildlife and disrupt the continent’s ecosystem.  They are going to lower your home value, eat your dog and wait in your toilet to bite you at night.  Crazy keepers are going to let them go and marauding groups of snakes will be cruising your neighborhood stealing cars, knocking over mailboxes and spray painting graffiti on fences and bridge overpasses.  And heaven help us all if a snake gets loose on a plane…

Dragons, they are!  Or as close to the real thing as exists.  They are dangerous and dangerous things should not be kept as house pets.  That was the exact message being sent to Princess Aurora in my daughter’s story.  The most vicious barrage from a corn snake or a ball python isn’t going to cost me more than a few drops of blood so I know that snakes are not dragons.    A larger or more aggressive species can do a little bit more damage and are worthy of some additional respect to be sure but anybody who has ever kept snakes (even big ones) knows that I am way out of line to accuse snakes to be in the same danger category as dragons.  But there I go again; accusing dragons of being dangerous despite having never met one…

My own fear of snakes didn’t go away until two things happened.  First, I was removed from the source of information that reinforced that snakes were dangerous (e.g. I left my parents house and went to college) and found myself in an environment where people felt just the opposite.  Second, I mustered the courage to not only be in the same room as the snake but I actually touched and then held one.  And it was then that the wall of fear melted away.  Once my irrational notions had been dispelled I began to see things more clearly.

I can’t force people who have a fear of snakes into a room and make them hold a snake (nobody forced me).  For many that would only intensify their anxiety and push them further from where I would like them to be.  Therapy of this type is likely to only succeed in perpetuating their fear.  And that fear would prevent the rational thought I need them to have to understand that these animals are not dangerous.

It has long been apparent to me that the basis of the efforts to ban or otherwise legislate reptiles is, at a fundamental level, rooted in an exploitation of fear.  Misinformation, intricately intertwined with truth becomes almost indistinguishable; the ability to separate fact from fiction becomes increasingly difficult and clever wordsmiths can get people to agree to things that are in direct contrast to their stated objectives.  Salt the recipe with fear and people will react in very predictable ways.  Our society’s attitudes towards snakes and the recent modification of the Lacey Act are exhibits A and B to this point.

So how does it happen? How does the fear of snakes continue to be perpetuated?  And more importantly, can we do anything about it?  The sources of fear are:

1.  Our parents and teachers.  When I was growing up I remember my mom telling me something to the effect of, “Babies have a natural fear of sudden loud noises, falling and snakes”.  What the…?  How’s that for mixing a lie in with some truth?  The first two seem perfectly valid so the last one, despite any reason why, must also be true.  When you’re five it’s easy to believe and tough to argue with mom.  My mom didn’t have an evil-must-mislead-Colin agenda.  She had a fear that she had carried her whole life and she was imparting that fear to me.  One of the key things that makes humans different from other animals is the ability to pass knowledge to each subsequent generation …even when it’s wrong.

What to do about it?  Not much, really.  People who appreciate snakes for what they can add to their life will impart that same love and wonder to their children.  People who are afraid of snakes will pass that fear on to theirs.  My daughter loves snakes.  From day one they were presented to her as, “look how pretty”, not “Dragon!!!  Run for your life!”  The difference in her attitude compared to her classmates is as stark a contrast as you could see.  I have even found that her teachers are great purveyors of fear, teaching that snakes are bad and “they will bite you”.

2. Hollywood and the media.  In addition to an overwhelming lean to the left, they will say what sells.  Focusing on the things that instill fear is what sells movie tickets and gets people to ‘stay tuned’ through the commercial break.  Forked tongues, eating prey whole, constriction, fangs, venom, slithering, scales, escape, massive size, etc.  All the stuff that makes snakes seem so mean is what they focus on.

What to do about it?  Sadly, there is little we can do.  Buy a television network  if you can.

3.  Reptile keepers.  Huh?  The same people who love being able to own a reptile as a pet are participating in the spreading of fear?  Yup.  How so?  I have more than a thousand pictures and videos of my dogs stored on my computers.  Almost every single one of them is of them doing something cute, funny or otherwise endearing.  I don’t have any pictures or videos of my dog killing a squirrel and eating it.    I don’t have pictures of my dog baring its teeth at the person who knocked on my front door, either.  And even if I did do you know what I would not do?  I would not post them on YouTube or elsewhere on the Internet.  But that is exactly what people do every day with their snakes.   We make videos of our snakes feeding and post them on YouTube for the world to see.  We show videos of fresh blood flowing from our recently bitten hand and we show video after video of them lunging at keeper and camera.   Let me taunt my dog to the point that it is angry, annoyed and fearful enough to bite me.  Better still, let me video it and then post the encounter on YouTube for others to watch.  Sounds stupid, doesn’t it?  Just as stupid as videos of people taunting their snakes to bite them in some body part.

What to do about it?  I should hope it’s obvious.  Stop acting like the media, posting only the things that have shock/coolness value.  That lighting-fast strike and constriction and the scream of the rat is cool and fascinating to you but it’s fodder for other people’s fear.  Stop feeding that fear.  Doing so will help make sure you can keep feeding the thing you really want to feed:  your snake.

Cheers,

Colin Weaver

 

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Practical Principles for Ball Python Breeders http://ballpythonbreeder.com/2012/02/practicle-principles-for-ball-python-breeders/ http://ballpythonbreeder.com/2012/02/practicle-principles-for-ball-python-breeders/#comments Wed, 01 Feb 2012 22:59:54 +0000 http://ballpythonbreeder.com/?p=3202 Practical Principles for Ball Python BreedersAs a ball python breeder I constantly evaluate the best ways to get a maximum return on my investment.  This makes me no different than any other business person, regardless of the choice of profession.  I endeavor to be pragmatic when it comes to expected profitability and I have come to believe that there many ways to do this snake breeding thing right.  Alternately, there at least as many ways to do it wrong.  What’s right and what’s wrong can vary based on circumstance and is often a matter of perspective. If the end result is little more than baby snakes poking their heads out of eggs then I know I am right to say that what’s right and what’s wrong is chock full of opinion and personal preference.  I know this because I have seen too many people be successful using too many variations of what I consider “right”.  Right, in this instance, is grey.  What’s right for me right now may not be so in a year and it may never be right for you.  From feeding to breeding to incubating I have seen a wide range of choices that all lead to success.  What works for you is what you should do.  But therein lies the rub; how to figure out what works without making a lot of costly mistakes along the way.  We learn from each other but we don’t have to completely emulate each other’s techniques and processes.  Ball python breeding is more flexible than many people realize and the grey areas provide a good bit of wiggle room.  Having written that I believe there are certain best practices and principles that, when carefully considered and/or implemented, can put you more on the side of doing things right.  I don’t intend the advice I am about to offer to be anything other than suggestions for your consideration.  I have violated almost all of my own best practices in the past and have little doubt I will do it again in the future.  I endeavor to remain keenly aware of the violations when I make them and I remain fully conscious of the risks and accept, in advance, the consequences.

So here they are: my ball python breeder best principles and practices:

Simple Recessive:  “Hoes Before Bros”

It is a simple and unalterable fact that female ball pythons take longer to reach sexual maturity than males.  Most females won’t breed until their third or fourth winter while males can potentially be ready inside of a year, 18 months almost without fail.  If, in the same buying season, you acquire both male and female hatchlings for a project your male will be ready to breed not less than a full year before the female.  The only guaranteed thing you can do during that time is watch the value of the morph continue to fall.  When examining the original price paid you will see that you acquired and paid for the male at least a full year in advance of when you should have.  You should have purchased only females in year one and waited at least a full year before buying the male.  Doing this makes it more likely that you will have both of them reaching sexual maturity at the same time.  This minimizes your losses from depreciation.  So the next time you are looking to start a simple recessive project, buy your females first; pick up the males a year later.

This best practice may not appear to make sense if you already have other females that will be ready when the male is a year old (give or take).  But that all-too-common scenario really just illustrates the point.  The females you already have that will be paired with the male were acquired (or born) long before the male, which is exactly what I am suggesting should be done with simple recessives.

Dominant/Co-Dominant:  “Bros Before Hoes”

If you are going to visually see the product of your breeding in the first generation of offspring (e.g. dominant/co-dominant genes) it is a better decision to invest in males first and turn your attention to the acquisition of females in the following year(s).  Dominant and Co-Dominant (incomplete dominant) prices fall fast.  In order to have a chance at seeing a return in a reasonable time period you have to work for very fast turnaround.  Many males can be ready to breed in less than a year and, assuming they perform, you will see the product of your efforts in the next breeding season.  This allows you to begin recouping your investment after only one season of depreciation.  If you are using females to get yourself into a particular co-dom project you will have to patiently suffer through 2-3 seasons of depreciation before seeing the first dollars in return.  This is too painful for most people to bear and is not an ideal use of investment capital.

A corollary to this principle is that the eventual investment in co-dom/dominant females is required.  It is only when both the male and female are genetically special that we see the really exceptional designer morph advancement.  It should be abundantly obvious that true genetic progress only comes when both male and female are contributing genetic awesomeness to the mix.  Four, five & six gene snakes don’t typically get made because all of the genetic mutations come from one side of the family; both mom and dad have to be sufficiently morphed-up in order to make really morphed-up kids.  It’s all about genetic synergy.

Pair Genetically Greater Boys with Genetically Lower Girls …But Never the Other Way Around
(Put Another Way:  Never Breed a More Expensive Female to a Less Expensive Male)

It is reasonable to buy a male dominant/co-dom morph and use it to make more of the same (e.g. breed it to a normal female).  However, you should never do that with a female.  When you acquire female dominant/co-dominant morphs it should be with the full intent of breeding it to a male whose genetics are different (and typically of greater financial value than hers).  It is economically effective to acquire a male dominant/co-dominant animal and breed it to a genetically lower female.  The opposite is never true.  Do not acquire a dominant/co-dominant female and breed it to a genetically lower male.   Please note that ‘genetically lower’ refers to the financial value of the morph.  For example:

  • It is sane to buy a pastel male and breed it to a normal female.  It is insane to by a normal male and breed it to a pastel female.
  • It is sane to buy a champagne male and breed it to a pastel female.  It is insane to buy a champagne female and breed it to a pastel male.
  • It is sane to buy a silver surfer male and breed it to a ghost female.  It is insane to buy a silver surfer female and breed it to a ghost male.
  • It is sane to buy a male albino and breed it to a het albino female.  It is insane to buy an albino female and breed it to a het albino male.  Please note that your sanity is also in question if you breed an albino male to an albino female.  At the very least breed female albinos with a male who is albino plus something else (albino spider, albino pinstripe, albino black pastel, etc.).
  • Do not buy a pastel female with plans of breeding her to a pastel male (even though you can make super pastels).  It is no longer true that breeders intentionally produce super pastel ball pythons; they are almost always the product of missed opportunity in a different pairing (e.g. lemon blast x pastel lesser can produce super pastels but it is not what the breeder was trying for).  A female pastel bred to any other co-dom morph will, in the best case, always produce babies that are worth more money than a super pastel.

I almost gave myself an aneurysm this breeding season when I pulled a clutch of eggs from a bumble bee female and realized I had bred her to a pinstripe male.  This is a classic example of wasted female potential.  My decision to breed that particular pair of animals was rooted in my lack of males to go with all of my females.  I have a lot of 3, 4 and 5-gene males …but I have a lot more females.  Rather than breed her to nothing or try to stretch a male too thinly I, at some point, decided that the long odds of making spinner blasts was better than nothing at all.  The problem is that the odds of making spiders and pinstripes is much greater and that negates the value of such a great female.  Don’t make mistakes like that.

Diversity is a Detriment

Quality never goes out of style.  This does not require much elaboration.  But quantity

Quantity of production of a particular morph is a benefit.  This is obviously true from the simple “more is better” perspective.  But quantity of production is also important for a breeder because the acquisition of many of your morphs will come out of  your own production and it is only after the needs of your own collection are satisfied that you can begin to easily entertain the notion of selling the results of your production.  You will forever be your own best customer and that is not a financially good thing.  If, because of limited breeding stock, you only produce a tiny handful of the morph you are shooting for you will be hard-pressed to sell when you finally hit on the odds.  How many times have you heard yourself say, “Yeah, I’ve got to keep this.”?   This could mean that your ability to sell your productive efforts is pushed back by a full breeding season and that push has a tangible financial value.

If you only produce a single clutch of clowns how can you easily sell them when you don’t have all of the clowns you need for yourself?  If you sell them without first satisfying the needs of your own collection you are effectively decreasing the worth of your collection (while increasing the quality of your competitor’s collection).  Ball python breeding groups are always depreciating in value and, as such, must continuously be upgraded to keep them even with the market.  If the diversity of morphs in your collection is out of proportion to its size you will probably produce comparatively few of each kind of morph.  The desire to keep them will be powerful and each animal you keep is less money in your pocket this season.  If you focus less on diversity and more on quantity you will be more likely to produce an abundance of a particular morph.  The decision to sell becomes easier and all you need to do is decide which animal(s) to keep rather than if there is an animal to keep.

It is not as exciting to keep a larger number of the same morph but it is definitely more profitable.  On the other hand, a diverse collection is more fun to look at but, since you are more likely to keep the best of your production, you are more of a hobbyist than a businessperson (and I’m not really writing for the hobbyist at the moment).

This principle also has a few corollary’s:

  1. When you produce a particular morph in quantity you have more to choose from when selecting quality.  You get to pick the very best of what you produce to keep for yourself rather than having to hold on to whatever you get.
  2. There can be a lot of variation in feeding response with ball pythons.  If you have several of the same morph you can hold them for a few weeks/months to see which are the best feeders.  You should always keep the best-looking, best-feeding animals for yourself.  And no, this is not an ethical issue.  A negative-minded person will read this and say that I wrote, “keep the good stuff for yourself, sell the crappy stuff to your customers.”  I’m not suggesting that at all.  Bluntly:  I suggest that you keep the very best for yourself, sell the remaining excellent product to your customers and, if you have anything of “low” quality (unattractive, poor feeding response, etc.), sell it to the wholesalers.  And yes, that should serve as a warning to people who buy the cheapest snake they can find (which is usually from the wholesalers).  Trust me on this one; the great deal you just got on that snake may not be as great a deal as you think.  As is often the case in life, you get what you pay for.

Nobody is going to tend to your collection but you.  If you don’t take steps to make sure it is the best is can be …who will?  If you give your friend’s first pick they will take the very best of what you produce and expect the lowest price.  If you put the very best of what you produce up for the world to buy, it will sell and people will applaud you for your quality.  But at what cost?  If you build your own collection from the leftovers how long can your collection remain superior?  Hopefully that question is rhetorical.  Never feel bad about keeping the best for yourself.  It is your responsibility to do so.  Altruism has no place anywhere on this planet, including the ball python business.

Refinement is a Religion

As you read this article the financial value of your ball python collection is falling.  The only way to keep it even or, dare I say, growing in value is to constantly increase its genetic quality.  If you have single-gene males now you need to upgrade them to multi-gene males for next year.  If you have a large number of normal female breeders you need to upgrade them to pastels, black pastels and other single-gene co-dom girls.  If you already have a solid base of single-gene breeder females you need to upgrade them to multi-gene girls.  And as soon as that upgrade is complete you will need to begin to do it again.  You cannot maintain profitability in a market as volatile as the ball python trade without constantly upgrading.  It, like the different combinations of morphs that can be produced, is endless.

Be mindful of the size of your collection as you go through this process.  The desire to keep the old while adding the new can quickly lead to an excessively large collection.  Big collections come with big caging bills, even bigger rodent bills and endless maintenance requirements.  The key here is to constantly increase the quality of the collection, not its size.  As one girl comes of age she should be moving into, not next to, the slot of another girl.  Don’t get me wrong, though.  If you want to grow your collection, do so.  But know how it is growing.  Collections in growth-mode need to grow in size and quality simultaneously.  Don’t keep older, less valuable, animals into infinity.  A $100 female breeder eats just as much as a $1,000 female breeder, requires the same amount of time to care for and generally produces animals that are worth significantly less.  A person who is breeding ten $1,000 females is going to make as much or more money with less effort and less overhead than the person breeding fifty $100 normal females.

2.0 Males

Keep multiple males of the same morph.  2.0 Pastel Genetic Stripes, 2.0 Pieds, 2.0 Pastel Lessers and 2.0 Honey Bees.  Not all males are good breeders and not all females are receptive to any male.  If you want to maximize the percentage of females that lay viable eggs each season you need to make sure they have as many opportunities as possible to be with a male.  Rotating at least two males of the same morph with each female will do this.  Yes, it is more expensive and no, it is not as exciting as having a bunch male morph diversity.  But this isn’t about having the prettiest collection; it’s about having the most productive collection possible.  The addition of a second male should easily pay for itself in the form of a higher rate of oviposition.  If the addition of another male can increase the number of females who produce each season by 10% he will pay for himself (and then some) in one year.

How many people ever see your collection anyway?  I can still count on two hands the number of people who have actually been to my facility over the past few years.  Would you rather “ooh and aah” over  your snake rack or your bank account?  Pick one and then act accordingly.  Very few of us can do both.

The One Who Dies with the Largest Ball Python Collection Does Not Win

Quality versus quantity.  Consider a tale of two breeders; one hatches 2,000 ball pythons each season with prices ranging from $8 – $10,000.  The other breeder hatches 300 babies with most prices ranging in the $500-$5,000 and up range.  Both are making money, no doubt.  But the guy with 2,000 baby snakes is busting his butt every day, has a crew of people helping him and has massive overhead.  The guy producing a comparative handful of snakes is doing it on his own, mostly in the evenings.  He enjoys spending time with his animals and has paid his house off over the past five years.  Both paths are a way to make money but one is a harder life.  The decidedly American mentality that “more is better” is tough to shake; it’s everywhere around us every day.  A smaller, higher-end collection is worth a lot more in time spent and overall quality of life.  But that is just an opinion, not a fact.

Never Breed Recessives a Year After Dominant/Co-Dominants

If you breed a dominant/co-dominant male to a female in one breeding you should avoid breeding that female to a simple recessive carrying male in the following season.  If you do there is a chance, albeit a small one, that the babies might not be the hets you think them to be.  Ball pythons can and do retain sperm across breeding seasons.  No, it is not terribly common (I believe it to be very rare) but I know more than one breeder who has witnessed it.  I have produced many thousands of ball pythons and have not had it happen …that I know of.  But one thing I am powerfully motivated to never do is sell someone a het and have it not prove out.  For that reason I am careful in pairings not only within the same breeding season, but also from one breeding season to the next.  In order to to this you must keep excellent records.  Consider the following pairings:

Pairing #1:  Risky and too stressful for me

    • Year 1:  Pastel female x Pinstripe male – Possible offspring includes pastels, pinstripes, lemon blasts and normals.  None are het for anything.
    • Year 2:  Pastel female x Ghost Pinstripe male – Possible offspring includes pastels, pinstripes, lemon blasts and normals.  All should be 100% het ghost.  But what if the female had some retained sperm from the previous season?  You are certain the production is 100% het but it may not be …and there is no way to tell until years down the road when your customer experiences the fallout from the mistake.  There was no deception on your part but the mistake is still your responsibility and, with your reputation on the line,  your problem to correct.

Pairing #2:  A slightly safer bet

    • Year 1:  Pastel female x Pinstripe male – Possible offspring includes pastels, pinstripes, lemon blasts and normals.  None are het for anything.
    • Year 2:  Pastel female x Ghost Mojave male – This is a slightly more bearable situation.  The best things to produce from this pairing are mojaves and pastel mojaves, which have no choice but to be 100% het ghost.  The pastels and normals that result from the pairing are almost certainly 100% het ghost but you can only be 99.5% sure.  There is an outside chance that the pastels and normals are from the previous season’s pairing.  If I were to do a pairing like this I would sell the normals and the pastels as “normals”, not hets.  Yes, they are more than likely going to be actual hets but I would not want deal with the fallout several years down the line if they weren’t.

Pairing #3:  Warm and fuzzy feelings for everyone

    • Year 1:  Pastel female x Ghost Pinstripe male – Possible offspring includes pastels, pinstripes, lemon blasts and normals.  All are 100% het for ghost.
    • Year 2:  Pastel female x Black Pewter male – Possible offspring includes silver streaks, black pewters, super pastels, pastels, black pastels and normals.  None should be het for ghost but it is remotely possible that the pastels and the normals are actually hets.  It should go without saying that you cannot sell them as such.  They are sold as the normal, non-het, animals you suspect them to be.  The worst case scenarios is that they are actually carrying the ghost gene and someone gets a happy surprise several years down the road.

Second-Hand Hets are Not a Good Bet

Buying hets is risky business.  The simple fact of the matter is that you have to buy hets either from A) someone you know and trust or B) someone who has a verifiable and trustworthy reputation.  The operative word in both options is ‘trust’.  Over the years  I have had a few bad experiences and I know plenty of other people who have lived through the pain of an animal not proving out.  Because of the time involved it’s really depressing.  Buy a lottery ticket and you’ll know in short order if it’s a loser; buy a het and it can take years to realize that you won’t be getting a return on your investment.  Adding insult to injury is that the het is supposed to be a winner.  At least with a lottery ticket you know you’re taking a chance and could come up empty-handed.  I have written at length about the danger of buying hets.  Rather than beating that horse any further let me refer you to the article called Genetic Provenance, Insanity and Spoiled Milk (http://ballpythonbreeder.com/2010/11/genetic-provenance-insanity-and-spoiled-milk/) that I wrote on the topic.

The article referenced above deals mostly with buying hets directly from the person who has (supposedly) produced it.  But what about buying hets from the person who bought the hets?  I guarantee my hets and I am willing to guarantee hets that I have purchased from others that have proven for me.  But I won’t guarantee or knowingly buy a het that passed through more than one person’s collection.  The only hets I am ever willing to buy are one’s the come from the person who produced them.  At least that way there is a measure of accountability.  If you buy your hets from a wholesaler you need to be at peace with the fact that they are selling them to you under the assumption that the person from whom they bought them wasn’t ripping them off.  Graft in the het business rolls down hill and if it’s you putting male to female it’s you and only you who is going to come out the loser when the het doesn’t prove out.

Avoid Sweet Deals on Other People’s Problems

You simply must exercise Due Care and Due Diligence when buying adult ball pythons.  I have written on this before.  Please read my article titled Sweet Deals on Other People Problems (http://ballpythonbreeder.com/2009/12/sweet-deals-on-other-peoples-problems/) for a detailed discussion on this topic.

Cover Your Assets

Whenever I sell hets I include a Certificate of Genetics that includes a photograph of the animal and describes the genetics it carries.  I also include information on the pairing that was used to produce the animal.  I do this to give my customer a high degree of assurance that the animal is what I claim it to be.  I will not last long in this business if I sell fake hets (which I call “Fets”).  My willingness to sign a document that holds me personally accountable for an animals’ genetics goes a long way to helping people feel better about their purchase.  But I don’t do certificates just for my customer; I do them to protect myself as well.  If I sell a het and years later the person comes to me complaining that it didn’t prove out I have no real defense if there is no photographic record of the animal.  How do I know that the animal they are claiming didn’t prove out was really from me?  I don’t.  This would be a delicate situation and I would like to avoid it.  I do that by making sure that I also have a photographic record of the animal being sold.

Happy Breeding!

Cheers,

Colin Weaver

 

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Let the UK Be a Lesson http://ballpythonbreeder.com/2011/11/let-the-uk-be-a-lesson/ http://ballpythonbreeder.com/2011/11/let-the-uk-be-a-lesson/#comments Tue, 29 Nov 2011 22:11:32 +0000 http://ballpythonbreeder.com/?p=3900 United Kingdom FlagAs an American I am chronically aware that many of my fellow citizens don’t pay much attention to what is going on in other countries.  By no means is that an across-the-board statement; it’s just something I have made note of in my interactions with others as I travel about the country.  It’s not unusual for Americans to be so unabashedly and ignorantly ethnocentric that they don’t have the slightest idea of what is going in the rest of the world.  Who am I kidding? Many don’t even know what is going on in this country.  Jay Leno is good at pointing this out from time-to-time in his late night talk show antics (and here). Most Americans know that something is going in in Iraq but many don’t realize that Iran is different than Iraq and they certainly don’t know why Israel is so despised by them.  Most of us know that Princess Diana died a while back but don’t know that the recent royal wedding was that of Diana’s son.  And I can almost guarantee that many, if not most, Americans don’t know that owning a gun is pretty much completely illegal for citizens in the United Kingdom.  That’s right.  The only people carrying guns in the UK are the criminals.

I am about as pro-gun as any person can be so I consider it appalling that people in the UK have been stripped of their right to protect their life and property.  Criminals don’t abide by laws so the gun-carrying thief breaking into somebody’s home in the UK must feel pretty confident about his chances; he knows that the odds are in his favor that any opposition he encounters is going to be unarmed.  If a UK citizen owned a gun in defiance of the law and used it against the thief he would be in as much (or more) trouble as the robber.  In the UK, they would both be considered criminals.  I find this to be very, very sad:  defend your family and your property and become a criminal for doing so.  Rest assured that if that same guy broke into my house here in Virginia he would have a six-pack of Coke can sized exit wounds in his back.

But how did guns become illegal in the UK?  Was it done in one fell swoop?  Nope.  It was done in stages, a tactic often used to disarm (literally in this case) the opposing voices.  Despite my pro-gun position I didn’t sit down to write about gun control.  I continue to be concerned with the fate of reptile ownership in the United States.  But the history of gun control in the UK serves as a excellent timeline that illustrates our likely fate unless we get our act together in very short order.  Here’s how things went down in the UK:

  • 1988 –  In the wake of the “Hungerford Massacre” the Firearms (Amendment) Act of 1988 was passed.  This law made it illegal to own semi-automatic rifles, pump-action rifles and military weapons that shoot explosives.  The law also implemented registration requirements and a requirement for “secure storage” of allowed shotguns.  Handguns (pistols) were not impacted at all by this law.
  • 1997 – In the wake of the “Dublane Massacre” ownership of almost all handguns was banned.  One of the key selling points of the law was that a very limited number of people would be impacted (fewer than 1 in 1,000).
  • 2006 – The Violent Crime Reduction Act was passed and this made it illegal to buy/sell air weapons by mail order.  This includes things like Airsoft guns.  Yep, in the UK it is even illegal to own a fake gun because it looks too much like a real gun.  Hilarious.  Tragic.  Sad.

The path from there to here was implemented through a simple concept:  divide and conquer.  In the late 1980’s UK pistol owners were apathetic about the proposed ban on rifles because it didn’t affect them.  “Why should I care if they ban shotguns?”, they said.  “I only keep pistols and bolt-action rifles.”  In an act of self-preservation they stayed silent, letting their rifle-owning neighbors have their rights extracted through the legislative process.  Those same people who thought they were safe found their rights removed less than a decade later.  The politicians who pushed this law through the UK’s legal system were smart to leave pistol owners out of the fight in 1988.  Attacking the whole gun-owning population of the UK would have been tantamount to the Humane Society of the United States trying to make pet dogs illegal in the wake of an escaped Nile Monitor killing someone’s Terrier.  Patient and resolute the anti-gun movement capitalized on high-profile tragedies to further their agenda.  Baby steps.  Little-by-little they got it done.  And look at the UK now…

Now let’s turn our attention to things here in the USA.  Large constrictors are under attack.  Most of us know that.  And many bearded dragon breeders, ball python breeders, corn snake breeders and leopard gecko breeders could care less.  Why?  Because they don’t keep large constrictors, of course.  That should sound eerily similar to the same apathetic mindset held by UK pistol owners back in 1988.  And look what happened to them less than a decade later.  Every time there is an isolated incident in the exotic animal community the anti-pet movement gains a little more traction to push through another limiting piece of legislation.  Whether it is done state-by-state, the Lacey Act or through the federal law making process, they are as patient and as resolute as the anti-gun zealots in the UK were.

I know how the end of reptile ownership is going to happen.  If we continue on our current path it will mirror what happened in the UK.  The voices of opposition in the UK screamed, “you can’t legislate a madman”, meaning that a ban on firearms would not stop the next massacre from happening.  If someone wants to get a gun and go on a shooting spree it will happen.  No law is going to prevent that.  My screams as a reptile owner have been of a similar vein.  I oppose any legal limitations on the rights of responsible pet owners.  No matter how responsible a pet owner I am there will always be someone out there who is not.  That person will do something stupid and my rights will be removed as a result.

But why?  Why do the actions of a few lead to restrictions on the many?  The answer is simple:  Legislation is a bludgeon tool.  It lacks finesse.  Laws have not, can not and will not deal with subtlety and nuance.  They are a widely cast net that frequently catches huge numbers of unintended victims.  I have already heard it said.  “Our inspectors are not trained tell the difference between a Burmese python and a Boa Constrictor so the most simple course of action is to ban them both.”  If that’s the case then how would a local law enforcement official tell the difference between a blood python and a burmese python?  Simple: He can’t.  Well, we better ban blood pythons too …just to be safe.  And when the time comes to ban ball pythons you can rest assured that Angolan pythons will be thrown out with them.  They look too similar.  And so it will happen; our compartmentalized herpetocultural community will fall in small group after small group.  And each group will remain silent as the others are attacked.  It will probably take the next decade or two to happen but the writing is on the wall.  The anti-pet movement is more than ready to wait us out and I have not seen evidence of the community having the stomach for a long fight.

Is there an alternative to legislation?  Yes!  It’s called self-regulation.  And this is where there is a fundamental divide within society.  Proponents of large government believe that it is the government’s responsibility to take action to provide for and protect its citizens.  Supporters of small government believe that protection is indeed the government’s responsibility but ‘providing’ is the realm of private industry and government should stay out of it.  The government should not regulate the commercial interaction between provider and consumer.  In a system of self-regulation the industry controls itself from within; it’s a commercial ecosystem that has its balance upset when the dirty fingers of legislation are inserted.  Whether we are talking about banking, exotic animals or pharmaceuticals the concept is the same; the industry regulates itself and acts in a responsible manner, no government intervention needed.  In the end the consumer is the real regulator because it is only where there is mutual benefit in a transaction that the transaction can take place.  Even though I would rather not pay $130/month for my iPhone I still do because I find value in the trade.  If my iPhone bill were to double to $260 I would no longer see the value and I would discontinue my service.  The provider is always going to push the edge of course; they are a for-profit entity and will always work to get as much as they possibly can without pushing me past the limits of my perceived value.  In this delicate balance between consumer and provider we don’t need the government to come in and control mobile phone price plans.  Doing so screws up the natural balance of commerce.

When an industry fails to self-regulate it provides a powerful foothold for the supporters of government regulation (banking and health care come to mind here).  And that is where we are today in the reptile world.  There is no shortage of idiocy in the reptile trade.  Someone out there is not securely keeping their reticulated python or rhino viper.  Another guy is selling Burmese pythons and eyelash vipers to 14-year old kids at a trade show.  And let’s not forget the guy who is keeping hundreds of snakes in horrible filth with no food, water or climate control.  None of these people are you, right?  Of course not.  It always seems to be someone else that is screwing things up for the hobby.  The problem is that the consumer:provider mechanism for self-regulation is seemingly absent.  The only thing an individual can do is take care of his/her own business; keep their animals secure, well-fed, watered and in a suitable climate.  They cannot control what another keeper is doing.  This appears to suggest that government regulation is a viable solution, doesn’t it?  Without changing what we do as a community, the answer, unfortunately is ‘yes’.  The ability to own a reptile in the United States will not survive if we stay on our current path.

But how do we self-regulate?  This is a tough question.  As a person purchasing a green anaconda I know what my responsibilities are.  But what about the seller?  It would seem like a no-brainer to say that a person would not sell a baby anaconda to a minor but that has been proved wrong more than once.  Should the seller take steps to make sure the person buying is fully prepared to responsibly undertake the long-term ownership of the animal?  Is that realistic?  No, it’s not.  The retail community doesn’t support it.  If I put somebody through a gauntlet of questions before selling them a green anaconda at a trade show they are just going to go to another table and buy it from the wholesaler who picked up a 20-lot of them earlier that day and could care about nothing other than their method of payment.  The long-term impact:  I am not economically viable and another person owns a green anaconda that is doomed to get sick and die …but not before it escapes a few times because he thinks that putting a book on the screen top of his aquarium is going to keep the snake from pushing its way out.  Because the community is unable to regulate itself it is primed and ready for government intervention.

Reptile community self-regulation seems viable only if there is widespread individual self-regulation and this illustrates the “you can’t regulate a madman” problem.  The reptile community is too large and too diverse in both number and intelligence for there to be any realistic chance to self-regulate.  Aside from “lock in a sock” forms of keeper-on-keeper physical violence I don’t know what the answer is.  But I do know that if things don’t change we are going to start losing our rights at an ever-increasing rate.  And the only people we can truly blame when its over will be ourselves.

Cheers,

Colin Weaver

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What You Do and How You Do It http://ballpythonbreeder.com/2011/06/what-you-do-and-how-you-do-it/ http://ballpythonbreeder.com/2011/06/what-you-do-and-how-you-do-it/#comments Fri, 10 Jun 2011 13:04:32 +0000 http://ballpythonbreeder.com/?p=2734 What You Do and How You Do It

“Do something awesome …something amazing.”

That was the job description given to me a long time ago just before I accepted a position at a small start-up IT company.  I was trying to break out of the life-drag called Corporate America and during the interview process I asked for more details on my potential job duties.  And the quote above is was what I heard in reply.  When I realized he wasn’t kidding I was …moved.  I was so inspired that I wanted desperately to do something, well, awesome and amazing.  It was everything I needed to hear at that point in my life.  With that one sentence I had been both empowered and granted personal accountability.  The trust coupled with expectation that was handed to me was nothing less than food to my starving motivation.  In the year that followed I
gave more of myself to that organization than any other before it.  I wanted to.  I was personally invested in making sure my job description was expertly executed.

When I reflect on the years that have passed I tend to recognize that as the moment I realized I was meant to be an entrepreneur rather than an employee in somebody else’s business.  Yes, I realize how that statement is initially dichotomous; becoming an entrepreneur while accepting a job to work for someone else.  A person will mentally be an entrepreneur for some time before they amass the means to actually be one.  Rather than looking to my bosses for kudos and acknowledgements for my efforts I became more interested in how I felt about the work I was doing.  Other people were ultimately secondary.  If I was happy with the results of my work I seldom needed to wonder if my bosses would be good with it.  I held myself to a higher standard and it was reflected in the quality of my production.  Excerpts of my inner-monologue included:

  • “If you are going to do something, do it well.”
  • “If you’re going to do it you might as well do it exceptionally well.”
  • “If you can’t do it well, don’t do it at all.”

And over the years it’s that last quote that has caused me such angst.  Being excellent at a few things is do-able.  We can all do that.  Being excellent at a lot of things is challenging.  And not doing things because you can’t do them exceptionally well can be a problem.  The choices I have made (e.g. being in the live animal business) require that certain things must be done; they cannot be ignored or neglected.  And over the years I have crafted a life that impossibly requires me to be excellent at too many things.  As a result, a vicious cycle is at work.  If I can’t do it well, I won’t do it.  Since I want (or need) to do it I must do it well.  Doing a lot of things very well is difficult to maintain.  Trying to do too many things exceptionally well means you end up doing many of them not so well.  Realizing that you are not doing some things well means you have to either A) quit doing those things, B) work harder (or longer) at doing them well again and/or C) stress yourself out over the fact that you aren’t doing things as well as you should be (while trying to decide if you should be doing A or B).

I have become something of a mental train-wreck on this topic.  Like no other time in my life I feel torn between multiple radically different worlds.  I own and operate an ever-expanding reptile business.  I also own a thriving information technology company.  While the computer stuff comes in handy from time-to-time in the reptile world I can’t say that the opposite is true.  Computer people seldom need my herpertocultural skills.  As a result, I live two incredibly different professional lives.  Both are full-time jobs and they regularly conflict with each other.  I am accountable to my animals and I am accountable to my IT business partners.  Fortunately I don’t have much of a social life but I do have a family life that is more important than any of my other roles.  I have to balance the three and I continue to insist on being excellent at each.  The family part is relatively easy.  If I start to not be an excellent husband or father I have always said I will quit the other two without notice.  Neither of them mean much in comparison.  But part of being a good father and husband is being a good protector and provider so continuing to also be excellent at the money-earning components of my life is a requirement of the most important part of my life.  It’s a bit of a circular conundrum.

Like many reptile breeders, I have help.  I have good people that sometimes help me clean cages and keep my facility tidy.  But even with all of the help they give me I am still constantly struggling to keep up.  I need more.  As any keeper of a large number of animals knows, the dirty work is endlessly repetitive.  I clean enclosures every single day, usually for multiple hours.  And it is incredibly common that the enclosure I cleaned last night will need to be cleaned again the next day.  Snakes have an uncanny habit of waiting until you clean their house before fouling it up.  Sometimes I think it’s a game they play.  Because I have an obligation to my animals I can’t let them sit in a dirty cage.  This compels me to check their cages very regularly and give them the attention they need.  Because of the quantity of snakes I keep this takes a lot of time.

As a medium-sized reptile breeder I need to spend my time doing four different things:

  1. Feeding
  2. Cleaning
  3. Breeding
  4. Selling (and buying)

Once your collection hits a certain size you will begin to struggle to do all four extremely well.  And this is where my philosophy on how to do thing is causing me problems.  The size of my collection and the other demands in my life are making it increasingly difficult to do all four very well.  There is another nasty cycle at work.  I currently spend more time feeding and cleaning than I do selling.  And from one perspective, that is just dumb.  No margin, no mission, right?  I should be aggressively selling every day, but I don’t.  I should be working through my client list, making calls and putting together deals.  But I’m not.  Why?  I’m too busy cleaning and feeding.  I often have animals that I know are desirable to others that go for months on the rack and never get offered for sale.  And because I’m not selling as aggressively as I need to be I don’t feel financially comfortable committing to the money it will take to hire somebody else to do the feeding and cleaning.  My problems are not new; I’m not the first to live them.  Every single small business owner who went from a one-man shop to a larger enterprise did what I have been reluctant to do:  leap.  On this point I haven’t been drinking my own Kool-Aid.  One of the guiding philosophies of my life has been “leap, and the net will appear.”  But with the growth of this reptile business I still haven’t successfully done it.  I can’t stop feeding and cleaning in order to sell.  So I am left with two choices:

  1. Reduce the size of the collection to something that can be easily managed.
  2. Leap.

Choice number one isn’t going to happen.  It’s simply not what I want.  That leaves only option #2.  But hiring somebody (leaping) means turning over a function that must continue to be done extremely well.  And one thing is true:  nobody will ever do it as well as me.  No, that’s not ego, it’s fact.  The same is true for everybody.  Remember the old adage, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.”  The truth in that statement is not that I am the best at something, it’s that nobody else is likely to be as personally invested in making sure it is done right.  And why would they be?  It’s not theirs.  People who work in corporate America often hear their bosses encouraging them to have a “sense of ownership”.  Every employer dreams of their workers feeling this way because it helps to increase the quality of production.  People who “own” are more personally invested in the outcome and are therefore more likely to do something better than those who do not.  If you live in the United States you have almost certainly encountered the general level of apathy in many of the workers you encounter during your daily meanderings.  Whether it’s poor service by a cashier at the grocery or the inattentive waiter we all regularly see the product of people not owning their work.  As annoying as it is being a customer on the receiving end imagine how scary it is for the real owner of the business.  You create and nurture your business.  You pour your soul into making it successful.  That success forces you to hire help.  And it is quite possible that the help will suck.  In a perfect world the help you have will continue to nurture, to “own”.  But the world is not perfect so you must come to terms with the fact that there will almost certainly be a reduction in quality from what you, the owner, would do.  But if I want to grow my business I cannot forever be all things to all people.  I have to let go.

These are not new dilemma’s for me.  Because I choose to be in the live animal business I also choose to provide excellent care for my animals.  I cannot neglect the production capacity by not keeping my animals well fed and clean.  But at the same time I have to do a better job of actually trying to sell the animals I produce.  All aspects of the cycle must be given necessary time and attention.  Stephen Covey calls it the P/PC balance (Google it).

In the end analysis I know what I need to do.  I knew it before I started writing.  Business is not static; you are either growing or you are contracting.  I am growing.

Cheers,

Colin Weaver

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Flies On a Vaseline Covered Windshield http://ballpythonbreeder.com/2011/06/flies-on-a-vaseline-covered-windshield/ http://ballpythonbreeder.com/2011/06/flies-on-a-vaseline-covered-windshield/#comments Sun, 05 Jun 2011 03:02:13 +0000 http://ballpythonbreeder.com/?p=3073 Flies on a Vaseline Covered WindshieldThe Humane Society of the United States has at least one (that I know of) full-time employee whose sole function is to communicate the organization’s message using social media.  That’s it!  Be an evangelist for the cause using the constantly evolving Internet as a tool.  The existence of that job represents their commitment to reaching out to a whole new generation of people.  They also have an entire division (attorney’s included) focused exclusively on advancing their agenda through the courts. Now think about how many people work for your favorite pet owner advocacy group.  I’ll guess ten.  A dozen, maybe.  Fifty, tops.  I often wonder how many hats people in those organizations must have to wear and how effective they can be when constantly switching back and forth between roles.

The HSUS, PETA, Defenders of Wildlife and other radical animal extremist organizations like them are large, well-funded, well-organized and, most of all, driven by a common goal that is kept on track through its leaders.  Most of them have been around for a long time and have had plenty of opportunity to create a solid base from which to operate.  Their leadership consists of affable personalities who focus exclusively on their agenda.  As much as I dislike his message, Wayne Pacelle is doing a lot of things right to further his organization’s agenda.  Don’t get me wrong, though.  I despise his ideas.  His organization is one of the worst things to ever happen to animals and their responsible owners.  But he believes them and he is focused on seeing them become a reality.  While his beliefs are dangerous to every responsible pet owner it is his ability to get others to also believe that makes him the threat that he is.  It’s his leadership and the orchestration of the teams of people behind him that makes him dangerous to pet owners of every kind.  I hate to be the bearer of bad news but the advocates of responsible pet ownership are woefully inadequate by comparison.  The leaders of the organization’s that trumpet our causes are largely invisible and unknown to a world that needs to hear them.  The longer we go without comparable focus, cohesion and leadership the closer the country will move toward HSUS’ goal of ending pet ownership for everyone.

The HSUS expertly uses lies and misinformation to extract almost $200 million each year from a misled American public.  Their benevolent sounding name is the cornerstone of their fantastic lie and they have a sympathetic media and most of the Democratic party on their side.  If a single pet-ownership advocacy group has 15,000 members who give $50/year they will still only have $750,000 in revenue.  Who would you like to bet on?  An organization running on a shoestring budget with a react-only game-plan or the financially successful and laser-focused machine with educated and articulate leaders orchestrating the attack from multiple fronts?  It’s not really a competition, is it?

The target of interest for both sides of this fight is the pet.  Animal extremists want to ‘protect’ animals by putting an end to pet ownership.  They believe that the very best way to protect animals is for them to not exist as pets.  Extremists attack the exceptions to the majority of us who properly care for and respect our animals.  They use the sensational as ammunition to push their agenda and feel justified in limiting the rights of everybody in order to address the irresponsible few.  They twist facts, perpetuate irrational fear and wordsmith information in order to lead people to false conclusions.  And they are good at it.  In contrast, pet owners just want to be left alone to enjoy their pets.  This means that most pet owners have not sufficiently developed a fighter’s mentality.  They are standing unwillingly in the ring, hands down, being punched repeatedly in the face by the animal extremism juggernaut.  And they take it, punch after punch, reeling with each blow.  Without money, leadership, better organization, and well-marshalled volunteerism, the eventual fate of the pet owner seems obvious.

To all the responsible pet ownership groups out there:  Do a better job of leveraging your support base.  Don’t just ask them for their money; ask them for their time and their skill.  There is an army of responsible pet owners out there.

And to all the responsible pet owners out there:  Pick a group to support.  Reach out to them.  Give them money if you want to; no doubt they need it.  But you also need tell them your skill and let them know you want to help support the rights of pet owners with more than just money.  For now, be willing to give your time freely, in support of the cause.  It is quite probable that your payment  will never be money.  It will come in the form of your right, and your kid’s right, to keep the pet of your choosing.  That’s worth a lot more than money, don’t you think?

Cheers,

Colin Weaver

 

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Why Do You Support Breeding? http://ballpythonbreeder.com/2011/06/why-do-you-support-breeding/ http://ballpythonbreeder.com/2011/06/why-do-you-support-breeding/#comments Fri, 03 Jun 2011 02:54:26 +0000 http://ballpythonbreeder.com/?p=3323 Why Do You Support Breeding?

I have more than a few opinions in support of for-profit animal husbandry.  On many occasions I have shared some of those opinions in the blog posts and articles I write. And as you might expect I receive a lot of comments.  Most of them are emailed directly to me and most of them are decidedly supportive.   But sometimes people come after me with varying levels of aggression and disdain for what I do.  Some dislike my love of capitalism and attack me for charging more than $20 for any ball python I produce.   They suggest that all ball pythons, even the incredibly rare and difficult to produce multi-gene morphs, should be available to everybody regardless of their ability to afford one.  “Unto each according to their need“, is the message buried in their words.  Intentionally twisting Karl Marx’s inane words I respond by saying, “No.  Unto each according to their ability.”  Other people have attacked me for my blatant hatred of animal extremists who seek to advance irrational legislation through misinformation and fear.  I generally write these people off as being confused.  They have to be.  How else could they be in support of such silliness?  And others have launched verbal assaults that label me an abusive animal exploiter who mistreats animals for personal gain.  I suspect that most of the latter would also attack me for killing the mosquito that bites my ankle.  The latest email insinuating that I was a person of low character for keeping and breeding snakes came a few days ago when I received a seemingly benevolent email from a someone named Casie.  In her email she wrote:

I have a question, why do you support breeding when there are already so many unwanted snakes? They are being released into the wild, given up to shelters, and not being properly cared for.
http://www.petfinder.com/pet-search?animal_type=Scales&pet_breed=pythons&location=San+Angelo%2C+tx&startsearch=Search

Caseymay

At the time of her email, Casymay’s included link to Petfinder.com, a national registry whose purpose is to re-home animals currently residing in shelters, contained a whopping 34 pythons, six of which were listed as being in Canada.  Both amused and annoyed by her email, and without knowing anything else about the sender,  I sent the following curt response:

Why do humans continue to breed when there are so many unwanted children in the world?

Colin

Casey didn’t reply back.  Should human procreation be put on hold until all the world’s orphaned kids get homes?  Would Casey subscribe to that suggestion, too?  In order to see if I could learn a little more about the person who disproved of my actions I decided to do a quick Google search for Casie’s email address.  That search led me to another page where her profile suggests that she is 14 years old.  This realization changed the paradigm with which I had viewed her question.  Young people, many of whom have parents that have unknowingly let them watch too much thinly-veiled animal and environmental extremism in the form of Dora the Explorer and Go, Diego, Go, are filled with a legitimate yet often misguided desire to help animals.  I am confident that this young woman’s intentions are pure; why would someone buy an animal when perfectly good one’s are available for adoption and, better still, why would someone intentionally make more when the same conditions remain true?  Those seem like honest questions and legitimate concerns.  And with many more orders of magnitude these questions are also portable to dogs and cats.

Nobody can argue that there are animals in this world that are abused, abandoned and irresponsibly cast aside.  One good thing about them is that they get people’s attention.  But that’s also a bad thing for the majority of animals that are on the other side.  You know, the one’s that have caring and considerate owners who give their companions the very best in care.  They provide excellent nutrition, a warm and comfortable place to sleep, companionship and prompt and regular medical care.  But those animals are so incredibly uninteresting.  Video of my dog sleeping happily next to me on the sofa isn’t going to help the Humane Society of the United States get any donations.  It also makes for a very boring storyline for Diego and Dora.  The evening news reporting on the secure, healthy and otherwise happy black throat monitor living over on Scenic Avenue isn’t very interesting either.  You see, there’s no money and no story in the animals that are well cared for.  No sound bite, nothing to tweet about and nothing to go viral on YouTube.  Instead we dig for and find the 34 pythons that have lost their homes for who knows what reason and focus on them.  Their plight is evidence enough for young Casie that a breeder like me is in the wrong; that I am the one who is perpetuating the abandonment of more pythons later down the line.  Casie seems to be suggesting that the best solution is to bring captive breeding to a halt because a tiny minority have not received proper care.  I do not share her opinion.

To rescue from a shelter or to buy from a breeder, that seems to be a recurring topic of discussion in the pet world.  I have a friend whose opinions, perspectives and insights on this topic are often different than mine.  She sees the world through the eyes of someone who works in a shelter and has repeatedly seen the tragic end-result of animals, mostly dogs and cats, that are dumped by incapable or otherwise irresponsible owners.  She regularly sees, first-hand, how some people obtain and dispose of living things with callous whimsy.  The animals dumped on the doorstep of her shelter are victims and the perpetrators simply drive away, hands washed of an inconvenience that has a heartbeat.  Those experiences have steeled the resolve she has on her opinions and I know that there is nothing I can ever say that will change her mind.  In a recent exchange of emails she and I had another friendly debate/discussion on buying dogs versus rescuing dogs.  She was uninspired by my reasons for leaning toward a respectable dog breeder rather than a rescue for my next dog.  One of her arguments was that “puppies suck”.  She suggested that a one year old rescue would likely be house trained, past the chewing stage, able to be left alone, have its shots, etc.  And you know what?  She is 100% accurate in all of those things and when looked at from such a pragmatic point of view I might buy into her assertion.  But using the same empirical logic I know another thing that sucks when young:  human children.  They pee and poop on themselves for the first two years or so.  They vomit with some consistency and at incredibly inopportune times.  They can’t talk and, even after months of interaction, can’t communicate their wants with any consistency.  They make loud noises, don’t sleep through the night, cost a ton of money and disrupt virtually every other aspect of your existence.  As a parent, the logical approach is to say screw it and avoid taking the ‘puppy route’ when expanding the family; we should all rescue 18-year old college students who have full scholarships at Virginia Tech.  They won’t cost as much and, despite their tendency to abuse alcohol on the weekends, are almost certainly potty-trained.  Someone else has already taught them the basics and their vaccinations are sure to be up-to-date.

I hope that sounds as silly to you as it does to me.  Almost every parent on this planet knows that there is no way they would ever trade a day of their child’s youth.  Despite sometimes being dirty, stinky, and inconvenient, they are incredibly rewarding.  But it’s not the dirty diaper that makes it so wonderful; it’s the relationship that is formed in the process.  And it’s that relationship that makes everything else so worth it and so wonderful.  And for me, having the puppy equivalent of that relationship with the exact breed and provenance I want is my prerogative.  The rescue animal may work for many people but it does not work for all people.  I respect my neighbors decision to adopt a dog from the local shelter and do not cast derision upon him for doing so.  So why does it happen in reverse?  Why do animal rights advocates throw scornful glances my way for buying rather than adopting?  There are many reasons, I suppose.  But one of them is not as plain to see.  There is a pervasive idea growing in our society that suggests that the less fortunate and otherwise downtrodden are not just worthy of the capacity of the more fortunate; they deserve it.  Those who ‘have’ should be compelled to give what they have to those who do not.  If you have more money you should pay more taxes.  If you come in first place you should share your glory with those who came in 2nd, 3rd and, increasingly, even last.  Nobody should be allowed to be better than anybody else because that’s not fair.  You should work harder so you can give more to others.  You shouldn’t get the puppy (or snake) you want when there are other animals who need your capacity.  You should give up your desire to have your needs satisfied in order to satisfy the needs of someone (or something) less fortunate.  “I really want a Weimaraner puppy,” you say.  “But I can’t get what I want when there are mix-breed puppies at the shelter who need homes.  Their need for a home is greater than my need for the breed that makes me happy.”  Under this illusion, the so-called ‘greater good’ trumps any need of any individual.  This notion, which is both a centerpiece and a rallying cry of the liberal mentality, is so perverted and wrong to me that I struggle to think that another person could arrive at the conclusion.  But reason is not automatic and logic is not always appropriately applied.   I do not subscribe to the notion that the “greater good”  supersedes my needs as an individual.  I believe that I need to take care of and be responsible for myself and my family.  I do not live a life where the benefit of others comes before the benefit of my family.  I know there are many who will disagree with me but I’m impervious.  If you do disagree with me do you know what I am to you?  I’m one less person with their hand out, asking you to freely give me the product of your efforts.   And these ideas are far from new.  The first time I read Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand I was floored to see that she was writing about the same issues in the 1950’s.

Whether it’s dogs or snakes I support the rights of the breeder to create a ‘product’ that is demanded by the buyer.  So long as there is a market for snakes I will produce and sell them.  Moreso, I support the decision of each buyer (or adopter, as the case may be).  If you want to buy an animal because it is the exact animal you want, do it and feel good about it.  If adopting/rescuing makes you happy, rock on!  But do not think negatively of someone who chooses differently than you.

So here is why I breed (and why I do not):

  • I breed snakes because I find them beautiful and enigmatic.
  • I breed snakes to financially benefit me and my family.  I do not breed snakes in order to benefit others.
  • I breed snakes because I believe in an individual’s ability to choose the animal, regardless of what it is or where it came from, that makes them happy.
  • I breed because there is a demand for the animals I have the capacity to produce.
  • I breed the animals I choose because they satisfy a need I have.  People who see value in the animals I produce and who have a need, will buy one.  Nobody is compelled to buy from me just as nobody is (and never should be) compelled to pick an animal from a shelter.
  • I do not abstain from breeding because someone out there has abandoned their snake.
  • I do not abstain from breeding because some people do not practice good husbandry.  I breed because most people do.  I do not tailor my actions to address the shortcomings of the lowest common denominator.

I do not encourage people to adopt simply because an animal has a need.  I encourage people to buy or adopt in direct accordance with their own needs.  If purchasing an animal meets your specific need, open your wallet (or purse).  If adopting does the same, drive to the shelter.  But do not give up on your needs simply because someone else appears to be more needy than you.  And while it may make you feel good inside there is no absolution in sacrificing yourself to the want and needs of others.

Cheers,

Colin Weaver

 

 

 

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Commerce, Fear and Legislation http://ballpythonbreeder.com/2011/05/commerce-fear-and-legislation/ http://ballpythonbreeder.com/2011/05/commerce-fear-and-legislation/#comments Tue, 31 May 2011 06:11:05 +0000 http://ballpythonbreeder.com/?p=3294 Interstate CommerceAs I type my 40th birthday is barely two years away.  And I don’t know if it’s my age combined with the times or if it’s the times by themselves but over the past few years I have become keenly aware of a rapidly increasing divide between the people of the United States.  I know, I know, every generation laments the passing of the ‘good ol’ days’ and things were always better yesteryear.  Time has that sort of scrubbing effect; it distorts the very perception of our own hindsight.  But I sense that what is happening now is something more dark and angry.  The happy-go-lucky naivety of my youth has passed.

The current state of affairs is that we can break the thinking people in our society into two general groups of people:  liberals and conservatives (some people may prefer ‘statist’ and ‘libertarian’).  There are many reasons why liberals and conservatives are different but sometimes they are actually in agreement on a particular thing that needs to be accomplished.  This agreement is only on the surface, though.  The devil is in the details.
Suppose for instance that you are sitting in a cold house and would like to get warm.  The liberal tells you to turn on the heat while the conservative suggests that you wrap yourself with a down comforter.  They are both describing a way to achieve an end result but their opinions on how to get there are quite different.  You, the cold person, are being sold two different approaches to satisfy your need and both seem to be genuine and sincere in their desire to address it.  But if you aren’t paying attention you will miss the larger picture; the reason those two methods are being offered is that they represent some aspect of a larger agenda and there is a good chance that neither of them really care about your warmth.  For example, the liberal may tell you that heating the whole house is the best way because it gives everybody in the house an equal ability to be warm; nobody is made to be warmer or colder than anybody else.  The conservative tells you that the down comforter is more appropriate because it is cheaper and the ability of an individual to achieve warmth is directly related to how well they wrap themselves.  How each came to the conclusion that their way of warming cold bodies was the right way could be rooted in their life experiences and upbringing or it could be that they are being directed by less often seen third parties: lobbyists.  The liberal receives large campaign contributions from the HVAC Worker’s Union and the conservative is being backed by the IAIDP, the International Association for the Infiltration of Down-Containing Products.  Once this realization is made we can begin to understand that making people warm is secondary to the way in which people are made warm.  Everybody has an agenda; something to accomplish.

The treatment of pet owners and the reptile trade is no different.  In general politicians aren’t concerned about snakes; special interest groups are.  Each side of the argument has found a sympathetic ear in the form of the liberal and the conservative.  Sweet nothings have been whispered, campaign contributions have been made and like Rock Em’ Sock Em’ Robots the politicians have been put into the ring, punching and jabbing and all the while it’s special interests (like the HSUS) who are pushing the buttons.

The HSUS and other animal extremists made a brilliant move in 2010 when they decided to temporarily de-emphasize the law-making process.  They performed an end-around by using the USGS’ biased report on large constrictors as a means to get the Department of the Interior to add the nine constrictors to the list of injurious species in the Lacey Act.  And, considering the outcome of the 2010 mid-term elections,  what a brilliant move it was.  They didn’t need any members of Congress to take this path.  All they needed was a liberal in the Oval Office to appoint a liberal to head the Department of the Interior.  Now the decision is no longer up to “the people”; it is now in the hands of an impossibly small few within the Department of the Interior.  And one of the biggest ways it is being sold:  fear.  I have heard politicians and other bureaucrats say, over and over, that one of the reasons that large constrictors need to be controlled is because of a “threat to public safety”.  In 2010 I sat in a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee and listened to Florida House Representative Thomas Rooney (a Democrat) read a statement that said exactly that.  But it’s a big lie.  Large constrictors are not a public health concern; they pose an impossibly small risk to humans.  Your odds of being killed by a large constrictor are about 1 in 584 million.  For a little bit of perspective on how that compares with other ways to die please read this post I made about the odds of being killed by a python.

The other big argument for controlling pythons is the environment.  The USGS’ horribly biased, self-serving and repeatedly debunked report (here, here, here and here for starters) on nine large constrictors paints a picture of these snakes taking over much of the country.  The reality is that they pose a risk to southern Florida at best.  And in all seriousness, if pythons and boas are such an invasive species why are only the large one’s being targeted in these attacks?  Invasive is invasive, regardless of size.  The real answer is simple.  They are easier targets because they prey on people’s  fear.  Many people have an irrational and media perpetuated fear of snakes.  And big snakes, one’s that can eat big things are worthy of additional fear.  The truth is that laws have been proposed and the Lacey Act is about to be amended because of fear.  Not public safety, not the environment.  Just fear.  And it’s such an easy sell.  Imagine a reporter walking up to you and saying, “Do you want giant, man-eating pythons living in your back yard where your children play?”  Who in their right mind would answer anything other than no to such a leading question?

So is it really possible for a government to legislate based on fear?  Sadly, yes.  As evidence of such efforts let me direct your attention to a seemingly unrelated topic:  guns in schools.  If you were to ask every American whether or not it was OK for children to take guns to school you would find that 99.999% are in agreement that it is not.  And in 1990 Congress passed a law that said exactly that.  The Gun-Free School Zone Act of 1990 made it a federal crime for anyone other than law enforcement to take a gun onto school property.  I am VERY pro-gun and I completely support the idea at work; no guns in schools.  Well, not long after being enacted the law was challenged in the courts.  And in 1995 the U.S. Supreme Court shocked everybody when they agreed, striking down the law as unconstitutional.  The attorney’s for the federal government had argued that the law was valid under what is called the Commerce Clause in the Constitution.  Their primary argument was that Congress was within it’s legislative authority because the presence of guns in schools would lead to people being fearful and being fearful would lead to an environment less conducive to learning.  Without quality education people would be less prepared to be economically productive and this would significantly impact interstate commerce.  And Congress does have the ability to legislate interstate commerce.  Now I don’t want guns in schools any more than any other sane American but the crux of the government’s argument was that they could legislate the People because something might cause someone to be afraid.  And if they could ban guns in schools because of fear what other aspects of a persons life can they control using fear as the justification?  To say this is a slippery slope is an unprecedented understatement.  The Supreme Court vote was 5-4.  One vote in the other direction and legislative branch would have been given the power to legislate based on fear.  Please note that there is more to the case (United States v. Lopez) and the rational of the Justice’s decisions.  Please take some time to read about it yourself.

So is it now legal to carry guns in schools?  Nope.  Was it a decision made by the states?  Nope.  It is a federal law.  But how?  The Supreme Court said the law was unconstitutional.  Well, some smart lawyers and politicians revisited the original wording of the bill that Congress passed, changed its language and reintroduced it.  Let’s call what they did what it really is:  they twisted the wording to make the Constitution work for more federal power.  In the re-worded bill they made it a crime to take any gun onto school grounds if that gun had been involved in interstate commerce.  The manufacturing of a gun involves a lot of individual pieces, most of which came across one state line or another.  By linking the desired result (no guns in schools) to ‘things’ used in interstate commerce the re-worded bill was passed by Congress and, though not yet taken up by the Supreme Court, has withstood Constitutional challenges in lower courts.  Despite my support for the end result, the mechanism used to achieve it scares the hell out of me.

It should go without saying that I am glad that guns are not allowed in schools.  Am I glad that the federal government passed a law for it?  Not particularly, no.  I think the states could have handled it on their own and I am quite confident that each state would have done so.  Even though the end result of this decision was a good one it should serve as a scary reminder for every citizen that the federal government can potentially control every aspect of your life if they can correctly wordsmith a bill in Congress to link it to one of their enumerated powers.  And the commerce clause (in conjunction with the “necessary and proper” clause) has been repeatedly used to expand the federal government’s power over the states.  And today the fate of much of the reptile trade hangs in the balance.  Whether through Congress or the Lacey Act the federal government is poised to leverage fear in order to control the interstate transport of a ‘thing’ (a snake).  States should decide which reptiles are allowed in their communities, not the federal government.  Once something becomes federal law it binds us all; there is nowhere to go to be free of it.  It suffocates.  If Florida wants to ban the ownership of Burmese pythons, let that state’s citizens decide to do so.  But geographically speaking, Minnesota is a different planet than Florida.  Minnesotans don’t need the same protections when it comes to such concerns.

Regards,

Colin Weaver

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