…and the things you’ll learn.
Way back in high school I took biology (we all did). We talked about Gregor Mendel and genetics. The girl who sat behind me was gorgeous. I spent most of my time talking to her rather than trying to learn about genetics. My eyes are not blue and discussing the fact that I am het for blue eyes was less interesting than her.
In college I took courses in biology, physiology, epidemiology, genetics, chemistry and biochemistry. None of it seemed like it would ever be relevant (to me) in the real world. I began with the mindset that I was there to ‘check a box’ (e.g. get a diploma). Pass the tests, move along; that was my initial perspective. By the time I graduated from college I knew I was wrong. I had become a reptile breeder (albeit a small one). The ball python jubilee was still almost a decade away so the more exciting genetics considerations at the time were the albino and anerythrystic genes (yes, I know there was other stuff going on, too). Much of the awesomeness we know today in the genetics of burmese pythons, reticulated pythons, ball pythons, blood pythons, boa constrictors, etc. was still a long way off.
After college I enrolled in graduate school courses. I wanted more information. I took graduate level courses in herpetology and genetics. By this time I had been breeding a variety of different snakes (colubrids, boas & pythons) for a few years. Technically, this makes me a herpetoculturist, not a herpetologist. While the difference in spelling is subtle, the meaning is not. So in my herpetology course I was an immediate outsider. My classmates were interested in counting differences in subcaudal scales on snakes obtained from the top and bottom of some far away mountain. I was interested in how to breed them. The course did not include a section on husbandry and breeding, which I understand but still missed. Strangely, herpetoculture and herpetology don’t mix like you might think. This particular group of herpetology students did not embrace the idea of breeding reptiles for profit. Capitalism and academia are often at odds with each other.
I am not suggesting that all my schooling made me a good reptile breeder. While it certainly didn’t hurt me I suggest it provided me slim to no advantage over most of my reptile breeding peers. Pretty much all of my friends who breed snakes arrived at this particular location (e.g. reptile breeder) via different paths. Some of us began as car mechanics while others were general contractors, stock brokers, longshoreman, pharmacologists and information technology professionals. And virtually all of them have as much usable knowledge about genetics as I do. That impresses me. It doesn’t take college or graduate courses to learn how to do any of this. It does, however, take motivation and a desire to learn. And it takes a lot of ‘doing’. The more I do this the better I get. Yeah, yeah, we all love reptiles but it’s the attachment of dollar signs that really gets a lot of us motivated to figure this stuff out. Visit any reptile forum and you will read everyday people talking about Punnett Squares, dihybrid crosses, genes, alleles and loci (locus) just as naturally as they talk about cooking with a microwave oven. It just goes to show the chinese proverb, “What I hear I forget, what I see I remember, what I do I understand” is as true today as it was 2,500 or so years ago when something like it was first written.
My whole point is this: We are a community that has become functional (if not proficient) in a field that until a few years ago was reserved for academics. The past 10-15 years in the reptile industry have been a whirlwind. We have become better at herpetoculture, breeding and genetics. Rather than having a bunch of snakes in glass aquariums we have applied science and capitalism to reptile husbandry. I’m glad to be part of that.
…And then there was H.R. 669. While not the first (or last) assault on our rights to own, breed, sell, trade and transport reptiles, I witnessed two things happen as a result of its introduction:
- We galvanized as a community in a way I honestly didn’t think possible. From the largest breeders to the guy with a single pet reptile I saw people get fired up and say, “What do you need me to do to help fight this?” People quickly became willing soldiers, ready to fight for their right to own reptiles. That impressed me. Using the Internet as our primary vehicle (forums, Twitter, email, web sites, etc.) we all worked to get the word out and get others motivated. The axe has not fallen on H.R. 669 but, to steal from a famous story, ‘Horton heard a Who’ by the time 4/23/09 came around.
- We got also got an unexpected education through this ordeal (not unlike the genetics education we have all received over the past 10 years). I met more than a few reptile people who got caught up on all the stuff they missed in high school about how our government runs. How many of you reptile fanatics out there now have a much better understanding of how things work in the House of Representatives? Maybe you didn’t put it all together but there are a lot of us who are much more acquainted with how the process works. And if H.R. 669 ever makes it out of the House we’re going to all get a lot smarter about how things work in the Senate. We’ve got to be educated, organized, and vigilant if we’re going to win this. People who used to say, “I don’t vote.”, are beginning to realize that their voice, when combined with others who share their beliefs, actually does count.
In one form or another, being in the reptile business is an education…
Despite their normally pleasant disposition ball pythons can and do bite. They don’t bit too often but if you work with them long enough you will get bit. It doesn’t hurt too much, though. It’s the quickness of it that startles you more than anything.
I’ll wager that 95% or more of bites are on the hands and arm. People don’t often get bit in other places but I’m sure there are no places on the human body that have not been bit. In fact, less than a week ago I know of a guy getting in a spot that would make this post no longer PG-rated.
One of two places I have always wanted to make sure I NEVER get bit is in the face; more specifically, the eye.
Having said that let me introduce you to Mike Hauck:
Mike and I met at the Hamburg snake show on Saturday. He works for a fellow breeder and on Friday, the day before Mike and I met, he got bit by a ball python. To be more specific, he got bit in the face. To be even more specific, he got bit in the eye. The suck factor on that is pretty darn high.
You know how sometimes things that aren’t funny make you laugh really hard? This is one of em’. Mike spent most of the day getting joked by everybody at the show who heard what happened to him. “Careful Mike, that’s the business end of that thing!” He was a trooper about it and was cool enough to know that he should be laughing at himself, too. I suggested a visit to the opthamologist but so far he seems cool with the idea wearing an eye patch if there is broken tooth or two left to fester in his eye. I’ll go out on a limb and guess that if a tooth had stayed behind he’d be in a heck of a lot more pain. A fleck of lint under my contact lens is painful so I’ll bet a python tooth buried 1/16″ into the sclera wouldn’t be painless.
The picture I took of Mike was with my iPhone and it kinda sucks so you can’t really tell where the bite is. What the camera also fails to show is the overall redness of his face and eye. He looked like he went out with some friends, got drunk and then got beat up. The sclera (the white part of his eye) was filled with blood and the teeth of the snake even managed to sink into the lacrimal caruncle (the little ball in the inner-corner of your eye). Ouch! He said it didn’t hurt any more than a regular bite and, not wanting to ever prove him wrong, will take his word for it. Here is an enhanced version of the photo that shows just where Mike took his shot.
I’m sure there are a lot of people who have been bit in the face by snakes but as far as I know, Mike is the inagural member of the “took one in the eye” club.
Congratulations Mike Hauck on your achievement. I’m sure other are lining up to join you in your achievement.
I think he meant to write, “Ivory and Pastel Ivory, locked together in perfect harmony”.
Or something like that. Anyway, I can’t see much bad happening from crossing an Ivory with a Pastel Ivory. Seems all good to me. Sorry for the bum picture. I didn’t want to mess with my boy’s mojo so I snapped it in a hurry with my iPhone.
There is a lot of ego-gone-wild in the reptile business. Sometimes it’s annoying but most of the time it amuses me. People are funny about how cool they think they are because they can get snakes to make boom-boom.
I usually laugh at myself a bit when I think about what I do:
- I spend several times more money per month on rodents than I do on food for my family (not that we’re going hungry over it, though).
- I spend a large portion of my day cleaning poop that is not my own. A few hundred snakes and a 2-year old daughter; Oh yeah, I’m all up in it all the time!
- I spend most of my time trying to get my snakes laid, rather than myself. That’s quite the reversal from my college days.
That’s enough to keep my ego in check. How about you?
That’s the word I always use when I talk to people about ball python breeding. The combinations are endless. That’s actually the title of a book I haven’t started to write. I can’t see a day during my lifetime when every combo that can be made will have been created. And unless things go poorly for me I should have about another 50-60 years to hang around. There are just too many different ways to put all of these different ball python genes together. More than once the analogy comparing ball python breeders to artists has been made. We are artists using locus and alleles as our paint; the ball python as our canvas. Cliche? Perhaps. Effective? Yes.
Ball python breeding is also something of a competitive sport. The big breeders in the business are always trying to be the first to produce a particular morph. There’s money involved, certainly, but there are also bragging rights and notoriety to be had if you’re the first to produce a particular combination of genes. Above all else you get to name the morph when you are the first to reveal it to the world. Panda Pied, Silver Streak, Lemon Blast, Bumble Bee, Clown, Spinner Blast, Cinnamon, CinnaBee and Pewter. The list goes on. Naming a morph must be a cool thing to do and after a decade we’re still just getting started. This blog post addresses a seldom seen morph. I don’t know if this one is mine to name. I doubt that it is. Surely someone beat me to it. But I call it the Black Bee, the Black Pastel Spider.
I’m not one the big breeders. I’m in the middle of the pack, playing catchup in a game that requires more than just money and luck. It requires connections, inside tracks and relationships that give you dibs on getting the first of something new that is discovered. The number of us that have these kinds of connections can probably be counted using less than two hands, no toes required.
Even though I’m not currently a big name breeder I can still dinker around with the genes and alleles available. And even without new and exciting things coming out of Africa the current raw materials available allow for all kinds of new and seldom seen combos. Like many of you who are reading this I have spent countless hours staring at the pages of Kevin McCurley’s, John Berry’s and Dave and Tracy Barker’s ball python pictorials. Pardon the crudeness but they are the ball python enthusiasts equivalent to Playboy (or Playgirl, as the case may be). I lust after the images I see. Some of the animals in those books are spectacular, some are even more than that. They are beyond words. Many of them I have seen in person and I’ve even managed to produce a good number of them. But many of them are still just pictures in a book; animals that exist in some collection I’ve never seen. But on occasion some of the animals in those books don’t amaze. They don’t blow you away. In fact, there are a few that leave you thinking, “I don’t see it. What’s the big deal?” Once such snake is the Cinnamon Spider, also known as the CinnaBee.
The first time I saw a CinnaBee was in a photo. At first glance I thought it was a normal spider. A year or so later I saw one on Brian Barczyk’s table at a trade show. I could definitely see the difference between it and a normal spider but I was not terribly impressed, especially when you consider the beautiful results being produced from combining other genes with the spider gene. Consider, for example, the Coral Bee Spider Ball Python, the Axanthic Killer Bee Ball Python, and the Honey Bee. And it would be sinful to not mention the Bumble Bee. A friend and fellow snake breeder once said to me, “it’s the one snake that looks like a piece of candy”, and he’s right. A nice bumble bee is hard to beat. That is, until you bring in the killer bees.
I do not do a lot of stuff with the Cinnamon Pastel. I just don’t care for it as much as the Black Pastel. Both genes are similar and I think we’re all in agreement that the gene is a similar allele at the same locus. Some people tell me they don’t see a difference between black pastels and cinnamon pastels. I think they are blind. Every time I encounter a nice female black pastel I add it to my collection. At the beginning of the 2008 breeding season I was deciding how to pair my black pastel females and, having never before seen a Black Pastel Spider, I decided to breed a Honey Bee (Ghost Spider) to one of my Black Pastel girls. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had seen the CinnaBee and was largely unimpressed. The Spider gene simply overwhelms the Cinnamon gene and makes for a subtle morph. If you want see some pictures of the CinnaBee you can visit Kevin McCurley’s N.E.R.D. site. I thought that maybe, just maybe, the Black Pastel allele would do something different when mixed with the spider gene. I was hoping that it would better mix with the spider gene than the Cinnamon allele did. But, it didn’t. What I got was a fairly normal looking spider that was overall darker in color. The normal gold and yellow glow you expect to see from a normal spider was gone. It was replaced by a darker (yet strangely lighter) overall appearance. Despite not being spectacular the coloration has grown on me as the animals have aged. I really like them. Are they stunners like the Bumble Bee? Not even close. But they do carry some very cool genetics. Because my sire was a Honey Bee they are also het ghost so they are even more powerful in their combo potential.
But words don’t do much to express what a snake looks like. Pictures do more. The images below show three spider ball pythons. The top animal is a normal spider ball python that is actually a sibling of the black bee (Black Pastel Spider). The second (middle) animal is the black bee ball python. The bottom animal is a Spider Yellow Belly, which is obviously of no relation to the other two. I added him in to show contrast between the three animals to help show how truly different they are.
Click on the image to open a much larger view so you can more closely examine the details of all three spider ball pythons (normal spider, black pastel spider (black bee) and yellow belly spider ball python).
Note: After clicking on the image your web browser may resize the images to fit your screen. If you want to see them at their full resolution, click on the image again.
Another important difference that distinguishes the Black Bee Ball Python from a normal spider ball python is its belly coloration and pattern. The image below show three different ball pythons. The belly on the the left is a Black Bee Ball Python, the center belly is a normal Spider Ball Python and the belly on the right is a Yellow Belly Spider Ball Python. The Black Bee has significantly more pattern on its belly and it is also missing most if not all of the yellow that normally goes up the sides. A normal Spider ball python has varying amounts of yellow flecking that go up the sides of the animal. The Yellow Belly Spider obviously has a ridiculous amount of yellow on its belly. I actually have spider yellow belly’s that are even more yellow. Even they can have a lot of variation in the amount of yellow.
In conclusion, the Black Bee Ball Python is a subtle morph. If you haven’t seen many of them or seen one out of context you could easily overlook it or mistake it for a normal ball python. So keep your eyes open. Maybe, just maybe, someone produced one and didn’t realize what it was. If you find it, buy it! It’s a genetic rockstar!
If you have any additional questions about the Black Bee Ball Python please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disclaimer: I wrote this post a long time ago and have gone back and forth over whether or not I should ever post it. On one hand it brings up a topic worthy of discussion amongst responsible reptile breeders. On the other hand it can serve as ammunition for those who think that people shouldn’t own reptiles. But in the end I decided that reptiles who suffer horrible fates are no different than dogs, cats, ferrets, rabbits, or any other animal kept as a pet. People are diverse in many ways; their ability and willingness to care for animals being just one of them. Here goes:
From time to time I get calls from local people who want to sell me their snakes. I also keep an eye on local classifieds, looking for good deals that might come along. Over the years I’ve met some cool people this way and usually enjoy seeing how fellow herpers set up their animals. Necessity is the mother of invention and I’ve seen how limited budgets can help people come up with some really cool husbandry solutions. I’m also often intrigued to see what animals people have in their collections; many are a potpourri of stuff as random as you can imagine.
But… sometimes I go to houses that make me sad. Like a few nights ago, for instance. Someone posted some snakes in a local classified ad and I decided to call and talk with them about what they had to offer. The person gave a compelling description of the animals, describing how wonderful her animals were, how much she loved them and how it hurt her to have to part with them (she claimed to be broke). So I took the time to drive over and check things out. It was a catastrophe. The snakes had one of the worst mite infestations I’ve seen in years. Anemia was a given; the animals were emaciated, ridge-backed, listless and in all around poor health. And to top it off they weren’t even what she had advertised them to be. These animals needed to be rescued from their owner. I know it makes me a jerk but I’m not in the animal rescue business. I don’t have the time, space, or ability to take on rescue projects. Those animals are more than likely doomed and they don’t deserve it. They were some of the unlucky few to be picked by people unqualified to own reptiles. I left feeling sad for the animals but it’s not something I haven’t seen before.
None of these animals were high dollar animals when they were healthy; maybe $65-$100 each when they were purchased at a snake show or a pet store. And on my way home I thought about two things: The first was that I wanted to burn my clothes and take a bath in Nix to clean any mites off me and the second was a sad realization of something I have known for a long time but have chosen to not really acknowledge.
What realization? Well, have you ever known something for a long time but subconsciously chose to never really let it come to the forefront of your thoughts? I’m sure you have. We all do. After almost 20 years in the snake business I’ve seen some horrible things done to snakes. The neglect, the poor husbandry, the lack of feeding, the untreated illnesses; I’ve seen it all many times over. It comes with the territory. But it’s not just reptiles. I’ve seen it with dogs, cats and many other types of animals. For most of my years I chalked it up to that small portion of people in our business who basically just suck. They have no business owning a reptile (or any other animal) because they aren’t willing to take the time, put in the effort or spend the money to give the animal the care it deserves. Fortunately for the snakes, most of us aren’t like that.
But the revelation I had that night was not that it’s just that some people suck and don’t deserve to own a reptile, it’s that some snakes are actually too inexpensive and it’s their low price that dooms them just as much as the idiots who buy them. A normal ball python costs $25 or less at a reptile trade show. Corn snakes are often less than that. There are an endless number of snakes that cost basically nothing to buy. And if something costs next to nothing there is a greater degree of likelihood that a person won’t give it the care it deserves. It’s financial value makes it disposable, not worthy of any real effort or caring. “My $25 snake got sick and died? Oh well, I’ll just buy a new one.”
There are exceptions to every rule, of course. There are always are. A friend and fellow breeder named Carl Gilmore (www.suffolkselects.com) recently spent many hundreds of dollars in vet bills to treat a normal ball python who had developed some medical problems. The money he spent was multiple times over the value of the animal. But he did it because he believes that a snake held in captivity deserves the best care its keeper can provide, regardless of its financial value. As much as it hurts the bottom line its the right thing to do. Not all of us are so honorable. Carl has my complete respect because he always does the right things when it comes to his animals. Their financial value isn’t part of the equation when it comes to their maintenance.
How often do you see high-end ball pythons, say a Ghost Mojave, in a mite-infested, emaciated state? Pretty close to never. Why? Because that animal costs a lot of money and someone willing to spend the money to buy it is going to be much more likely to give it the care it deserves.
I know it will never happen but wouldn’t the overall state of reptile health be light years better if a normal ball python was $400. People would not buy them on impulse and because they had a vested interest in them they would be much less likely to neglect them. It wouldn’t be a perfect system, of course. Again, exceptions to the rules always exist. But let’s compare it to the world of home ownership. Banks want you to put at least 20% of your own money into the deal before loaning you the other 80% to buy a house? It’s not because the bank can’t afford to loan you the whole 100% (all jokes about the current state of the financial industry aside); it’s just that they know that if you have a vested interested in the house you’re more likely to take care of it. That provides a measure of protection for their portion of the investment. They know you are less likely to trash the house and let it fall into a dilapidated state because you have a vested financial interest in its continuity.
It’s a bit idealistic for me to even think of it but wouldn’t it be cool if breeders required their customers to put more into the purchase of an animal to increase the likelihood that the animals would live a long and healthy life. Sadly we’re on the opposite side of that particular coin. It’s all about money and most of us will sell a snake to anybody waving cash in front of our face. I know I have sold snakes to people who weren’t ready. I talked with them about how to take care of the snake, I encouraged them to buy a book about successful husbandry of their animal and I always make myself available after the sale for advice. But I can’t be judge and jury when it comes to selling an animal. In the end I have to expect people to be accountable for their own actions. I’ve been hearing a lot of chatter lately about making animal sellers more accountable. But how? Should I interview a customer’s neighbors before selling a snake? Should I schedule a visit with their pastor or preacher to talk about what kind of person they are? Should I make them provide references from former employers and school teachers telling me how responsible they are? Seems silly, doesn’t it? I don’t want to sell a snake into certain death. I love these animals, even the $5 ones. But how do I discern the responsible from the irresponsible? I can’t. Now, in my defense, there have been a few times when I knew the person I was talking to was going to kill the snake within hours. Their stupidity was just too obvious. On those few occasions I did talk them out of buying one from me. But they may very well have moved to the next table and picked up an animal there.
Few people love capitalism as much as I do. But nights like the other night make me momentarily guilty, knowing that those low dollar animals I sell to people are occasionally going to meet a terrible end.
Not so cheery,
So today I get this email from a girl named Leigh Anne Serrano. This is how it reads:
Well, you’re email address says it all. Yes, this would absolutely impact you. But trying to mislead the public regarding this is absolute crap. OR maybe you haven’t actually read the whole document in it’s entirety, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. So, to help YOU become more informed, so that you don’t continue to misinform others, here is a section that I have cut and pasted directly from HR 669, just for you:
(f) Animals Owned Lawfully Prior to Prohibition of Importation- This Act and regulations issued under this Act shall not interfere with the ability of any person to possess an individual animal of any species if such individual animal was legally owned by the person before the risk assessment is begun pursuant to subsection (e)(3), even if such species is later prohibited from being imported under the regulations issued under this Act.
You know, you could look at it in a good way…..It could make the lives of the snakes already out there so much more valuable, and so much less likely to be dumped, abandoned, killed when no longer wanted. And if you really love those creatures, that will make you happy. All in all, what you or I or any of us want is irrelevant, the big guys do what they want (think bailout money, it was given….) I just hate propaganda filled with alarm tactics that are false. There are enough breeders, hobbiest, enthusiest out there that will side with you based on fact alone(this will shut you down) without resorting to circus ads. If you are proud of who you are and what you do, have some dignity.
Leigh Anne Serrano
So I’m thinking she’s one of the haters. I’m glad to have received her email because it illustrates a few important points. One, there are a lot of people out there who don’t want us to be able to own and breed our animals and two, they are confused. Here is my response to her:
Hi Leigh Anne,
I appreciate your email but I don’t like that you think that I’m misleading
people. I have read and re-read the proposed law and I am aware that I
will be allowed to continue to own the animals I have today. But it will
prohibit me from breeding them, selling them, trading them or transporting
them across state lines. This includes the animals I currently own; not
one’s I might import in the future. In fact, I don’t import at all. All
my animals are captive bred either by me or other breeders around the
country. This bill will eliminate the trade of captive bred animals, not
So no, the animals I have will not become more valuable. They will become
useless. The hundreds of thousands of dollars I have invested in my
business will be lost.
So, with respect, you do not have all the facts. It is you who are
confused. This is something that will devastate the pet trade but I am
suspecting that this is what you want.
If you would like to help Leigh Anne Serrano further understand what the passage of HR 669 will mean you can contact her at email@example.com. I’m sure she will appreciate the continued education that the reptile industry can drop on her.
Note: This is not a political tirade. Please bear with me. I have a point that deals with reptiles.
First off, who the heck is Phil Zimmerman? I suspect that very few people in the reptile world have ever heard of him. Without boring you with details let’s just say that Phil is a super-smart guy in the world of cryptography. In the early 90’s Phil wrote and released a mechanism of encryption called PGP. PGP stands for Pretty Good Privacy. In reality PGP was really good privacy but I won’t wear you out with the details on what, why, how, etc. Phil didn’t release PGP to make money and he didn’t do it to become famous. For a long time the United States government treated encryption as munitions. That is, the ability to make data secret and unrecoverable was considered a weapon. Other countries weren’t allowed to have it and our government was vigilant in preventing the export of encryption technologies. That desire to prevent secret communications by other countries began to spread to American citizens. There were some people in our government that felt that American citizens should also be denied the right to have a secret conversation; one the government could not get to no matter how hard they tried. A tide was rising in our government that was seeking to remove the ability of US citizens to keep things secret from the government. Phil thought this was dangerous (and I completely and totally agree) so he created PGP and released it to the world. Suddenly extremely strong encryption was available to anybody, anywhere and for any reason. If you wanted to secure a Christmas letter to your family or your plans to rob a bank there was a mechanism of encryption freely available that would prevent the government from being able to intercept and read it. Before you get all worked up you need to understand that Phil didn’t want to help bank robbers or terrorists or anybody else who wanted to do things criminal. He wanted to protect the rights of US citizens to have the ability to choose. He understood that if something becomes part of our everyday lives it becomes much more difficult for the government to take it away. He knew that if people began to use encryption as naturally as they used their television remote controls it would become impossible for the government to remove that freedom. The people wouldn’t allow it. And you know what? He was right! Today you are free to encrypt anything and everything you want, legit or otherwise. You are free to make the choice yourself, and that’s one of the fundamental beliefs on which the United States is built. That freedom to make that choice means that you also choose to accept the conseqences of your choice.
Look what happened when the government tried to make alcohol illegal. Oops. That didn’t go over so well, did it? Imagine what would happen if the government tried to take away the automobile. How well would that go over? How about our right to choose our own employer and line of work? Get my point? Some things are so entrenched in our society that they are impossible to take away.
Most of us are aware that there are efforts underway to eliminate our right to own many types of reptiles throughout the United States. If they are successful it will be in part because reptile ownership is not sufficiently entrenched in our society, in our homes, communities and neighborhoods. What I’m saying is that if you are a reptile lover and you want to keep your right to own them then you need to become a reptile evangelist. Find ways, no matter how small, to further entrench them into our society. Get a new herper started by helping them with their first snake or gecko. Talk with an ophidiophobe and help them become less fearful of reptiles. Speak at a high school assembly. Do something. I’m not saying you have to put on a white shirt, a black tie and ride your bike from door to door preaching from the Book of Reptilia. Just don’t be quiet. Because if you are you may wake up one day to find that the reptiles you own are contraband. And then you’ll have to make the same decisions that people did back in the days of prohibition. Do snake shows become speakeasy’s? Do we meet in alleys to do our deals right next to the drug dealers? If the representatives from Florida have their way you’ll be committing a felony for driving your ball pythons across state lines. If you breed one and sell it you’ll be a criminal. Sound insane? Do nothing and it could actually happen.
If you’re a breeder, get a reptile into every home you possibly can. They need to know how to care for them, of course, but let’s penetrate the population. Nobody is talking about banning dogs. Why? Because 2/3 of Americans own one. Let’s get reptiles up to that level! Every kid who graduates high school should get a diploma, a cookout at their folks house and a ball python!!! College students should have to have a computer and a kingsnake. It should be a requirement.
P.S. – If you haven’t gotten yourself spun up on what’s going on, read this articles that discusses the proposed ban on reptiles. The proposed law is masquerading as a ban on importation but it’s actually a ban on ownership. Scary, scary stuff.
First, a disclaimer: I am in the early stages of starting a web site called ReptiTrack. www.reptitrack.com is not a competitior to kingsnake.com or faunaclassifieds.com or any other site that people use to sell their reptiles on-line. ReptiTrack is a complimentary site to those on-line sales locations. It will serve one and only one purpose: to be a centalized repository of price tracking for reptiles so you know a realistic price to put on your animals when you go to list them on the site of your choosing. The cycle of going to kingsnake.com to see what your animals are worth has to stop. It is destroying our industry. And no, that is not an overstatement. It is true. A multi-billion dollar industry is at the whim of the most recent stupid price advertised by some out-of-work house painter who breeds ball pythons on the side and just crashed his car while driving home drunk. The biggest names in our industry go to kingsnake to figure out what animals are worth. I won’t name names but you know who you are. I cannot imagine anything more silly. In the ball python world, the tail is truly wagging the dog.
Let me offer you a hypothetical scenario (or is it?) that illustrates why you should never again trust a price you see on kingsnake.com (or any other site of a similar ilk). For this illustration I am going to make up a ball python morph called the Phantasm Ball. Phantasms are co-dominant and currently sell for $2,500.
Larry, a small-time ball python breeder desperately wants a Phantasm Ball but can’t afford one. Unwilling to save his money Larry hatches a plan. And here’s how it goes:
Larry doesn’t own any Phantasm Balls but Larry posts an ad on kingsnake.com offering 1.1 Phantasms for $2,000 each or $3,500 for the pair. Individually that’s $500 less than the going rate and as a pair is $1,500 off the current market value. Naturally, Larry is going to get calls to buy the animals. “Sorry,” Larry says. “They already sold”. But he says he should be getting some more in the next week or two and he takes names and numbers to call people back. The animals never actually existed, of course, and the one’s he is going to get next week don’t really exist either.
A real owner of Phantasms logs in to kingsnake.com and sees Larry’s ads selling Phantasms for $2,000. “Crap!”, he says, “The price is already down $500 from last year.” Wanting to be competitive with Larry (the liar), the real Phantasm owner offers his on kingsnake.com for $1,800 each, $3, 000 for a pair. He sell them, happy for the $3K but disappointed because he thought he was going to get more for them.
Three weeks later Larry the Liar posts two more Phantasms on kingsnake.com for $1,500 each. In his ad he explains how much it pains him to sell the animals for so little but he was recently injured and needs money to pay medical bills. When the calls pour in he once again explains that they have already been sold. He again says that a fellow breeder is expecting some more Phantasms to hatch in the coming weeks and will post them up as soon as they are ready. In a few weeks, the cycle repeats again.
You can see where this is going. Larry, a guy who doesn’t even own Phantasms is able to drive the price down by more than 50%-80% in a matter of months. Now, with the prices at a level he can afford, he buys himself a pair of Phantasms. He is laughing his ass off at the rest of us as he does it.
Is this story true? I don’t know. It’s possible. The fact that it took me about zero seconds to think it up means that someone less ethical than me thought it up long ago. Never mind economics, supply and demand, the economy, falling home prices, unemployment, blah-blah-blah. Pinstripe ball pythons were more than $2,000 in the latter part of 2006. Now, at the beginning of 2009, barely 24 months later, people balk at paying $300 for one. That is false. Ball pythons lay an average of 6 eggs. Few to none of us have super-pinstripes (yes, I know there is no super-phenotype) so 3 of those 6 are pinstripes (maybe). I’m a small/medium sized breeder. I produced about 70 clutches of eggs last year. That’s about 420 babies. How many were Pinstripes? Less than 20. I kept 12 of them for myself, I sold 8. Multiply me by 200 similar-sized breeders and there are 1,600 Pinstripes for sale in 2008. Think there are more than 1,600 ball python freaks in the USA who want a Pinstripe? Uh yeah, there’s more than that in my little crevice of Virginia. If the market isn’t saturated how did the price fall by almost 90% in 2 years? I’ll tell you how: kingsnake.com and all of us going to it for pricing. Whether it’s people lying about animals they don’t have or every person posting just a little bit less than the person who posted before them doesn’t really matter. If we continue to use kingsnake.com as our source for pricing the market will not have longevity. We are ruining our own business and most of us are conscious of it.
I used to email people who put up really low prices asking them why there were doing it. Most of them didn’t offer valid reasons other than, “I really need money”. One guy told me he bred his own food and wasn’t able to produce enough to feed his ball python production so he wanted to sell them as quickly as possible so he didn’t have to feed him. He admitted he knew he was selling them for a really low price compared to what they were worth but you know what? I never again saw them for more than his admittedly low price. His two weeks of low posting brought the price down nationwide by over $150/animal.
Kingsnake.com allows a breeder with a single pair of animals, say one bumble bee male and one normal female to control the price of bumble bees for every producer in the country. I’ve heard breeders say, “let them sell theirs for those low prices. After they do, they’ll be gone and prices will return to normal.” But they don’t. Prices go back up once they go down. NEVER!
I have more to say on this topic. A lot more. But I’ll save it for another day because if I don’t, this will turn into a book and no one will read it. I also don’t want to rant. I want to come across as a lucid, sane person.
In the meantime, please, please, please stop going on-line to figure out what your animals are worth. Call Brian Barczyk. Call Kevin McCurley. Call Bob Clark. Call Adam Wysocki. Call Pete Kahl. Call Kim Bell. Call Colette Sutherland. Call Tracy Barker. Call an established and respected breeder in this business and ask them what the realistic price should be. Don’t look at kingsnake.com anymore.
If you agree with me, even a little bit, please get other people to read this. We’ve got to start preserving our industry. Prices will fall, they always do. But prices shouldn’t fall they was they have been.
As a final thought, let me explain prices to you. There are four different types of prices in the ball python industry. They are:
- Retail prices – This is the price that should be listed on kingsnake.com or at a trade show. You should be relatively serious about this price. If you negotiate on this price it should not be by more than about 10%. Pricing an animal for $1,000 and selling it for $500 ruins the credibility of all other prices you advertise.
- Sale prices – These are “weekend special” prices or “Santa Claus Specials”. These prices should be a reasonable discount (10-20%) off your normal retail price. Don’t get crazy. Sale prices damage the market long-term. For instance, pastel clowns were selling for $12,000 last year. One weekend someone put them up on kingsnake.com for a “weekend special” of $6,500 (because he needed money). The price never again went above $6,500. All it takes is one stupid person to ruin it for everyone.
- Wholesale prices – Jesus, don’t get me started. Somebody conned the world into believing that wholesale prices are 50% off retail. That’s crap! Wholesalers DO NOT DESERVE 50% MARGIN. You know who decided that it should be 50% off retail? The wholesalers!!! Quit buying into their crap. Demand more money for your production. You do all the work, ALL OF IT, and the wholesaler gets to make the exact same amount as you??? Seriously? Think about it. You think the rest of the world (outside the reptile world) has a 50% margin on their products? Nope. Try 15-20% on average. If you sell an animal at 50% of its retail value you give the person buying it 50% of margin to ruin the going rate. Why wouldn’t he sell it for 80% of the current retail prices? He only paid 50% so he’s making 30% for absolutely nothing. STOP WHOLESALING YOUR ANIMALS FOR 50% OF THEIR VALUE!!! YOU ARE DESTROYING THE MARKET IF YOU DO IT.
- Friend prices – These are whatever you want them to be. Hell, I’ve given extremely valuable snakes to good friends for free. These deals should be secret, between you and your friend. Don’t go on a forum and tell everybody that you just got a bumble bee for $300 and leave out the part about how the guy who sold it to you has been your friend since birth and you gave him one of your kidneys last year. Someone hearing that you got a bumble bee for $300 makes them think that they deserve one for that much, too. Deals made between friends in back rooms need to stay there.
Let’s get a collective clue, people. C’mon. We’re smarter than this.
Until next time,
Being in the ball python business is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. I love the animals and I love the whole yearly cycle involved in breeding them. I have also developed some good friendships with other ball python breeders and that’s something I would not have been able to do if it weren’t for ball pythons. Our paths simply would have never crossed without these snakes as a binding agent.
But being in the reptile business doesn’t come without sacrifice. You give endlessly of your time and money. If you allow it to do so the constant demands of animal husbandry can put tremendous stress on other aspects of your life. I own more than one company and there is a constant struggle to split my time between the two enterprises. I also have a wife and daughter who want to be with me and nothing in life comes before being a father and a husband. Nothing. But being so resolute does not change the needs of my ball pythons. They still have to have fresh water, clean cages and food. And they never stop requiring it. By the time I finish cleaning, feeding and watering it’s time to start again. To successfully balance all of these facets of my life is almost impossible but I’m not willing to give any of them up. Something must be sacrificed. I sacrifice sleep. I seldom sleep more than four hours per night. I’m fortunate that I can still function very well on that little sleep. I’ve been doing it for years so my body is used to it.
Time isn’t the only thing that gets sacrificed in order to participate in the ball python business. Other things have to be given endlessly as well. Money is at the top of the list. To make a living on ball pythons you need a lot of them; a whole lot. While many ball pythons have become extremely affordable (their prices are falsely low, actually) it wasn’t always like that. Many of you know this all too well. An animal that cost multiple thousands of dollars a few short years ago is now in the low hundreds. Pinstripes, for example. I get a little sick to my stomach every time I think about their current price.
Breeders who have adult pinstripes, genetics stripes, bumble bees, black pastels, ghosts and albinos paid a lot of money for them. A LOT! Some of you who are relatively new to the business don’t fully get that. What have you sacrificed in order to be in this business? Anything? Everything? There may be a choice few who have jobs that afford them the opportunity to pay cash for their animals. But that’s a select few, I’m sure. Most of us have had to make many personal sacrifices of one type or another to build our collections.
The other day I was preparing to reinstall the operating system on my computer so I was moving my files to another computer so I could restore them after the rebuild. I always seem to come across interesting photos when I do that (I’ve got dozens of gigabytes of photos on my laptop) and it was these photos that prompted me to write this little article:
This was my 1996 Twin Turbo 300ZX. Most car enthusiasts agree that this is a very special car. I had wanted one for years but their $50K plus price tag back in ’96 put them out of my price range. It wasn’t until several years later that I could afford one. When I did get one I proceeded to put many more thousands into upgrading it; custom exhaust, upgraded computer, turbo timer, performance intakes, and beefier brakes. I waited for several years to be in a position to buy that car. And just after I got it to the the point that it was perfect for me, I sold it. Why did I sell a car that I wanted so badly for so long? I sold it to buy ball pythons. Building my collection was worth more than having that car in my driveway. The sale price wasn’t anything magical; somewhere in the $17K range. But that was back in 2006. $17,000 in 2006 didn’t go very far in the ball python world.
This isn’t the only big sacrifice I have made over the years to be in the ball python business. I haven’t been on vacation in almost a decade for example. I choose to take the money I would spend on a vacation and re-invest it into building my ball python collection. If I were to give it some more thought I’d be able to come up with a long list of personal sacrifices I have made to be in the position I am in today. When I look at the sacrifices I have made to have the animals I do I get all the more annoyed with people who say that all ball python morphs should cost $50 so everybody can have one. You know what I say to those people? Two words: “Pack Sand!” I gave up things that I wanted to get the animals I have and you need to do the same.
And it’s because of these sacrifices that I hold the line on ball python prices. I am not now nor will I ever be the guy who sells ball pythons for a bargain basement prices. I will never lead the way on decreasing ball python prices and I will fight against those who do. I have put too much of myself into this. I have made too many sacrifices in the form of time, money and personal relationships. I will not discount the value of my investment simply because some guy on kingsnake.com is freaked out over money and is selling his animals for $100 less than the going rate. I won’t do it and neither should you. I love ball pythons and this industry too much to do it. I won’t do it to myself and I won’t do it to my peers who have made many sacrifices similar to mine. I’ve got your back on pricing. You got mine?