I’ve been in and around the snake business for almost 20 years. I took a hiatus for a few years when I got married back in the latter part of the 90’s but I’ve been back in it full-force for many years now. While these days I am mostly a ball python breeder I spent a lot of time with a lot of different animals in my earlier years. Ball pythons in the early 90’s were not even a little bit what they are today. Most of the people who read this already know that. Back in the 80’s albino burmese were the big deal and things like albino kenyan sand boas and hognose snakes were just getting rolling. Pete Kahl and Brian Sharp were starting a firestorm in the boa community with their albino strains. Jungle carpet pythons were the coolest thing in the carpet world and all that mattered in the world of chondros was that you could actually breed them successfully; never mind all this locality stuff we’ve got today. Juno road in Texas was Mecca for grey banded kingsnakes and blackhead pythons and womas were borderline mythical. I remember seeing a pair of womas at Tom Crutchfield’s place in the early 90’s and thought I had seen the holy grail of snakes. I also remember seeing the first albino alligator around the same time and thought it wasn’t real until it blinked.
Anyway, to my point. Somebody once said that hinsight is 20/20. I can’t begin to express to you how true that is. One of my fondest and most embarrassing memories about being in the snake business took place at the Mid-Atlantic Reptile Show (MARS) somewhere around 1994 or 1995. I can’t remember the year exactly. Anyway, Ian Gniazdowski and I had been friends from college for several years and I often helped him at his table during the shows. Back in the 90’s the MARS show was actually a cool show. All the big names were there (even though they weren’t necessarily “big” names yet): Barczyk, McCurley, Gniazdowski, Barker, this list goes on.
None of the other parties of this conversation will remember this but me (and it will be evident why after you read it). Ian and I were standing at his table and Kevin McCurley from NERD walked up carrying a ball python. It was a bit unusual looking but it didn’t immediately grab me. Ian and Kevin were talking about ball pythons and I wasn’t paying too much attention. During the conversation Brian Barczyk walked up and joined in on the talk. Within a minute or two Brian had agreed to buy the ball python from Kevin for an amount that is nobody’s business but Kevin’s and Brian’s but I remember thinking, “Why the $%$#@ did Brian just pay that much for a frickin’ ball python?’ Over the course of the next few minutes several more ball pythons were purchased for dollar amounts that I thought transcended insane. And here’s where I made the single biggest mistake of my life: I turned away from the three of them, muttering under my breath, “A ball python is a ball python. Anybody who pays more than $65 for one is crazy.” And that was the last of it. I blindly kept my focus on breeding burmese, rainbow boas, kingsnakes and boas. Little did I know that if I had paid a little more attention, just a little more, I may have been there at a moment when it was all beginning. Instead I walked away, arrogant and blind to the opportunity. Had I not been such a fool on that day you might know my name the way you know the others who were in that conversation that day; Gniazdowski, Barczyk, McCurley, and Weaver. Huh? Who the hell is Weaver? Oh, he’s the guy who walked away from the conversation that defined the next fifteen years of the ball python industry. Smart guy.
The lesson learned that day is that I don’t know it all. People have insights that I don’t see and I need to be less arrogant and open to the possibilities. Ball pythons could have been a bust. But they weren’t and my close mindedness cost me more than just a few dollars.
Pay attention, something new is coming. Don’t miss it the way that I did.
Colin (ahem!) Weaver
The Silver Streak Ball Python. Less often known by its real name; the Super Pastel Black Pastel Ball Python.
Like many breeders I have male Silver Streaks in my collection. These days you almost have to. It’s getting harder and harder to keep up with the big breeders so having males with some genetic firepower is a non-negotiable essential.
But for the past few years I have also been working to add female Silver Streaks to my collection. I’ve manage to add several to my breeding arsenal but this girl
Is the biggest one I’ve got. She’s a hefty 2700 grams at last weigh in and this is her second year in breeding rotation. I’ve been breeding her with a Pastel Lesser Ball Python so I’m hoping to get some really cool stuff from her eggs.
- Pastels (Please, Lord. Please! No. Could I be soooooo unlucky?)
- Super Pastels
- Pastel Lessers
- Super Pastel Lessers
- Black Pewters (Meh. Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad to produce em’, just not excited about getting them from this particular pairing)
- Black Pewter Lessers
- Silver Streaks
- Silver Streak Lessers (Booyah!!! Since I don’t have any of these I’ll be hard-pressed to actually let it go if I should be blessed enough to have one poke its head out of the egg. If I produce a male, it isn’t even a discussion. I’ll keep it. I’ll actually keep the first 2-3 males I produce. Females will be a different story.)
If she would hurry up and ovulate I’d be a much happier guy.
Recently there were a few messages exchanged on Twitter between several reptile enthusiasts about the discovery of a hatchling tuatara in New Zealand. I remeber studying tuataras when I took a graduate-level herpetology course back in the late 90’s. We didn’t have any tuataras to look at, of course, so we read a good bit and did a lot of talking. One of the things I remember about tuataras is that the duration of their breeding cycle is insane. Consider this:
- Tuataras reach sexual maturity somewhere around 15 years of age. Hmmph! It doesn’t even take humans that long to become reproductive.
- Gestation is somewhere in the realm of 9 months. After 9 months the female lays about a dozen eggs (give or take)
- Eggs take as few as 11 but as many as 16 months to hatch.
- Females only reproduce every few years.
To say that Tuatara’s are not in any genetic hurry to reproduce themselves is a bit of an understatement.
All this discussion about saving one species or another got me thinking. Consider the following:
As you might suspect, Tuataras are highly endangered. Whenever things become endangered they (quite correctly) become heavily protected. This usually relegates captive breeding efforts to zoos and other scientific organizations. I understand the motivations. If the existence of a species is on the line you want the most educated, the most capable and the most dedicated people on the job. This makes sesnse. But hang on a minute. Has anyone looked around the herpetological landscape lately? Zoos are not the most advanced husbandry facilities around any more. Several for-profit reptile breeders have outpaced the efforts of even the best zoos out there. Money is a powerful motivator for huge portions of the population. When you combine a passion for reptiles with the ability to make money you find that reptile breeders become 1) very intelligent about husbandry and genetics and 2) very agressive in producing the largest quantity possible. Aren’t those the same basic motivations of a species preservation program?
Most of us in the business can readily rattle off a few names of breeders who are worthy of the challenge and have facilities that are up to the task. Why not give professional breeders a shot at preserving endangered species? I see nothing but good to come of it; the animals are highly likely to be produced in larger quantities than any zoo (no disrespect to zoos intended), large portions of the production can be re-introduced into wild, the breeders makes money on some of the production, animals that were once impossible to own become available in the trade which, if we all agree on one of the purposes of captive breeding, decreases the pressure of collection/poaching of animals in the wild.
If producing more of the animal and re-establishing its viability in the wild are our objectives I can’t think of anyone equally qualified than a professional (for-profit) reptile breeder.
Give it some thought.
One of the things I like so much about the reptile business is that there is no uninteresting time of year (ball python breeding in particular). You’re always doing something with your animals. Feeding, cleaning, cycling temperature, adjusting humidity, feeding, cleaning, varying light cycles, breeding, incubating, feeding, cleaning, hatching, selling, trading, buying …and feeding and cleaning. There is no down time, no off season. It’s not too unlike professional sports, actually. Football players start the season focused on making the playoffs. Once in the playoffs they focus on getting to the championship game. Once they win the championship game they focus on the Super Bowl. After that little event they focus on training for the following season so they can do it all over again. It’s a cycle and it never ends. Reptile breeding is just like this. You fatten up your females as best you can and start breeding in the fall. You start getting eggs in late winter/early spring. Hatching starts in early spring through late summer. As soon as eggs drop you start fattening up again. At the same time you are working to sell or trade the years production. The animals you keep or the one’s you acquire have a little sub-routine that runs in parallel; you feed them to get them up to breeding size in a timely fashion. Baby snakes have a much more basic cycle: feed, clean, feed, clean, clean, feed, clean, feed, clean, clean, feed, clean. It is not lost on me how many incredibly intelligent people who are in the reptile business who have somehow chosen to clean snake poop as a career/favorite pastime. It’s a testimony to the general awesomeness of reptiles that we’re willing to endure such dirty work to have the magical moments that successful husbandry provides.
Right now I’m at the stage where I’m wondering if I’m going to make the playoffs. I do it to myself every year at this time. I’m at that stage where females are ovulating and going into pre-lay sheds. And it’s at this time of year when you start to wonder if you’ve done everything right. If you’re anything like me you can easily talk yourself into a panic. You start to think that you aren’t going to have any clutches at all, or maybe only a tiny fraction of what you are expecting. Year after year I drive myself crazy with worry and year after year it turns out to be unfounded. Everything works out fine. Worrying is part of the cycle for me.
Now the genetic odds on what pokes out of the egg in about 2 months is a completely different story. And that’s actually next up in my cycle of things to drive myself insane over.
My rodent delivery day is Friday. As a result Friday night and Saturday are heavy feeding times. But I usually get more rodents than I need because I like to feed throughout the week. I try to keep a small number of rodents all the time (small is a relative amount) because I know it’s on when I open a cage and a ball python gives me that special “let’s do this, let’s eat” look. Ooooh Yeah! It’s definitely on! You know the look, too. It comes in a few different forms; there’s the S-neck, facing forward, tense body look. There is also the shoot up out of the cage and defy the laws of physics by holding most of its body suspended in space and perpendicular to the floor look. And finally, my favorite: you slide open the drawer and they eagerly lift the first 3-4″ of their head and body and look straight up in the air, head darting back and forth, tongue flicking quickly in and out. In a snakes world rodents seem to rain down from heaven so it makes sense that this is the first place one should check when the possibility of food arises.
Most of the time ball pythons are voracious feeders. But sometimes …ooooh, sometimes, they can make you crazy with their finicky nature. So I take the Boy Scout approach and “always be prepared”. When a ball python wants to eat, it’s going to eat. That’s it. If I don’t feed it when it’s giving me all the right signals I know I’ll be kicking myself the following Friday when Murphy’s Law steps in and the snake says, “Nah. I’m good. Thanks anyway. Eat it yourself.”
I love going to reptile trade shows. As a breeder it gives me a chance to buy, sell and trade with other breeders and enthusiasts. The shows are a lot more personal than doing Internet sales and it’s cool to meet new people, forge new friendships and make a few bucks at the same time.
For me the whole experience of the show is a blast. I like the hectic scramble of packing for the show, the long drive to wherever the show happens to be, the inevitable lack of sleep and the breakneck pace of the actual show. The time rockets past and the show is over before I even know it. I almost always thoroughly enjoy the experience. But the Long Island Reptile Show that took place last weekend (March 7, 2009) was an unusual exception to the joy I normally get from going to shows.
The show was not good. Compared to the last Long Island show we attended very few people showed up. There were window shoppers and families roaming about but the people looking to add some nice animals to their collection must have stayed home. They were few and far between.
The disappointment of a poor turnout was all the more evident because the previous Long Island snake show was a huge success. That show was packed! People were elbow to elbow and it was 2-3 people deep waiting to get to the table. It was like, well, Hamburg. Or White Plains. You know, good shows. I thought Long Island was on pace to become a good show like those. It may not be in the cards.
The story relayed to me was that the show promoter did put ads in the newspaper but accidentally listed the wrong address. I am not 100% sure this is true; it’s just what I was told. If it is true it may or may not have had an impact on attendance.
I don’t blame the economy (which is a scapegoat for every problem these days) because the last Hamburg and the last White Plains (both in the past month) were excellent shows. Reptile lovers are relatively impervious to our global financial crisis.
On the very long drive home from the Long Island show there was a lot of discussion about whether or not the show will get another chance with us. As of today it’s not looking good. My total drive time (round trip) was over 20 hours (including dealing with rush hour traffic). That’s a long time to spend in a car only to be disappointed by a poor show turnout.
But I’m optimistic! The Richmond reptile expo is at the end of the month and there is another Hamburg snake show toward the end of March. Hamburg always redeems!
See you at the next show!
The Hamburg, PA reptile show was yesterday (2/28/09). Man, what a great show! The turnout was insane! Some people waited in line for over an hour just to get into the show. That’s dedication to herps if I’ve ever seen it. Once in the building it was elbow-to-elbow and it didn’t let up for most of the day. Upwards of 4,000 people attended the show. But that’s Hamburg. The town is in the absolute middle of nowhere. The building where the show is located is old and run down and the temperatures are usually uncomfortably cold. The success of the show is an oddity. Reading about its logistics on paper would cause you to think the show is a loser. But Hamburg is always a good show. Always. Despite being in the middle of nowhere, Hamburg is equidistant from everywhere. It’s just close enough to bring people from Northern Virginia, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York city suburbs and Baltimore. Each of those places can sustain snake shows on their own but Hamburg seems to get people coming from everywhere. Denise, the show promoter, must be one happy lady.
People are spending money on reptiles. Snake collections are growing. While the economy is struggling people who love reptiles seem unwilling to give up their beloved hobby. And that’s an indication of just how important reptiles are in the lives of people who understand.
This continues to be a great industry. It has its up’s and down’s just like everything else but, for the most part, it’s a great community with a lot of really cool people with a lot of unbelievable animals. I’m glad to be in it.
I always get a greater sense of satisfaction from my breeding efforts when the animals who are taking care of business have been with me since they themselves were follicles in their momma’s belly. Hatching a snake, raising it, and seeing it produce babies of it’s own is one of the biggest personal rewards of the reptile husbandry business. I don’t keep hundreds of animals because it’s personally rewarding, though. A small and sentimental collection accomplishes that with much less effort. In the final analysis I always acknowledge that my primary reward is financial. That’s too much honesty, though. It’s not very PC of me to write such things. Don’t worry, though. I’ll fight through it.
That being said I still get all happy inside when I see one of my boys become a man. That first time you open the cage and see those two little ball pythons tails wrapped around each other is oh, so cool! That satisfaction increases ten-fold when it happens inside the first year (that’s the financial reward lover in me coming out). The male Ivory ball python in the photo was born in June 2008. Today, at the end of February 2009, he is working his magic with the ladies like he’s been doing it for years. He weighs about 700 grams, is producing sperm and already has carnal knowledge of three female yellow belly ball pythons.
Good work, little man! Good work! Godfather is proud of you.
I love white snakes. Beauty through simplicity.
Whether we’re talking about Ivories, Black-Eyed Leucistics or Blue-Eyed Leucistics I just don’t see how you can go wrong. Shame on me but I don’t have any Super Fire’s (black-eyed lucy’s) in my bag of tricks but I do keep blue-eyed lucy’s and ivory’s. They’re awesome.
Every now and then I catch wind of someone talking about how Ivory’s aren’t very attractive because as babies they look kind of dirty. What I ususally tell those people is that they need to see an adult Ivory. With age comes some impressive changes. Adult Ivory’s tend to be white as a fresh snow with a faint yellow line running down the back. Jet black eyes, red irises. R – I – D – I – C – U – L – O – U – S ! ! ! ! Wanna’ see it get cooler? Peep this: Pastel Ivory. Imagine a white snake dipped in a vat of soft yellow glow; like the stain of a buttercup on your skin. Sick! I haven’t seen a super pastel ivory ball python yet but I certainly do look forward to the day.
The key to the Ivory ball is the Yellow Belly, of course. Yellow Belly’s make Ivory Ball Pythons!!! This makes Yellow Belly females the single most under-valued snake in the reptile business these days. Like many other breeders I know, I have pretty much resolved myself to the fact that I’ll never sell another one. Besides making Ivory’s the Yellow Belly gene is like a scrub brush for every other morph; it just makes it better. I kept every female Yellow Belly I produced this year and will probably do the same again in 2009. I may let a few go, but not many. I’ll actually pick them up from others who are willing to let them go. I’m not alone in my thoughts. I did sell all of the Ivory’s I produced, though. Gotta’ pay the bills, I guess. If money wasn’t a factor I think I’d end up keeping 95% of what I produced. If you’re a breeder reading this you’ll probably agree with me. We’re our own best customer.
Anything Ghost just does it for me. Take any morph out there and add ghost to it: Boom! Better! Bada-bing Bada-boom! I’m always amazed to see what the ghost gene does to a morph. I absolutely love Ghost Mojaves (I can’t get enough of them). Ghost Black Pastels, a morph that you might think would be not too different from a normal ghost, are actually exceptional looking animals. Easily a favorite in my book. I’m so anxious to produce a ghost super black pastel that I can hardly stand waiting for the eggs. I’ll be a wreck on day 53 of that clutch. I haven’t seen a ghost clown yet and I both yearn for and fear the day I do. It’s going to wreck my bank account. I’m not close to producing them on my own this year or next year so I’ll have to drop some quan in the lap of someone parting with a male. Clown anything is a winner in my book.
One of my favorite ghost morphs right now is the cleverly named Humble Bee (aka the Ghost Bumble Bee, aka Ghost Pastel Spider). I guess we could also be calling this guy a Pastel Honey Bee. But I think I like Humble Bee best. It pleases me. Not sure who named it but they did a good job. One of the things I like so much about ghosts is watching the way they change colors throughout their lives. Every phase they go through is cool to see.
I suppose it’s possible that in a few years I may look back at the Humble Bee and wonder why I was so excited about them. Today I can’t see how that’s going to happen, though. They’re stunning. But with Ghost Spinner Blasts and Ghost Killer Blasts so close to being produced (may have been produced already, I’m not 100% sure) I can only dream of how the Humble Bee may pale in comparison. But then again, maybe not. I still don’t get tired of looking at my Honey Bees. I’d like to build an army of Honey Bee females. Aw heck, who am I kidding? I want to build an army of ball pythons.