07/12/08

One of the questions I often am asked is: "How much does it weigh?"

"It," of course, refers to some particular snake that the person is interested in purchasing.

It's my observation that many new keepers  over-emphasize the weight of a young snake relative to its age, considering "speed of growth" to be the most important factor predicting maturity and reproduction. Weight, in fact, is a variable in the equation of successful reproduction, but as considered by many aspiring breeders, growth rate is not the most important variable in estimating the future success of a breeding animal.

 Weight and growth rate in young snakes are plastic characters--neither has one "correct" value for a growing snake. Snakes are indeterminant growers, and increases in weight and length are the result of environmental factors, including the temperature, amount of space, the size of meals, and the frequency of meals.

 If a young snake is fed every week and its sibling is fed every other week, the one fed more often can be expected to be larger. However, this difference in size is deceptive. The bigger one is not necessarily a "better" snake. In our experience, large size at an early age is not a predictor of the future succcess of a snake as a breeder. Some over-grown snakes have poor skeletal calcification, some have bad livers, some are simply too fat and fat snakes are not good breeders.

Snakes are designed by evolution to fast occasionally. There is good published data to suggest that snakes that are grown slowly and fed reasonable amounts at a reasonable frequency live much longer than fat snakes. Likewise, it is a fact that fat female snakes are poor breeders.

 So what is "reasonable?" Again, it's a variable with no one value. However, it is something less than the maximum possible. Growing young snakes to be as maximally big as possible in the shortest time possible simply does not make sense.

 Back to the example of the siblings: the fact that one sibling is smaller at, say, one year of age, is not a predictor that it will be the smaller sibling at two years of age or at three years of age. Because it is smaller at one year of age, it hasn't "lost" anything--it hasn't been dwarfed. If its environment changes, its growth rate also will change.

 Yes, weight is a factor in terms of attaining a certain mass to produce eggs or babies, but excessive weight or rapid growth is more often a reason that a snake does NOT reproduce.

No one will argue the well known addage "time is money," but the fixation on rapid growth and reproduction has in my opinion gone a little bit overboard.

Remember that breeding success is measured over the lifetime of the animal. If the life span is dramatically shortened because of excessive feeding to promote rapid growth and premature reproduction, then the breeders success and, more importantly, the animal's success is sadly curtailed.

One year old female "Sunglow" Boa (hypomelanistic albino) born 2007: This is a yearling Boa constrictor in a "CB70" a commonly used box for raising boas and pythons. This female will be ready to breed in spring of 2011.One year old female "Sunglow" Boa (hypomelanistic albino) born 2007: This is a yearling Boa constrictor in a "CB70" a commonly used box for raising boas and pythons. This female will be ready to breed in spring of 2011.

One year old Pastel Spot-nose Ball Python: This year old male Ball Python hatched in summer of 2007, he will be ready to breed in spring of 2009.One year old Pastel Spot-nose Ball Python: This year old male Ball Python hatched in summer of 2007, he will be ready to breed in spring of 2009.

VPI Caramel Albino Black Sumatran Short-tail Pythons hatched 2007: This pair will be ready to breed in 2010.VPI Caramel Albino Black Sumatran Short-tail Pythons hatched 2007: This pair will be ready to breed in 2010.