Is my ball python a "morph" ?


Dear VPI,

I have had this ball python for a number of years [referring to an attached picture not published here]. I bought it because it looked different. I don't know which way to go with breeding it.  Do you think it is a morph? Can you give me some advice?

I mainly breed boas and understand how the colors work in them, but the balls have me confused. The snake in question is also a male and gave me 2 clutches of eggs from 2 females and the first clutch of 4 eggs hatched last night and 2 of the 4 look just like the daddy only more intense; the other 2 look normal.

Thanks for every question you have ever answered! You have always helped me in the past and I am very appreciative; it takes good people to be so generous with their time. By the way, the last question you answered was about cloacal bleeding and you were right--it didn't affect her breeding.

Dear Anthony,

It's hard for me to answer your question with certainty. In asking if your snake is a "morph" I assume that what you're really interested to know is (1) is it an appearance that has been identified with a name and (2) is it an inheritable appearance? Your picture probably doesn't really show your snake off at its best, but in the picture your snake looks to me to be within what I'd consider to be the normal range of variation for a ball python, and I don't think there are any lineages of ball pythons with that appearance that are named. But that doesn't mean that the basis for its different appearance isn't the result of some mutation.

It looks to me that your snake has an unusually pale melanin coat. The reason for my uncertainty is that the melanin coat of ball pythons contains several varieties of melanin-related pigments plus a scattering of black melanin as well, and the color and shade of the melanin coat exhibits quite a range of variation among ball pythons.

In hatching some babies that resemble their father, you've just demonstrated that the appearance of your male is inheritable. That's good. But it may be inheritable as a polygenetic character, or it may be because of a single point mutation. As an example of a polygenetic character, tall people tend to have children who grow up to be tall, but there are lots of genes that control height in humans and it's not inherited as an all-or-nothing character. The same is true for a pale melanin coat. There are lots of genes that control the appearance of the melanin coat. Sometimes they combine to form a pale coat, but there is a range of what constitutes "pale". Just like tall people tend to have tall offspring, probably ball pythons with pale melanin coats tend to have similar offspring. If it is an inheritable trait, you just need to demonstrate how it's inheritable.

If your snake's pale melanin coat is a polygenetic character, then the inheritance of the appearance can be  difficult to control; the snake is pretty, but not a very usable lineage to contribute in the creation of new designer appearances. That's pretty much what defines the "value" of a recognized morph.

What you want to show is that the pale coat of your snake in due to the absence of one particular melanin-related pigment--in other words, you want to show that a single gene is responsible for the appearance of paleness of the melanin coat. In order to do that, you need to breed your snake several more times.

First see if about half of the babies in the next clutch are also similar to the father. If they are, it's a good chance that the trait is a dominant or a co-dominant trait. To verify that you are going to have to raise the daughters of the snake that look like him and breed them to their father and then see what those babies look like. If they all look like their father/grandfather, then the trait is likely a dominant trait. If half look like their father/grandfather and half look like something totally new-then it's likely a co-dominant trait. If there is even one normal-looking baby in the batch, the trait is likely polygenetic. Good luck.  DGB