Amazon Tree Boas: Keeping Rainforest Jewels In Your Home – May 2013

By Jennifer Greene

Every reptile keeper has a different animal that first attracted them not just to reptile keeping, but to going above and beyond that first snake, lizard, or pet that they kept in the beginning.  For some, it’s breeding fancy colored morphs.  For others, it’s keeping a species they initially thought too difficult for their experience level, or a type of animal that is completely different than the one they started out keeping.  For me, I spent nearly a decade admiring the beauty of arboreal snake species such as Green Tree Pythons and Amazon Tree Boas, but never felt that I had enough experience to maintain them successfully in captivity.  After working here at LLLReptile for several years, I finally took the big step and acquired a couple exceptional animals from my good friend, Danny Mendez.  Very quickly, I felt very silly for not trying to keep them sooner, because they’re not nearly as difficult as I’d always believed.  It’s my hope that more keepers will branch out from the easy ground dwelling species and try their hand, as I did, at keeping a fascinating, beautiful snake species.

One of the first issues to tackle that always made me hesitate when it came to keeping Amazons was my belief that they needed constant high humidity, in a range of 80% or more.  This is not quite the truth.  They do require humidity, yes, but they do not require constant sky high levels nor do they require constant hovering and attention to moisture within their cage.  Personally, I have found it to be almost deceptively easy to keep and maintain my Amazons by housing them in a living vivarium, full of live plants.  I raised my amazons from young ages in planted vivariums, and experienced little to no difficulty in maintaining acceptable levels of humidity for my boas.  I highly recommend creating a suitably sized vivarium for your boas before you bring them home.  Many keepers do not house their Amazons in planted cages, but as I have experienced such easy success with mine (and those at the stores) by utilizing vivariums, this article will describe the care for amazons utilizing those conditions.

Babies can be housed individually in 12 x 12 x 18 front opening terrariums.  When I built my vivariums, I used small ficus trees as the live plants, and included a couple smaller plants such as earth stars and tillandsias.  For babies, usingsmall pieces of manzanita branches crossed throughout the cage will provide them with suitable perches.

For best viewing of your boa(s), set up perches in such a way that they can rest several parts of their body on their branches, and simply have that arrangement right in the front of the cage! I highly recommend including a layer of moss, eithergreen sphagnum or New Zealand Sphagnum moss working well in this situation.

Keep that layer of moss nice and damp, and if your boas feel the need for higher humidity than the cage currently offers, they will readily rest on the bottom of the cage.  It is not a cause for alarm if your boa routinely spends time at the bottom of the cage; this species in particular will readily hang out at the bottom of the cage, seemingly for no reason at all.

A single small adult can be housed in an 18 x 18 x 24” front opening terrarium, although large (over 5’) individuals should be provided with a larger enclosure.  As most adult Amazon Tree Boas will reach at least that length, be prepared to purchase or make a larger cage than the bare minimum.  A pair should be housed in a cage no smaller than 36” wide by 18” deep by 24” tall.  Once the lights turn off, these snakes become much, much more active than they seem by day, and providing them with room to explore and hunt helps to maintain your snakes with good body condition.

Amazons are meant to be slender bodied, muscular snakes, and providing them with space to exercise and perch within their cages affords them the ability to exercise on their own terms.

So by now, you’ve set up your beautiful, lush vivarium with various live plants, branches for your snake to climb on, and a layer of moss covering the bottom.  There’s more to it than that! You’ll also need to light and heat your enclosure.   I prefer to use a 2.0 UVB compact fluorescent for basic lighting in my cages, as these bulbs are nice and bright and display both the animals and the plants beautifully.  I set my lights on timers, and depending on the time of year my lights are on for 12 to 14 hours a day.  In addition to a fluorescent bulb for lighting the cage and providing light for plant growth, I also use a basking bulb for my snakes to bask as needed.  In the smaller 12 x 12 x 18 size terrarium, you should not need a bulb any hotter than 50 watts in winter, and 25 watts in summer.  Basking temperatures 3 to 6 inches below the bulb should be about 85 degrees at most; spikes close to 90 degrees can be tolerated, but temperatures that high often dry out your cage(s) unnecessarily.  In the larger cages, 50 to 75 watt bulbs should be adequate depending on time of year and ambient temperatures in your home.

At night, temperatures can dip into the mid to upper 70’s, with the coolest parts of the cage ranging down into the high 60s during winter (Danny Mendez, pers comm).  Personally, I would recommend the use of a heat pad for keeping temperatures at acceptable levels during nighttime, as continual use of a heat bulb can dry out the air and make it difficult for you to maintain humidity at acceptable levels for your snake.  A heat pad for night time should provide enough heat for your boas to stay healthy, and help keep your electricity bill down!  If you’d like to be able to see your snakes at night, I highly recommend using a black light bulb for viewing – it emits only low amounts of heat and a purple light that will not affect your snake’s nocturnal behavior.

The vivarium for Jen’s Amazon Tree Boas

In addition, a popular method of heating humidity loving species such as Amazon Tree Boas is to utilize radiant heat panels.  These do not heat up the air, nor does the heat panel’s surface actually become warm; they just heat up surfaces underneath them utilizing infrared radiation.

Feeding your Amazons should not be too difficult, at least not if they’ve settled in and acclimated to your cage.  When you first get your new boa, give it at least 5 days to settle in before attempting to feed it for the first time.  Amazon Tree Boas are slender bodied, arboreal snakes, and should not be fed anything much larger than their body width.  You should see only a very slight bulge in your snake’s stomach after it eats; too large of a prey item and you risk regurgitation and the problems that go along with it.  Babies and juveniles up to 2 years of age can be fed every 7 days, while older animals can go 10 to 14 days between feedings.  Again, keep in mind that these are an arboreal species – they are meant to be slender bodied, not chubby little sausages like other pet snake species!  I highly recommend purchasing a pair oftweezers or hemostats for offering food to your snake.  Babies often begin feeding easiest when offered live prey, but once they are feeding consistently in your care you should experience little to no difficulty switching them to frozen/thawed feeders.  Tweezers are a must for offering frozen/thawed prey items, and they make offering live prey significantly easier as well.

Handling an Amazon Tree Boa is the type of endeavor that usually makes experienced keepers chuckle and wince at the same time.  They are notorious for poor attitudes and a penchant for biting anything and everything even slightly warm in their vicinity once they’ve been disturbed.  For many amazon tree boas, this is certainly the case, and whenever you encounter a strange boa, it is best to assume it’s going to try and bite you.  Even with your own boas that you know well, it’s typically safe to assume they’re going to try and bite you.  For this reason, Amazon Tree Boas do best as display-only pets, because even if you don’t mind being bitten, the act of biting you can have problems for your boa.  Biting you can dislodge their teeth, leading to potential mouth infections, and it’s stressful for your boa to be in a situation where it feels threatened enough to try biting you.  For these reasons it’s best to avoid handling your amazon tree boas unless you absolutely have to.

This is why.

In addition to the grey coloration most commonly available, Amazon Tree Boas come in a range of colors that rival a rainbow.  They also have a handful of genetically inherited pattern mutations, which in combination with the beautiful colors they naturally come with, can create some truly spectacular “designer” morphs.  Selective breeding has also taken many of the colors found in wild specimens and intensified them, resulting in snakes so brightly colored they look unreal.

Depending on what you want out of your display, you can go with a grey or a colored amazon, and for the most eye catching animals, it is often worth it to go to a private breeder and purchase a line bred animal.  Amazon Tree Boas change color as they mature, with patternless or uniquely patterned juveniles often developing different colors as they grow.

If you are looking for a beautiful reptile to keep and display in your home or office, I highly recommend Amazon Tree Boas.  Their lower price tag keeps them in reach for keepers not quite ready to spend several hundred dollars on a pricey green tree python or emerald tree boa, and they come in a much wider range of colors than a simple green snake.  Amazon Tree Boas have tons of attitude and spunk, coupled with a beautiful range of colors and patterns that make no two snakes alike.  This individuality and uniqueness makes them extremely enjoyable captives, and I highly recommend them to the snake keeper looking to make the next step into keeping something more interesting and involved than your average ball python or cornsnake!

Jen’s Amazon Tree Boas

The Humble House Snake – April 2013

By Jennifer Greene

An extremely underrated but fantastic pet snake to keep is the African House Snake.  There are several different species referred to as House Snakes that originate from Africa, with the most common in the US pet trade being Lamprophis fuliginosus..  As I said, there are numerous species which all can be called House Snakes, but my article will focus on the care for the most commonly available species, also referred to as the Brown House Snake.

This House Snake is comfortable in her owner’s hands

The Brown House Snake is a bit of a misnomer in that this highly variable snake can range in coloration from a dark brown, almost black color, to a golden brown and a wide selection of colors in-between.  Some of the more attractively colored varieties have red tones to them, and selective breeding has resulted in some extremely high red individuals.  All house snakes have a gorgeous iridescence to their scales, comparable to that of rainbow boas and sunbeam snakes.

Most also have a pale tan or gold stripe running along their eyes, which may or may not extend down the length of the body.  Due to the range of colors, it is extremely easy to selectively breed animals to create your own lines of attractive, captive bred house snakes.  In addition, albino snakes are available from time to time, and this one simple mutation combined with the multitude of naturally occurring variance in the species holds great promise for morphs in the future.

If you couldn’t guess from the name, African House Snakes originate from the continent of Africa.  They are one of the most widespread species of snakes found there, and range across the entire continent below the Saharan Desert.  Their common name comes from their habit of hanging around human dwellings, where they aid in rodent control.  Extremely adaptable, they are found in nearly every type of habitat in Africa, only eschewing outright desert areas.

This natural sturdiness is part of what makes them excellent beginner snakes, as they thrive in a wide range of conditions and will withstand nearly any mistake a beginner is likely to make.

House snakes do not get very large; while some females can reach lengths as great as 5 feet, it is much more common for them to remain under 4 feet as adults.  Males mature much smaller than females, often 2 – 2.5 feet in length, meaning that when you have mature, breeding adults they are clearly sexually dimorphic in size.

Fortunately, even large females remain slender, never needing feeders larger than an adult mouse.  House snakes are voracious feeders, and care must be taken to ensure your snake does not become too fat.

I have never seen a house snake turn down a meal, not even babies!  They will eat daily if you offer them food, but they do not need to eat any more often than every 5 to 7 days.  Don’t let those eager little faces fool you – these little piglets of snakes don’t need more food!

Due to their extreme sturdiness, they are among the easiest of species to keep.  Adults rarely need a cage larger than a Vision cage model V211, although a 20 gallon long (30” x 12” x 12”) is also a suitable size enclosure for most adults.

Babies can be kept in smaller enclosures, such as a 10 gallon tank or 12” x 12” x 12” front-opening terrarium. Setting up the enclosure is simple, and can be as plain or elaborate as you desire.  I prefer to use orchid bark as the substrate, as with occasional misting it holds enough water to allow for perfect, full sheds.  While House Snakes do not necessarily require excessive care taken with humidity, when they are entering a shed cycle it can be beneficial to provide them with a humid hide or to mist the enclosure daily until they have shed.  While they are not prone to respiratory infections at extremely low humidity levels (like some tropical species) they do seem to require an extra bump of humidity while preparing to shed.  Other acceptable substrates include shredded aspencypress mulch, and sani chips – all of which we have used here at LLL with success.  House Snakes are extremely adaptable, so as long as you can provide that humid hiding spot during shed cycles, use whichever bedding you like best!

Temperature requirements for the African House Snake are nothing extraordinary; simply provide them with a warm side or basking area of about 90 degrees, and a cool side of 80 degrees or lower.  Depending on your setup, you can utilize either a heat pad or a basking light to provide your snake with its preferred warm side temperature.  When using a basking light, I recommend either using a red bulb (which can be left on all the time) or a red bulb at night in combination with a daylight blue or basking bulb during the day.  For the best looking display, I highly recommend using a bulb during the day that produces a white light (such as the daylight or basking bulbs) to best view your snake.  Adding a 5.0 compact fluorescent is not necessary for your snake to grow and thrive, but it does highlight the beautiful rainbow iridescence of their scales when you display them in a nicely set up cage.  Make sure that at night, your snake has an alternate source of heat beyond the white light producing bulbs; they do best when provided with a dark period of time to sleep in.

Setting up the décor in the cage is a matter of personal preference.  Your House Snake needs at least 2 hiding places: one at the warm side and one at the cool side.  Brancheslogscork flatscork rounds, and bamboo hollows all make excellent climbing and hiding options for your snake.  You can also add fake caves or natural looking rock outcrops for a naturalistic appearance, but the plain and simple Black Hide Boxes work just as well.  I prefer to include foliage in the form of fake plants as well as a variety of branches and wood for the snakes to climb on for exercise.  Having a terrarium full of branches and decorations is not only aesthetically pleasing to us as keepers, but highly beneficial for the snake as well, providing cover and hiding places as well as exercise as they cruise through their cage.

Now that you have your snake all set up and a feeding schedule prepared, you get to enjoy the pleasure of handling and interacting with your pet!  While their feeding response can be quite strong (so make sure to wash your hands before picking yours up!), once they realize there isn’t anything edible to be had they are extremely mellow and laid back snakes.  They will leisurely cruise around when being handled, and often curl up around a wrist or neck to hang out and relax.  In my experience, they almost seem to enjoy regular interaction, thriving even when handled daily.

Not only are they a pleasure to handle, but they are extremely inquisitive and nosy, coming out to see what is happening around them when there are people in the room their cage is in.

With their extreme ease of care, solid and easy to engage feeding response, and entertaining personalities, I highly recommend African House Snakes as a great first pet snake.

They’re off the beaten path, and not nearly as common as Kingsnakes or Cornsnakes as pets, but that’s no reason for you to avoid keeping them yourself!

It is worth waiting for them to become available to get your hands on these cute little snakes, as they are not as consistently available as the other commonly kept pet snake species.  I hope reading this article has helped you to decide to try something other than the average pet snake, and to go out and find yourself an awesome little House Snake to keep as a pet!

Can Snakes Hear? Sound Detection in Serpents – August 2013

by Jennifer Greene 
All photos by author unless otherwise noted

Can Snakes Hear?

If you keep one snake or one hundred snakes, chances are you have some opinion on whether or not your scaly friends can hear you.  Some keepers are aware that studies have shown that snakes can most certainly detect vibrations in the ground, helping them determine if there is prey or a potential predator nearby.  Snakes lack an outer ear, leading some to believe that snakes are completely deaf to airborne sounds.   While the lack of a visible external ear likely limits the snake’s ability to hear airborne sounds, they do have a system of hearing that includes an inner ear.  Their hearing system is, in its own way, both simpler and more complex than our own, and by no means is it out of the question that a snake can hear airborne sounds.   Mostreptile keepers have their own opinions and knowledge of the seeming simplicity of a snake’s hearing abilities, but the reality of their sense of hearing is that it involves a wider range of the sense than our own.  They may not be able to hear the range of audible frequencies that we can, but they can sense sound in a way that is alien to us.

Anecdotally, it is not difficult to find keepers that swear their snakes can hear them.  Walking through a reptile show and asking various reptile enthusiasts if their snakes can hear them will give you the full gamut of stories about the phenomenon.  You will hear everything from someone assuring you their snake knows its name and comes when it’s called to others, assuredly too professional and experienced for such nonsense, confidently assuring you that snakes are deaf and cannot hear a word you’re saying.

Studying snake hearing and being able to provide definitive proof one way or the other ultimately requires more than the average keeper’s call for supper or similar, haphazard and informal tests.  Older experimental methods tracked electrical activity in the brains of snakes in several families when sounds at various frequencies were played; a more recent (and less invasive) study looked at the reactions of one rattlesnake species to sounds played at various levels.  Interestingly, the older experiments show that snakes have two sensory systems that detect both sound and vibration, and note that while each system detects primarily one or the other, the range for each overlaps (Hartline 1970).

Before moving forward, a quick overview of sound and hearing may help you, the reader, to better understand how snakes are capable of hearing even without an external ear, and why it is relevant that a snake’s hearing includes both airborne sound and vibrations.  First, let’s look at sound:  sound is a pressure wave through a medium, caused by vibrations.  Everything vibrates slightly at a molecular level, however, those tiny vibrations are usually too quiet for us to hear.  What we usually perceive as sound to our ears is a sound wave within a certain frequency – a vibration happening at a certain speed through the air.

Human ears perceive sound within a specific range based on what the bones in our ears can pick up and then translate to vibrations within the deepest part of our inner ear.  The cochlea is the spiral tube within our ear, and the microscopic hairs within the cochlea pick up specific frequencies of sound – each hair correlating to a different frequency.  All of that translates to our ability to hear a wide range of audible sound, typically 20 to 20,000 hertz (the measurement of the specific frequency of a sound wave).  Snakes hear not just what we consider audible sound; their entire body acts as an organ to pick up vibrations – and their brain processes these vibrations in a similar part as audible sound, creating a sense of hearing considerably different than what we experience as mammals. (Hartline, 1970) It is not as wide as our own, but it is experienced in a much, much different way.

Continuing, if airborne sound such as speech is nothing more than vibrations in the air, it stands to reason that snakes may actually be able to hear it.  In fact, experiments show that snakes are capable of hearing airborne sound within the mid to lower ranges of normal human speech.  (Hartline 1970) While snakes are much more limited than humans and other mammals in their range of perceivable sound, they are capable of hearing sounds in the ranges of 150 Hz to 600 Hz. (Hartline 1970)

Human speech falls almost exactly within that range, even with wide variance in frequency due to age and/or gender.   Baby cries can be up to 500 Hz, while children’s voices are anywhere from 250 to 400 Hz, and men and women ranging from 125 to 200 Hz on average, respectively.  (www.ncvs.org)

With snakes having this almost alien method of picking up sound, and both of their sound detection systems overlapping in terms of detecting both airborne and physical vibrations, it makes it hard to conduct experiments to determine if snakes are not just perceiving airborne sounds but also capable of understanding and reacting to them.  A recent study has found that snakes can perceive and react to airborne sound by using a soundproof enclosure and a specially designed hanging basket to minimize vibrations from the surface.  Using the notoriously cranky Western Diamondback Rattlesnake as the test subjects, the experimenters found that 92% of the time, the snakes reacted in one or more ways to airborne sounds.  (Young and Aguiar, 2002)  Their testing methods were not able to determine if the snakes could identify the direction of the sound, but did conclusively show a reaction to purely airborne sounds.  Another study compliments this information with the observation that another crotalid species, the Saharan Sand Viper, utilizes its sense of vibration to determine the direction of an object that is causing sound, providing “evidence that snakes are capable of hearing, albeit, perhaps, in a unique sense of that term.” (Young and Morain, 2001)

All of this information culminates in the conclusive statement that YES, snakes can in fact hear airborne sounds in addition to sensing vibrations in solid objects.  Their sense of hearing, while limited in frequency, does encompass a wider range of potential stimuli to help a snake understand what is going on in its environment.  While they are not quite adapted to understand speech, the ringing of a dinnerbell, or similar acoustic triggers, they are capable of hearing that these things are taking place.  When considering if a snake’s lack of understanding that you are speaking to it makes it lacking in intelligence, do also consider that there is no reason for a snake to understand human speech.  Everything in its sensory arsenal is to identify what is happening around it, and help it to determine if there is prey, predator, or something to ignore happening around it.  A snake lives a much simpler life than the average mammal, and what they do with their complex array of senses reflects this.  Just because a snake doesn’t react to you talking doesn’t necessarily mean it didn’t hear you; chances are, it just wasn’t something the snake considered worth reacting to.

Sources/Works Cited

Young, B.A. , Aguiar, A. (June 27th, 2002) Response of western diamond back rattlesnakesCrotalus atrox to airborne sounds
The Journal of Experimental Biology, 205, 3087 – 3092

Young, B.A., Morain, M. (December 10th, 2001) The use of ground-borne vibrations for prey localization in the Saharan sand viper (Cerastes)
The Journal of Experimental Biology, 205, 661-665

Hartline, P.H. (August 18th, 1970) Physiological Basis for Detection of Sound and Vibration in Snakes
The Journal of Experimental Biology, 54, 349-371

Factors Influencing Fundamental Frequency, retrieved July 18th, 2013 fromhttp://www.ncvs.org/ncvs/tutorials/voiceprod/tutorial/influence.html

The Basking Spot: Magnetic Ledges – April 2013

by Jennifer Greene

Magnetic Ledges

One of my favorite products for just about any cage is a magnetic ledge.  We carry a range of sizes, shapes, and textures that should suit nearly any cage type and style, and the lightweight foam material is easy to clean and maintain.  The magnets within them are extremely strong, which can be a bit difficult to pry off the packaging and/or cage, but the strength of the magnets is perfect for holding up to the weight of the average pet reptile.

The cork ledges are brown, and textured to look like a piece of cork bark or wood sticking out of the side of the cage.  Even if not using the ledges as a perch for your reptile, they can make it easy to prop up wood or other cage décor, creating ramps for your reptiles to climb on.

The fake rock ledges are nice and thick, and can be an excellent addition to desert terrariums.  The largest size fits an adult bearded dragon perfectly, and with the foam material that makes up the ledge, you don’t have to worry about the ledge heating up too much and burning your dragon.

In addition to plain ledges, there are also feeding ledges that have convenient niches built in to allow you to put disposable mealworm dishes into the ledge.

These come in two sizes, and make it extremely easy to offer your reptilesmealworms without the worms escaping into the bedding.  Elevating the mealworm cups can also make it easy to offer more arboreal reptiles a more varied diet, such as with pet chameleons.  A ledge ¾ of the way up the cage makes it easy for your chameleon to see its worms and hunt them down!

Magnetic ledges are an excellent addition to any cage, with a variety of colors and sizes to suit any need.  Definitely consider them to add perching sites and visual interest to your cage for any of your reptiles!

Book Review: The Health Care and Rehabilitation of Tortoises – April 2013

Book Review:

Health Care and Rehabilitation of Turtles and Tortoises, By Amanda Ebenhack

by Jennifer Greene

I picked up this book to better familiarize myself with the necessary care of turtles and tortoises, and to see what the currently accepted practices are when it comes to their husbandry if they’ve become injured or sick.  It is a thicker book at 393 pages, but each page is packed full of excellent and relevant information for a turtle or tortoise keeper.

The book begins with generalized care information, discussing what basics you must know to properly care for your turtle or tortoise throughout its life.  I was pleased to see a section on stress and causes of stress, as well as a section discussing the importance of variety in the diet and other sometimes overlooked aspects of chelonian (or turtle/tortoise) care.  The first part of the book alone makes it worth purchasing for any serious turtle or tortoise keeper – it lists a range of edible plants, how to properly maintain your chelonian’s weight, and has an entire chapter solely dedicated to hydration and dehydration.  That chapter is where the book begins to heavily incorporate aspects of rehabilitation and injured/sick tortoise care, and while the average keeper is extremely unlikely to encounter these situations or issues, it can be helpful to be familiar with what may need to happen if there is ever a problem.

As the book continues, it also discusses in length the various aspects of husbandry integral to housing turtles and tortoises both indoors and outdoors.  I love that the book does not just lump them both into one section, and instead dedicated entire detailed chapters to each method of housing.  Housing chelonians indoors and outdoors does often require very different techniques and methods, so it is important to be aware of what your animals are going to need if you are housing them one way or the other.

The latter half of the book discusses in great detail the numerous potential issues you can run into when caring for your turtle or tortoise.  It begins with common skin and shell infections, and progresses to actual injuries and treatments.  There are also several case studies illustrating treatments and progression of injuries that exemplify the methods being suggested, which can be helpful to the just-starting rehabilitator unsure of the route to take with injured animals.  It then goes on to detail tube feeding, how to create a nutritious and helpful diet for sickly chelonians, abscesses and their removal, and continued on to infectious diseases and more.

Health Care and Rehabilitation of Turtles and Tortoises was an extremely thorough book that I found very informative.  I wouldn’t necessarily call the reading about the diseases and illnesses pleasant, however, I was extremely pleased with the amount of information in the book that was easy to find and easy to understand.  If you are just getting started with turtles and tortoises, or even if you are an experienced keeper, I highly recommend adding this book to your library.  Not only is the basic husbandry information excellent, but you never know when you might have to reference the sections on potential issues!

The Basking Spot: Hovabators – March 2013

By Jennifer Greene

With Spring on the way, many reptiles are beginning to emerge from brumation or their winter cool down period, and breeding is starting.  Your reptiles will be courting each other and breeding, and love is most certainly in the air.  Now is the time to start considering how you are going to incubate your eggs when they come, not in two months when the eggs have already arrived!  With this in mind, this month’s basking spot will discuss the ubiquitous and easy to use Hovabator incubator, of which there are 4 commonly available models.

The Basic Model – The 1602

The basic model is the 1602, which is coincidentally the least expensive.  It has no frills, no fancy extras, but it is reliable and extremely simple to set up.  It arrives with the top nestled inside the bottom, with the heating element and all the equipment inside already set up.  The only thing you need to do is flip the top over and put the wafer thermostat in.

Now, if you are naturally blonde like I am, putting in the wafer thermostat can be deceptively difficult.  The first time I put the thermostat in, I put it in backwards, which resulted in my incubator running at full heat for the 6 hours I had it plugged in that way.  As you can imagine, that is not what you want the incubator to do.

This is what the wafer looks like when it is the correct side up.

The correct way to install the thermostat wafer is to have the “innie” part screw in to the control rod that goes all the way through the lid of the incubator – for more details, please view the video linked here.

The bottom of the wafer has a button on it that rests on the little needle that determines temperature.   Screw the thermostat into the control rod, and then gently start turning it until you hear the wafer click into place.

Alright, with everything in place, now all you have to do is plug it in and get your temperature dialed in!  I highly recommend getting your incubator ready to go at least several days, if not weeks, before you have eggs to place inside, as the incubator does take 6 to 12 hours to heat up and then be calibrated.  You’ll have to turn the control rod to increase or decrease temperatures as needed.  You may want to consider adding a thermostat to your incubator, and leaving the control rod turned up high so that the thermostat controls the on/off of the heat element.

The Next Step Up – the Model 1582

The basic model 1602 incubator comes with only small picture windows and no frills.  If you are setting up your incubator in a classroom or on display, or if you just plain want to be able to see your eggs easily, the 1582 model comes with a large picture window over the entire top of the incubator.  Set up and use of the incubator is the exact same, but for a small increase in cost you can see the entire insides of the incubator without having to remove the lid.  This will help keep temperatures consistent within the incubator, and prevent the loss of humidity that happens each time you open the lid.

The Turbofan Incubator – the 2362

Don’t need a big picture window, but you do want to prevent air from settling within the incubator and creating discrepancies in temperature between the top and bottom of the incubator?  Then you want the model 2362, the Turbofan Incubator.  It comes with a small fan in the top of the incubator that keeps the air moving, ensuring that your entire incubator is one consistent temperature from top to bottom.  You will have to monitor your humidity a little more closely when using a Turbofan incubator, as the air movement can cause moisture to evaporate a little more quickly than when the air is stationary within the incubator.

The Best of Everything – the 1583

Lastly, if you just want the best of everything, we also carry the 1583 model incubator.  This incubator comes with the big picture window so that you can see everything happening inside the incubator, as well as a fan in the top to keep temperatures consistent!  This is the top of the line incubator, and ideal if you want to be absolutely certain nothing goes wrong and you can easily see and monitor the inside of your incubator.

Any and all of these incubators can be hooked up to a thermostat for maximum control over conditions in the cage, and I highly recommend the use of a digital thermometer to easily see temperatures in your incubator without having to lift the lid and check the mercury thermometer included with the incubator.  Hovabators are a consistent, easy to use incubator that are perfect for nearly all egg incubation needs, making them perfect for the beginner or even the experienced herper needing a simple incubator for a side project.

Breeder’s Spotlight: Breeding Fire Skinks – March 2013

 

By Jennifer Greene

Breeding the Fire Skink

Step one:  Breeding

In writing this article, I will be making the basic assumption that you, the fire skink keeper, are already familiar with the care and husbandry of successfully maintaining your fire skinks.  Breeding is the natural next step in husbandry once you have successfully established your pair or group of skinks.  Sexing Fire Skinks is at best an exercise in educated guesswork, especially if you have young or lean skinks.  Most skinks available at pet stores are not old enough or established enough to develop the very subtle characteristics that allow for an attempt to be made at sexing them.  For this reason, I highly recommend feeding your skinks well for at least a month before attempting to guess at the gender of your pets, as all fire skinks generally look like females when they are first acquired.  Females are slightly more slender in the head and body than males, and lack in anything resembling hemipenal bulges.   Males have a slightly broader head and are built a little more “beefy” than females of a similar size and age, and develop very slight jowls with age.  When mature, breeding adults are compared side by side, a careful eye can distinguish the genders, but even an experienced keeper can find it difficult to accurately sex fire skinks.

On the left, you can see the female, while on the right is the male skink.

Feeding your skinks well will result in a healthy, robust pair that breed easily and often.  My adults feed on large crickets, superworms, giant mealworms, dubia roaches, hissing cockroaches, and pinky mice once the female has laid eggs.  They also eat canned insects with gusto, with canned caterpillars being a particular favorite of my pair.  I emphasize again that a good diet is a major part of successfully breeding your skinks and getting multiple, fertile clutches.  Healthy, well fed skinks can and will lay between 3 and 5 clutches of eggs a year without any problems whatsoever.  However, a malnourished or underfed skink may experience egg binding, parasite blooms, or crash from lack of calcium or other nutrients used to make her eggs.

This male Fire Skink does not look markedly different from the female – but he does exhibit great body condition!

Alright, so your skinks are eating a varied diet and are as fat and chunky as the ones you see pictured here.  Great!  They will take care of the rest.  You may not see actual copulation, but it will take place without any encouragement from you as long as temperatures are warm enough.  Fire skinks tend to breed whenever ambient temperatures stay above 75, and daylight hours last longer than 12 hours.  This means their breeding season starts in the early spring, and can last until mid-autumn.   Females are capable of retaining sperm, although they do not seem to lay more than one clutch when they do so.

Step Two: The Gravid Female

Once your skinks are breeding, and your female is starting to look even plumper than before, it’s time to make sure you are diligent about keeping up on a nice, varied diet and providing her with adequate supplementation.  Your female skink may appreciate a slightly warmer basking area if yours is typically only about 85 to 90 degrees.  When my skinks are breeding, I offer them a basking zone with the warmest area reaching temperatures of about 95 degrees.  The female will seek out the warmer temperatures to grow and develop the eggs within her, and this also helps to ensure her appetite stays up – she’ll need lots of food to grow all the eggs she’ll be laying!

Fortunately for the fire skink keeper, care for gravid females is not much more difficult or different than for non-gravid females.  More care needs to be given to ensuring that she is eating a rich diet that is well supplemented, but for the most part she will take care of her needs on her own.

This female is most likely gravid, but it can be hard to tell!

Part Three: Egg Deposition and Incubation

After about 30 days, the female will look fat enough to burst, and at this point her appetite is likely to be next to nothing.  She’ll start digging and exploring throughout her cage for a suitable place to lay her eggs, and it’s at this time that you need to pay close attention to the cage to make sure you catch when she lays her eggs.  You’re extremely unlikely to actually see her laying the eggs, as they are very secretive about it, but you should be able to notice when she has suddenly lost a significant amount of weight.

Once you notice that the female seems to have abruptly lost half her body weight, carefully dig through the cage to find the eggs.  They have excellent taste in nesting sites, and will select a nice moist (but not wet) area to lay their eggs in.  Most often, mine laid their eggs under their water bowl or under cork rounds on the humid side of the cage.

Clutches range in size from 3 to 6 eggs on average, with clutches of up to 9 eggs not being uncommon.  If you maintain your cage well with bioactive substrate (see The Art of Snake Keeping for information about bioactive substrates), you can actually leave the eggs in the cage until they hatch.  I did this the first time entirely by accident, not realizing my skinks had already begun laying eggs – the first set of babies were a very pleasant surprise!  Adults can and will cannibalize the offspring, so do not leave them in the cage once they hatch.

To incubate your eggs in a somewhat more professional manner, remove them carefully from the substrate once you have found them.  Marking a dot on them with a permanent marker can help you ensure you keep them oriented upright in the position they were laid.  From there, place them in your preferred incubation medium.  I use Hatchrite, as it’s a nice, clean looking material that holds moisture well, comes pre-mixed, and I’ve had good success with it.  I keep my clutches in the incubator in 4.5” deli cups with lids, and write the date I found the clutch on the lid.  Bury them about halfway into the incubation material, and then leave them for as long as it takes to hatch!

When incubated at 84 degrees, most clutches hatch at 55 to 65 days after being laid.  I leave the babies in the cup until they’ve all hatched.  While I have not seen a study on fire skinks in particular, I know for other species of lizards it has been shown that the activity of the first babies to hatch climbing over the eggs of their unhatched siblings encourages the babies still within their eggs to hatch.  It does not hurt them to remain in the incubation cup for a day or two while their siblings hatch, so leave them in the cup and let them do their thing!

Part Four: Caring for Neonates

Set up the new hatchlings in a cage similar to the adults, just on a smaller scale.  My adults are in a 36” x 18” x 24” terrarium, and I raise babies in a 36” x 12” x 12” terrarium.  I provide my babies with a 100 watt powersun to bask under, which results in healthy, fast growing and chunky little babies.  Humidity is important for babies, and I highly recommend providing them with a thick layer of substrate you can easily add moisture to.  I often pour water directly into the substrate, especially directly under the heat light, to ensure that the babies are able to burrow at the moisture level they prefer.

Diet for babies is simple to start with, as there are not many prey items small enough for hatchling fire skinks.  Small crickets 1/8” of an inch to ¼” of an inch are small enough for them, and once they are a couple weeks old they are usually big enough to start eating regular sized mealworms as well.  Waxworms can also be added to their diet, which can help keep them full if you notice your babies are nipping at each other’s tails.  Hungry babies will consume the tails of their clutchmates, and the easiest way to prevent tail nipping is to simply keep them fed!  I always leave a dish of regular mealworms out for my hatchlings, and offer 5 to 10 small crickets per baby every other day.  On this regime, your hatchlings will be large enough to go to a new home within the first month!

 

The Basking Spot – January 2013

The Basking Spot

Fluker’s Clamp Lamps with Dimmer

By Jennifer Greene

The more familiar you get with reptiles and reptile husbandry, the more you realize the importance of controlling temperature and light for your animals.  Many caresheets and online forums highly recommend the use of a dimmer or thermostat with all products that provide heat, which helps you as a keeper more accurately control exactly what temperature your animals are living at.  Most of the time, you have to purchase a dimmer or thermostat separately from your fixture, increasing your overall cost for set up and adding yet another item to the clutter around your cage.

flukers dimmable clamp lamp

Fluker’s has seen this, and produced a couple sizes of a fantastic fixture that comes with a dimmer switch already attached.  This is great for a number of reasons, the primary one being that now it is super easy to dim down your heat lights as needed.  While right now it is winter, and you likely need all the heat you can get in your tanks, come summertime you don’t need nearly so much.  Before this, you often had to buy a set of bulbs for winter, and a set for summer – two different wattages for the different temperature needs.  With the Fluker’s Clamp Lamp with dimmer, all you’ll have to do is dial down the light in the fixture!  You’ll save money not only in how much you spend on lightbulbs, but also on electricity due to your ability to dial down the lights any time there’s a warm day.

The only downside is that the fixtures do not work for mercury vapor bulbs or fluorescent lights, as the way those bulbs are designed they can only turn off and on.  They do not work when dimmed, and attempting to use a dimmer with them can burn them out.  The 8.5” fixture can take bulbs up to 150 watts, while the 5.5” fixture can take bulbs up to 75 watts.  They both are the standard black color of most fixtures, and screwing a bulb into the fixture is easy enough.

They both come with clamps in addition to the dimmer function, and are about the same price as regular clamp lamps without the dimmer function, making them a very economically priced fixture.

Since most dimmers cost almost as much as just these fixtures, and thermostats are at least double the price or more, there’s no reason not to just upgrade your light fixtures to something that allows you to easily control the light and heat output of your bulbs.

Captive Husbandry of the Fire Skink – January 2013

By Jennifer Greene

Fire skinks, or Riopa fernandi, are arguably some of the cutest lizards out there.  With big, doe-like eyes set on a cute little face, bright colors and little legs on a long body, they are capable of making even non-reptile lovers squeal about how cute they are.  Their common name arises from the vivid red coloration on their sides, which connects to red strips down the side of their neck and up into bright red cheeks.  They typically have a black base color with a white checkered chin, and their backs are often a golden tan, with some individuals having a redder color instead.  They are on the smaller end in size, with mature adults reaching between 14 and 20” depending on tail length.   Their relatively small adult size compared to other pet lizards, in combination with their adorable faces and ease of care, make them quite delightful pets to keep.  Captive bred skinks can be downright outgoing, often coming out to see their owners and check for more food.  As rewarding as these little skinks can be, they are not often kept, or not kept for extended periods of time.  They are seen as either too difficult for the beginner (not the case!) or too basic for the more experienced keeper.  My hope is to help the beginner embrace these adorable creatures, and to highlight the rewards of keeping them to encourage more herpers to give them a shot.

Fire skinks can regrow their tail, much like this captive bred baby is doing!

Most fire skinks available to reptile keepers today are wild caught in origin, with most originating from a handful of countries in West Africa, often the same countries that baby ball pythons come from.  A small number of keepers have successfully bred their fire skinks (myself included), so captive bred babies can be available on occasion – it just takes patience sometimes to find them.  Wild caught skinks are not usually difficult to get acclimated to captivity, especially when set up properly and given time to settle in.  Captive bred babies do tend to be more outgoing than their wild caught cousins, but regardless of your skink’s origins, their care is the same.

I prefer to keep them in a relatively large cage, as they can be extremely active and will utilize all the space.  You can maintain one or two in a cage as small as a 20 long, but I highly recommend a cage at least 36” x 16” x 16”.  I keep my adult pair in an ExoTerra terrarium that measures 36” long by 24” tall by 18” deep, and I routinely see them using the entire cage.  In a cage like the ExoTerra one that I use, you can offer them a nice thick layer of substrate to burrow into, which they will love.  I use a combination of cypress mulch, Eco Earth, and orchid bark to achieve a nice, natural looking appearance that maintains humidity well and does not require frequent changing of the substrate.  I check the cage daily for feces, and once a week stir up the bedding and add fresh water to keep it moist.

I rarely actually see my skinks in their water bowl, but I do find fresh feces in the bowl about every other day.  Because they are prone to pooping in their water dish, I prefer to offer them a bowl big enough for them to climb into, and for mine I use a ZooMed Large Corner Dish.  I furnish their cage with a variety of items for them to climb on and around, and they really seem to love clambering up inside of cork tubes to bask under the lights.  I have a large tube on each side of the cage, and a few large and medium pieces of cork flats piled throughout their cage.  In addition, I added some fake vines to provide some foliage in the cage and visual barriers for them.  Using fake or live foliage helps make the cage look a little nicer, and provides cover for your skinks to hide behind and feel safe within their cage.  You may even see them peeking out at you from under the leaves!

One of the most important things about skink housing is something that doesn’t even get placed directly in the cage, but instead over the top: lighting!  As terrestrial skinks, these little critters don’t require exceptionally intense heat or light, but they do need heat and UVB provided during the day.  In the large cage that I use, a 100 watt powersun bulb provides all the basking light and UVB, and to illuminate the rest of the cage I use the new ExoTerra Ion bulbs.  I really like using the Powersun bulb on larger cages to provide heat and UVB, as the skinks really seem to thrive with the ability to get close to the light as needed.  The new ExoTerra Ion bulbs are nice, extremely bright bulbs that do not put out measurable amounts of UVB, making them ideal for illuminating reptile cages that already have a source of UVB.  Putting too many UVB lights on one cage has the potential to irritate the eyes of yourreptiles, and does not give them the option to escape UVB exposure if they feel the need to.  The Ion bulbs are super bright, and that in combination with their low cost makes them ideal for illuminating just about any cage you have.

 

My favorite bulb for most diurnal reptiles – the fantastic Powersun!

Basking temperatures can reach up to 95 degrees Fahrenheit as long as the cool side remains below 80 degrees.  How you achieve these temperatures is up to you; I use only the Powersun bulb in my cage during the day, and at night my skinks have a 75 watt infrared bulb to keep cage temperatures from dropping too low.  Exactly what wattages you use for your own cage at home is something you may need to tinker with to get it just right.  A warmer home (75 to 80 degrees) will not require as hot of a basking light, nor would it need a night time heat source.  A cooler home (65 to 70 degrees) would probably require higher wattage bulbs.  Using a thermostat or rheostat to help monitor temperatures within the range you prefer can make your life much simpler, rather than switching out multiple wattages depending on the time of year.  I also use a Zilla Power Center Digital Timer, which makes my life immensely easier because it switches all my lights on and off on its own.  All the lights are automated, which just leaves the daily maintenance to cleaning out the water and feeding my skinks!

Feeding your skinks can be one of the most enjoyable aspects of their care – they are often very enthusiastic feeders, and readily consume most live feeder insects.  The staple of the diet can consist of primarily crickets and mealworms, with full grown adult skinks easily consuming 1” crickets, giant mealworms, or superworms.  In addition, I highly recommend including roaches in your skink’s diet.  Mine happily eat dubia and hissing cockroaches, and I do not doubt that they will consume just about any species you can order online or find at your nearest reptile expo. Waxworms, reptiworms, silkworms, and hornworms all can and should be added to your skink’s diet whenever possible, as the variety in their diet will help your skinks grow and thrive their best.  On top of all that, they will often also eat canned insects, such as canned caterpillars, grasshoppers, and even snails, so there is no excuse for not providing a varied diet for your lizards!

Adult Skinks can easily eat superworms

Waxworms are good treats to feed occasionally too

Illustrating the size difference between regular mealworms and giants – both are acceptable food items!

Whenever offering live insects, it is also important to dust them with a high quality reptile calcium and/or multivitamin.  I use and highly recommend either the ZooMed Reptivite (with D3 for lizards kept indoors), or the Repashy Calcium Plus, as both have a great balance of calcium, multivitamins and vitamin D3.  While you may be making quite the effort to provide your skinks with as varied a diet as possible, it does not come close to approaching the dozens or hundreds of different insects and small animals they would consume in the wild.  For this reason, it is important to dust your skinks’ food at least every other feeding, or as per the instructions on your calcium or multivitamin supplement.

When it comes to handling your skinks, it really depends on your skink and how well it reacts to your presence.  This is where it can pay off to pick up a captive bred baby, as they are often already well-accustomed to human interaction and handling.  Certain long term captive skinks mind it less than others as well, and even originally skittish skinks can become habituated to their owners with time.  The key is patience and time: feeding your skinks well and letting them get used to you for several weeks or months will give them time to settle in and learn that you are not going to harm them.  Once they are well established and feeding well for you, you can attempt to coax them out or handle them for short periods of time.  Not all skinks enjoy handling, especially at first, and they can be extremely squirmy and fast, so you may want a spotter around for the first few handling sessions in case your skink escapes!  Most skinks are perfectly happy if they are rarely, if ever, handled, so do not feel as though you need to handle your skinks for them to do well.  If anything, they would probably love to be left alone entirely, and instead will come out to check out their surroundings and watch what is happening outside their cage.

Any of these supplements are suitable for your skinks!

Calm, confident handling is key to teaching your skink to accepting human interaction!

Fire Skinks are cute, brilliantly colored little lizards that can be incredible pets for the keeper looking for a smaller species of lizard to display in their home.  Their sturdiness and ease of care coupled with how frankly adorable they are makes it hard not to love them as a fantastic beginner lizard or fun side project for the experienced keeper.  Breeding them is also fairly easy and straightforward, and once established they can be extremely prolific.  Check back with us next month to see a Breeding Spotlight take you through step by step on how to condition, breed, incubate, and raise Fire Skinks of your own!

Basic Ball Python Breeding: Using a Punnett Square – December 2012

By Jennifer Greene

Ball Pythons have some of the most diverse and beautiful combinations of mutations that affect their color and pattern.  In the last 10 years, the number of genetically inherited traits that we have discovered in ball pythons is easily several dozen of single, simple traits, with the combination of those traits easily numbering into the hundreds.   For the average person just beginning to scratch the surface of ball python breeding, learning about all the morphs and mutations, and all the fancy names for them, can seem extremely daunting.  When you own morphs and are trying to create new ones, or just figuring out what you could potentially hatch out when you breed together animals carrying different traits, it can seem nearly impossible to memorize all the possible combinations and outcomes.  Fortunately, you don’t need to memorize the hundreds of combinations; instead, you can use a formula called a Punnett Square to predict your chances of hatching out specific types of offspring.  Using a punnett square properly will enable you to figure out potential offspring for any possible combination of traits.

In this article, it’s my goal to help you understand how to use a simple punnett square.  To learn how to combine two, three, or more traits in a punnett square, I highly recommend picking up The Complete Ball Python, which has two excellent chapters on punnett squares that will help you out.  In addition, search online for a free tutorial on genetics to help you out, or even consider enrolling in a basic biology course for a more thorough understanding.  Next month’s article will cover basic breeding principles such as inbreeding, line breeding, outcrossing, and their relevance in reptile breeding programs over the short and long term.

First, let’s talk about recessive traits.  These traits are only visible when an animal has two copies of the gene, one from each parent.  Some examples of recessive traits are clowns, piebalds, ghosts, and the various types of albinos.  Understanding how to predict your clutches is fairly easy  – use that punnett square! It’s a fairly simple method of determining probability per egg of what could hatch out.

Below I’ve drawn a simple square – for any single recessive trait, this is all you need to do to determine your chances of hatching out each baby.  For punnett squares, the use of capital and lowercase letters indicates which gene is dominant over another.  In recessive mutations, the normal type is going to be dominant over the recessive trait, so the capital letter A is going to mean the normal gene, while the lower case a means the recessive trait – albino for this example.  Each trait has two copies of the gene, so when writing out the genes of an animal, you’ll always use two letters – a het albino would be Aa, and an albino would be aa, and a normal would be AA.

Along the top of your square, put one of the parents.  In our example, we’ll have a het albino breed with an albino.  Up top, I’ll have the het albino parent (which gender they are doesn’t matter).  Along the side goes another parent (again, gender doesn’t matter for this), and this one will be the albino.  Each box gets 1 letter.

http://lllreptile.com/load-image/StoreInventoryImage/image/10230

When you carry down the letters to fill in the box, you’ll see that you get two possible outcomes – Aa, het albinos, and aa, albinos.  Since one of the parents was an albino, all normal looking babies are going to be het albinos.  You might be asking about what happens when you breed two het albinos together… Well, this is what that punnett square would look like:

Punnet Square Two

You see that there are now 3 types of outcomes.  AA, or completely normal babies, Aa, or het albino babies, and aa, or albino babies.  The albino babies will be easy to pick out when they hatch, but what about the normal and het babies?  They both have at least one copy of the normal gene, which means they will look totally normal.  This situation is how possible hets are made.  Since there is no visible difference between a normal ball python and a het albino ball python, instead many breeders will sell the offspring at a discounted price compared to guaranteed hets, and call them 66% hets.  The 66% refers to the probability of each normal looking baby being a het – it’s a short hand way of saying that the normal babies have a 66% chance of being het for albino.  Buying these kinds of hets is a kind of calculated gamble, but can be a great way to score some hets for a discounted price.   There are hets sold as smaller percents, such as 50% hets and 33% hets, and the same kind of short hand applies. Any time there is a percent in front of the word het, what should be referred to is the percent chance of that animal being het.

Ball Pythons are one of the most rewarding species to breed for fancy morphs because so many of the morphs are visible in the first generation.  These morphs are referred to as codominant in the reptile hobby, although technically the term is inaccurate (it’s been noted that the correct term should be incomplete dominant).  Codominant morphs have a “super” form, which is when an animal has two copies of the trait.  To show you in the form of a punnett square, writing out codominant traits is a little different than recessive.  The capital letter in this case is the trait that is more dominant, so for a pastel, refers to the pastel trait, while is the normal gene.  We’ll write up a punnett square to describe breeding a pastel to a pastel.

Punnett Square Three

Three potential combinations occur – normal babies, pp, more pastels, Pp, and super pastels, PP.  Another term for super pastels is homozygous pastel, meaning that they have two copies of the pastel gene.  A simpler definition for homozygous is same, meaning that the genes are the same, while heterozygous means mixed, or the genes are not the same.  For some codominant traits, the homozygous form may look nothing like the heterozygous form.   Lessers, Butters, and Mojaves are an example of this – they are all the heterozygous form of a blue eyed leucistic snake.  Yellowbellies are the heterozygous form of the ivory ball python, and fires are the heterozygous form of the black eyed leucistic.  Many codominant mutations have a homozygous (or super) form that looks like an extreme version of the heterozygous form, and when new mutations come out, discovering what the super expression looks like is one of the most exciting aspects of proving out the morph.

Fortunately for ball python breeders, the majority of ball python morphs are codominant, meaning that in the first generation of offspring you should see some babies that are visible morphs.  This makes them extremely gratifying for the beginner, as you see results relatively quickly.  There are also a handful of morphs that for all intents and purposes, are dominant traits, meaning that there is no super form.  Dominant traits express the same regardless if the animal has one or two copies of the gene.  Spider ball pythons and Pinstripe ball pythons could both be considered dominant, although popular opinion on spider ball pythons is still inconclusive as to whether or not a “super” form exists.  Generally speaking, it is frowned upon to breed spider x spider or pinstripe x pinstripe, as it can result in weaker or misshapen offspring that often do not thrive.  In addition, many do not see any real benefit to that breeding, as your chances for producing more morphs per clutch do not increase significantly.  I’ll create the punnett square for you to look at the pairing and the results.  We’ll do a pinstripe x pinstripe, with P indicating the pinstripe gene, and p indicating normal.

Punnet Square Four

So, as you can see we get slightly increased odds of hatching out a pinstripe per egg.  Instead of a 50% chance of each egg having a pinstripe in it (as would be the case when breeding a pinstripe to a normal), you have a 75% chance per egg of hatching out a pinstripe.  However, that 75% actually breaks down into a 50% chance of a regular, or heterozygous pinstripe (only one copy of the pinstripe gene) and a 25% chance of a homozygous, or super, pinstripe.  Now, pinstripes don’t have a super form that looks different from the form with only one copy of the gene.  This means that when you create a homozygous pinstripe, you will not be able to tell it apart from your heterozygous pinstripes.

Why does it matter if you can tell a homozygous pinstripe apart from a heterozygous pinstripe, you ask?  Because when you raise up that baby homozygous pinstripe and breed it to anything else, it will always produce pinstripes!  That makes it a valuable addition to a breeding project, although not visually more interesting than any other morph.  Morphs that are genetically homozygous will always produce offspring that are morphs, which is why they generally fetch a higher price and can be considered more valuable to breeding projects.  For a pet, there is no difference or benefit to getting a morph beyond appearance, so make your decision on a pet snake based on what you find the most visually appealing.  When it comes to pet snakes, the genes behind their appearance are only as important as you want them to be.

There is one last type of morph that is available, and often quite a steal for a fancy looking pet snake, and that’s the “non-genetic” morphs.  Labyrinths, Jungles (not to be confused with pastels, which are sometimes archaically referred to as pastel jungles), and a handful of other unique looking ball pythons are different in appearance than a normal ball python, but genetically they are no different.  While many folks refer to these snakes as “non-genetic” morphs, that is a bit of a misnomer, as appearance is always to a certain extent controlled by the genes of the animal (thus, genetic).  However, these morphs are not inheritable, or passed on from one generation to the next.  If you were to breed a Jungle ball python to a normal, you would get entirely normal babies, with no increased likelihood of hatching more jungles.  Occasionally, when temperatures fluctuate greatly during incubation, pattern or color can be affected: I personally have seen a clutch of extremely unique looking pastels with scrambled and reduced pattern that were the result of some accidental and extreme temperature fluctuations during incubation.  They were very pretty, but their unique appearance was not a trait they were able to pass on to their offspring.

In closing, I just want to emphasize again the importance of selecting snakes to add to your collection that you enjoy and want to keep.  If breeding, especially on a larger scale, is your goal, then consider taking a basic course on genetics (there are numerous free tutorials online).  The punnett square is an extremely useful tool for understanding odds and probabilities for certain crosses, but remember that each punnett square is calculating your odds per egg, not per clutch, and does not tell you the guaranteed outcome of each breeding.  It is a helpful tool to see possibilities, and not a fortune telling device.