Ball python morphs come in a huge mix of colors, patterns and markings. On top of this, breeders are creating new morphs and color combinations all the time! What you like best is totally subjective.
What is a ball python morph? Put simply, a morph is a mutation. It changes the way a snake looks, without changing the breed. These differences are on the surface – the type of snake is the same.
Counting all the unique, captive bred morphs, there could easily be hundreds of python morphs out there. Some are occur naturally, but most have been developed in captivity (and might be contested as distinct morphs). Imagine a painter, mixing colors in a palette—this is something like what goes on among snake breeders. Every time she makes a new color, that’s a new ball python morph!
The science of breeding is complex and mathematical. With breeders all over the world combining pre-existing python morphs every year, there are new names to add to the list all the time. Some morphs don’t even have names yet!
In this guide, I’ll take a look at key terms, list the primary ball python morphs, and help you get on your way to breeding them—or at least keeping them. I will also talk about problems which may arise when breeding certain morphs with each other.
If you’d like to dig deeper, there are a bunch of scientific sites and vloggers out there who are invaluable sources for the inquisitive reader. Genetics is a huge field that needs a lot of decoding to be easily understood. If you’d like something more in-depth analysis on the science, there is a four-part video lesson I recommend. Or, if reading is more your thing, I suggest following up with this article on the history of ball python morphs.
- How do ball python genetics work?
- What is the difference between heterozygous (Het) and homozygous?
- What are dominant, co-dominant and incomplete dominant genes? And what is a recessive gene?
- What is the difference between albinism and leucism?
- How does a birth defect differ from a morphism? What makes a morph a morph?
- How many ball python morphs are there, and what are they?
- Which ball python morphs can be interbred, and which should be avoided?
- What problems could you encounter when breeding ball pythons?
- How can you minimize your chances of something going wrong?
It’s going to get intense. So, strap yourself in—it’s time to learn about ball python morphs!
Step One: How do ball python snake genetics work?
Like I said in the introduction, a useful analogy is to imagine a painter mixing colors.
There are only three primary colors to choose from: red, blue and yellow. Mixing these creates the secondary colors, which are orange (red + yellow), green (yellow + blue) and purple (blue + red). Take this one step further and you get tertiary colors. Then you can add black or white to darken or lighten each color. What results is a whole uncountable range of colors, from cyan to vermilion, mauve to teal.
For quite a long time, there were only a small number of ball python morphs. To be specific—in 1990, there were:
- Ball pythons
- Striped ball pythons
And there were also two piebald ball pythons and one albino ball python. Basically, if you wanted a ball python, you had to have it regular, or striped.
Now, however, the list is very long!
In addition to those mentioned above, we now have leucistic, black, black-backed, black-and-white, high-gold, narrow-striped, ghost, spider, tiger, pastel, jungle, pastel-jungle, axanthic, lesser, labyrinth, clown, Mojave, Blue-Eyed Lucy and coral glows, and a host of other more complicated combinations of the above.
How are new morphs created?
There are two ways.
- Importing new snakes from their natural habitat
- Breeding existing morphs together
The first way is incredibly expensive – new morphs (called base morphs) aren’t discovered in the wild very often! It can also be risky, because the new base morph might not breed successfully in captivity. If it doesn’t, it means the new pattern or coloration is not genetic and inheritable.
Given the risk, and the price, of the first way, it is only really accessible to large-scale breeders. The second is much more popular. For example, if you have enough money to buy a black ball python and a leucistic ball python, then you could breed them together.
The thing is, almost all of these initial combinations (or secondary morphs) have already been discovered.
Step Two: Snake terminologies
There are lots of words used frequently when talking about ball python morphs, genetics, and just snakes in general. Here, I’ll take you threw a bunch of them.
1. Diploid vs Haploid
Haploid cells have one complete set of chromosomes.
The best examples are sperm and egg cells, or gametes. A sperm cell has one full set of chromosomes from the male parent, while an egg cell has one full set of chromosomes from the female parent. In humans, haploid cells have 23 chromosomes.
Haploid cells are produced by a process called meiosis. During meiosis, a cell divides into two separate cells, which are both different from the parent cell. They are different because they have only half the number of chromosomes of the parent cell.
This is how a baby gets 50% of its genes from one parent, and 50% from the other. That explains why, if two people have two kids, they’re (probably) not exactly the same!
When a sperm cell comes into contact with an egg cell, they combine to form a zygote. As a result, zygotes have two full sets of chromosomes, making them diploid cells. In humans, diploid cells have 46 chromosomes—2 x 23 = 46. Biology = easy! Well, not quite.
Click here for more information.
2. Genotype vs Phenotype
You can think of genotype as gene + type.
It is the set of genes in your DNA, and codes for a particular trait—in humans, this could be thick hair, long legs, big feet, or practically anything else.
The phenotype is simply the physical expression of those genes. So, in the case of the examples I mentioned, the phenotype is the person with thick hair, long legs and big feet. Sometimes the genes in the genotype don’t get expressed in the phenotype, so there needs to be a distinction.
If it helps you to remember what phenotype means, just remember that it begins with ph, like the word physical—so it’s the physical expression.
3. Dominant vs Recessive genes
Dominant genes are those which are always expressed in the phenotype. In humans, for example, the gene which codes for brown hair is dominant. As a result, in human reproduction, brown hair + blonde hair usually results in brown hair.
It’s the same in snakes (although they don’t have hair). If a mutation is considered dominant, only one of its parents is required to have it. An example in ball pythons is the gene mutation which gives a snake a pinstripe pattern. If one parent is a pinstripe morph, the offspring will display pinstripe patterning in its phenotype.
Recessive genes are required in both parents in order to show up in the phenotype of the offspring. Again, an example in the world of ball python morphs is the mutation which causes albinism.
So, if you take a pinstripe morph and breed it with an albino morph, what will the offspring look like? Well done—Pinstripe!
For more detail, head over to Morph Market.
4. Homozygous vs Heterozygous—this one is especially important!
In a homozygous cell, or organism, both copies of each gene match. For example, two dominant alleles (AA) are homozygous. So are two recessive alleles (aa). Homo means ‘same’, and –zygous comes from ‘zygote’; two identical alleles are homozygous.
Heterozygous is the opposite. If you pair a dominant allele with a recessive allele, the result will be heterozygous. Hetero = different.
In the context of ball python morphs: an animal carrying only one mutant gene (half the pair) is heterozygous, or simply “Het”. This basically means it’s carrying a recessive gene, but not showing it.
5. Co-dominant vs Incomplete dominant genes
Like I said, pinstripe is dominant, while albinism is recessive. But what if you put two dominant genes together? The simple answer is that both genes display in the phenotype.
This is how you get so much variation in patterning and coloration of ball python morphs! Different dominant genes interact in different ways. You could think of one being ‘more dominant’ than the other, or just them fighting it out and the result being slightly different every time.
The difference between co-dominant and incomplete dominant is downplayed, but significant. They are often used to mean the same thing!
Co-dominance actually means that the two different alleles both cause changes, working together. To illustrate, if you one allele coding for red skin, and one coding for yellow skin, the result would be orange skin—a mix of the two.
Incomplete dominance refers to a situation where both alleles affect the phenotype separately—distinctly. So in the same case as before, the result is a snake which is both red and yellow, or patchy. It’s a bit like the difference between mixing salt and water (saltwater), and mixing oil and water—they will always separate eventually!
It all comes down to mathematics. As long as you have a reliable record of which genes exist within which snakes, you’ll be able to predict the probability of various outcomes. Here is a useful ball python genetics chart!
6. What is a head wobble?
Otherwise known as ‘wobble syndrome’, head wobble occurs when a snake lacks mobility in its neck and head. It is a genetic neurological issue.
Most often found in the spider morph, and related to the spider gene, head wobble is heritable. However, there doesn’t seem to be a link between the wobble of a parent and the wobble of its offspring. It generally manifests itself in the following ways:
- Side-to-side head tremors, i.e. a ‘wobble’.
- Erratic corkscrewing.
- Inhibited reflexes—the snake finds it difficult to strike, and often strike in the wrong direction.
- Difficulty telling up from down—you might find your snake lying upside down, unable to flip itself.
- Loose tail grip.
Most breeders say it doesn’t affect animal welfare, but if any of the above happened to me on a regular basis, I don’t think I’d be a happy snake! If you’re thinking about owning a spider ball python morph, you might want to read into it a bit more.
Wobble is related to stress, and increases as stress increases. As a result, a wobble usually worsens during handling and feeding.
For more information, you can also check out Olympus Reptiles.
To recap on any of the genetics, Reptiles Magazine has a very useful guide!
Step Three: What is the difference between albinism and leucism?
Hint: the giveaway is in the eyes!
Albinos are easy to spot. Their characteristics are distinctive: yellow-cream pattern, pink or red eyes. Albinism is a condition whereby an animal doesn’t have any melanin. Melanin gives color to skin, scales, eyes, feathers—whatever the animal has which could be colorful.
As a result, albinos often have very pale eyes, with a pink or reddish hue.
Leucism is different because it’s only partial. It is still a loss of pigmentation, but it is incomplete, and doesn’t affect the eyes. So if you’re wondering whether a ball python morph is albino or leucistic, you can most often tell just by looking into its eyes.
Step Four: What is the difference between a ‘morph’ and a birth defect?
A birth defect is completely different from a morph variant. Morphism is about mutation—there is a genetic variation between two distinct snake morphs. Different morphs within the same snake species have the same abilities as each other. In theory, their genetic makeup does not vary in a way that affects strength, agility, length, girth or naughtiness. Underneath, they are all the same!
Defect, on the other hand, denotes an absence or excess of important genes. They fundamentally differ from regular ball pythons. Defects can compromise a snake’s ability to lead a normal life. Snakes with defects have to adjust differently to their environments and, depending on the severity of their defect, often cannot survive in the wild.
A very severe defect can result in death at birth. For example, a crooked backbone or a fault in the respiratory system can lead to immediate death.
Defects can occur when two incompatible snakes are bred together. Examples of possible defects include infertility (like in a mule, or hinney), head-wobble (described above), a crooked spine, impaired vision, and so on.
If you’re in any doubt, there are a few things you can do to identify if it is in fact a morph, and if it is, exactly what morph is it?
- Ask about the snake’s history! Breeders should keep a record of their breeding combinations—this is where the painter analogy falls down. Find out which snakes it came from, and that will indicate the genetic makeup of the morph in question.
- Make comparisons. Search online and see if you can find a match. If you can’t find any evidence of a snake like it, it could be a brand new morph! But it’s more likely that you’re looking at a birth defect…
- Ask experts. There are numerous sites and forums online where you can talk to breeders and snake owners. Someone’s bound to be able to help!
Step Five: What Ball Python Morphs are there?
Below is a list of 26 primary, popular morphs, in alphabetical order, followed by its commonness and an estimated market price. Detailed descriptions and images of each are easy to find online! Aside from the exclusions I talk about later, these should all breed successfully with each other, with interesting results!
- Albino Ball Python / Common / $300
- This was the first morph to be bred in captivity. Albinos lack pigmentation. They have cream or light pink skin, sometimes showing yellow patches or blotches, with red or pink eyes.
- Anerythristic Ball Python / Common / $100
- Shortened to ‘anery’, anerythristic means the snake lacks red pigmentation—similar in principal to albino, but less drastic. Anerys are monochrome with flashes of yellow.
- Axanthic Ball Python / Common / $375
- Again, similar to the above, axanthic means an absence of yellow pigmentation. As a result, axanthic ball pythons don’t have any cream or brown coloration either, so they tend to turn out monochrome, or grayscale.
- Banana Ball Python / Very common / $350
- Despite being common, these beauties are expensive. This is because they’re so magnificent! They come in yellow-orange with a striking pink or purple pattern.
- Blue Eyed Leucistic (BEL) Ball Python / Rare / $500
- These beauties are pure, stark white, like the image you have in mind of an albino. The difference is that their eyes are deep shiny blue.
- Butter Ball Ball Python / Common / $90
- The cool thing about butters is that they get brighter as they age. They start mid-brown and grow into a light brown.
- Candino Ball Python / Rare / $400
- Candino is actually a crossbreed of candy and albino morphs—you can usually work out which two morphs go into a secondary morph just by looking at the name. Candinos look similar to bananas, but having albino in them means they have red-pink eyes.
- Chocolate Ball Python / Common / $100
- As you might have guessed, chocolates are a rich, dark brown, with a smooth, lacquer-like finish.
- Cinnamon Ball Python / Common / $70
- Cinnamons are cheap and cheerful, and darker brown than most other morphs. They can be bred with other morphs, but sometimes the results are unstable or unhealthy—check out the section on which morphs not to breed, below, for more information!
- Coral Glow Ball Python / Very common / $350
- If you look these up, you’ll find they look very similar to banana morphs. That’s because they come from the same, just from a different bloodline. They are orange and purple, like bananas, but can also have black spots.
- Fire Ball Python / Rare / $400
- Like cinnamons and chocolates, fires are a rich dark brown, but they have a larger light patch, with an overall smoother, cleaner visual effect.
- Ghost Ball Python / Common / $90
- Ghosts have less black pigmentation, and as such have a hazy aspect – like you’re looking at it through a smokescreen or a misty filter.
- Gotta Have It (GHI) Ball Python / Very rare / $5000
- This really is the name these snakes are known by. The price and the name may give an indicator of how wonderful these snakes are to look at! They’re gloss black with caramel-yellow highlights. They were discovered in 2007. They’re popular, but expensive, because their offspring are beautiful too.
- Ivory Ball Python / Rare / $300
- These look somewhat like Blue-eyed Leucistics, but they don’t have blue eyes. Also, they have a faint yellow dorsal stripe.
- Lesser Ball Python / Very common / $90
- These look a lot like butters. They’re often bred with other morphs because of the effect they have on the colors of the offspring—brighter, more brilliant, more beautiful!
- Mojave Ball Python / Very common / $70
- Mojaves are good starters. They’re dark brown and yellow, with a white underbelly—that’s three color sections to play with! They can be bred to make BELs, along with lessers.
- Mystic Ball Python / Very common / $150
- Mystics look a lot like Mojaves, and are dark like cinnamons and chocolates. They have a smooth pattern, and a mystical quality.
- Pastel Ball Python / Very common / $100
- Pastels are super yellow. They’re easy to breed and strikingly handsome, and as a result they may be the top selling ball python morph.
- Phantom Ball Python / Rare / $150
- Phantoms look quite similar to Mojaves, with two colored sections, a light and a dark. The lighter pattern is yellow-orange, while the dark is chocolatey brown through tan. They are rarer than Mojaves.
- Piebald Ball Python / Common / $300
- Piebalds are mostly white, but has flashes of normal ball python coloration in sections which might be tiny, or cover almost the whole body.
- Pinstripe Ball Python / Common / $100
- The thing that makes these so special is their pattern, which has been minimized to just very thin stripes – like a pinstripe suit! But also very different to a pinstripe suit. The pattern is inconsistent and patchy, and quite mesmerizing.
- Scaleless Ball Python / Very rare / $3000
- As the name suggests, these snakes have no scales. The name does not relate to color, so you can mix scaleless with any other morph to produce the desired effect. They’re very rare, which is reflected in the price!
- Spotnose Ball Python / Common / $150
- These are light in color, with areas of bright yellow. The spotnose gets its name from the little white spots on its upper lip, just under its nose. Cute!
- Super Blast Ball Python / Common $250
- Super blasts are actually secondary morphs, made from the crossbreeding of pastels and pinstripes. They are orange with a faded, thin dark brown pattern.
- Vanilla Ball Python / Common / $200
- Vanillas are almost indistinguishable from normal ball python morphs, but there are two subtle differences: they have clearer, brighter colors, and their head colors are a bit faded compared to normal ball pythons. They can be interbred with other morphs to brighten the hues in the offspring.
- Yellow Belly Ball Python / Common / $150
- Aside from its strong yellows and yellow-white belly, this morph displays small light markings on its head, and a flame pattern rising up from the sides of its belly.
I have omitted spider ball pythons and champagne ball pythons, for reasons I’ll go into later! There are also bumblebee/killerbee ball pythons, which are recognizable by their distinctive yellow-black coloration and striped pattern. These are known to be amenable pets, and very unlikely to strike. However, head wobbles are well documented among bumblebees.
Now comes the fun part:
As a rule, morphs can all be bred with each other. Remember, they are all the same species, and like species can mate with each other. Below I’ll give you a rundown of which ball python morphs are best to start with, and which you should avoid, but first I’ll take you through the basics.
Like I said with the painter mixing colors, there are an almost infinite number of possible color combinations. Well, the same goes for ball pythons. You can breed two primaries to get a secondary—simple. You can also mix a secondary with a primary, or two secondary ball pythons together. With more than 20 primary morphs to choose from, hopefully you can get an idea of just how many possible combinations there are! World of Ball Pythons website lists almost 7000!
For the convenience of everyone involved, names usually just follow the morphs that produce them. For example,
- Albino + Banana = Albino Banana
- Cinnamon + Ghost = Cinnamon Ghost
And so on. And then there are more complex examples:
- Fire + Ghost + Lesser + Pinstripe = Fire Ghost Lesser Pinstripe
It’s worth noting the word super. Super basically means [two times], so…
- Cinnamon + Cinnamon = Super Cinnamon
And so on. See if you can work out all the possible combos!
If you still can’t work out what you’re looking for, check out this video.
Step Six: What are the best ball pythons to breed?
There’s no easy to answer to this. It depends on your budget, and your taste. The most important thing is that your chosen snake is healthy, and that it remains so.
If you’re looking to start breeding, my advice would be this:
- Pick a male with two or more morph genes
Variety is the spice of life! You can breed this male with co-dominant females, and work out which result works best.
Good starter morphs:
- Mojave ball pythons: Cheap and cheerful, Mojave ball pythons are very popular for first timers.
- Fire ball pythons: Not just an awesome name—fire ball pythons work well in combination with others.
- Pastel ball pythons: Not only are they cheap, but combining pastel with another dominant gene brightens the pattern or color.
If you’re just starting out, it might be worth breeding entry-level snakes before stepping it up. Try breeding yellow belly ball pythons, enchis or coral glows. Once you’ve sold these, you will be able to afford more expensive morphs.
Step Seven: What ball pythons should you avoid?
Aesthetic variation isn’t the only thing to look out for. Some genetic variations can be unhealthy. I already talked about head wobble, which could be a concern. But there are other problems too.
- Head wobble affects many ball python morphs, with varying levels of severity. Chief among them are:
- Spider ball pythons, bumblebee/killerbee ball pythons, champagne ball pythons, woma and hidden gene woma ball pythons, powerball pythons and, worst of all, spider-sable ball pythons.
- Kinking can be very problematic, depending on its severity, and is also incurable. A snake can have one kink or several. Issues range from discomfort to lacking the ability to digest food. It can be lethal.
- Kinking affects caramel ball pythons and super cinnamon ball pythons.
- Severe neurological issues have been found to be relatively common among super spotnose ball pythons.
- Fertility problems are most common among desert ball pythons and caramel ball pythons.
- Desert ball pythons often struggle to lay eggs, and their eggs are often infertile and fail to hatch. Caramels generally don’t produce enough eggs, and the eggs that they do produce are often unfertilized, or ‘slugs’.
- You can spot a ‘slug’ because they are darker in color and tougher than regular, fertilized eggs.
- If in doubt, hold the egg up in front of a candle or flashlight—healthy eggs will appear rosy pink in front of the light, whereas slugs are yellow.
- Duckbill: As the name suggests, this has to do with the bone structure in the skull, and is very serious.
- Having a duckbill makes it more difficult for the snake to breathe and eat, but it’s not known whether or not it affects smell.
- It is most prevalent in super black pastel ball pythons and super cinnamon ball pythons.
- Eye problems: These can take various forms:
- ‘Bug eyes’ stick out more than usual, and are large and round. It is unclear whether these decrease quality of life.
- Eyes which are smaller than usual. This probably affects quality of life, so breeding is probably a bad idea.
- No eyes at all. This obviously affects quality of life. Avoid breeding.
So, to recap, if the health of your snake is important to you (as it should be), the ball python morphs it might be worth avoiding are:
- Spider, bumblebee, champagne, woma, hidden gene woma, powerball, spider-sable, caramel, super spotnose, desert, super black pastel and super cinnamon ball python morphs.
Step Eight: What problems could you encounter when breeding ball pythons?
Some ball python morphs just won’t survive. Avoid these at all costs.
This is separate from hatching issues related to bad temperature control, or too much stress. It is to do with genetic incompatibility. Take note of the following ball python morphs which absolutely must not be bred with each other:
- Champagne + Champagne (i.e. super champagne)
- Champagne + Spider
- Champagne + Woma
- Spider + Spider (super spider)
- Woma + Woma (super woma, or ‘pearl’)
More information here. There have been cases of the above snakes being healthy, but they seem to be very rare, so it’s best to avoid them!
Step Nine: Breeding Guide
You’ve decided that you want to breeder. You love snakes. Put the two together and you’ve found your path: a snake breeder!
Well done on discovering your path. Here are a few things you should know, or do, before you embark on your new journey…
- Make sure that you really love snakes.
- You’ll be spending a heck of a lot of time with them, and their welfare is in your hands. If you suddenly decide that snake breeding isn’t for you, then you’re going to have to answer to your snakes!
- On top of this, breeding requires an initial investment. This could be as low as a few hundred dollars, or as high as a couple of thousand, depending on how ambitious you’re feeling. Doing a U-turn could turn out to be quite expensive.
- Read up on genetics.
- It might be tempting to dive in with all the confidence of someone who knows that 1 + 1 = 2. The thing is: genetics isn’t quite as simple as a simple mathematical equation. There are do’s and don’ts, which you need to be aware of.
- Breeding is a complex process and requires a lot of time and attention. It’s not as easy as putting two snakes together in an enclosure and waiting until a baby pops out. Conditions need to be maintained, and care must be taken in handling your snakes in order to keep them fit and healthy—both physically and mentally.
- Another thing you’ll learn on your genetics journey is that not everything is controllable. It’s nice to think of genes in small numbers, and simple equations. However, nothing is ever 100% predictable, so bear that in mind next time you say you’re ready for anything!
- Be ready for more snakes!
- You might start with two or three, but if they breed successfully, you’ll have a lot more snakes to take care of very soon!
- Learn what they need, gather up the necessary resources; make sure you have enough enclosures available. Snakes are solitary creatures when they’re not mating, so they’ll need an individual place each. You can start off with shoeboxes when they’re still hatchlings, but after a week or two it’s best to give them something a little more robust, and personalized.
- Treat your snakes with love.
- You’re running the business, but the snakes don’t care about that. They want to be comfortable, healthy and happy. If you don’t look after them, they won’t look after you.
- On a similar note, don’t push your snakes too hard into breeding. Take things slowly. Young snakes may be able to produce eggs, but it can put a lot of stress on the body, and make them unable to produce any more for years—so taking things slow at the beginning might save time later on.
- Make sure the female is ovulating at the time of pairing. You can tell this by the strong pheromones she releases to alert the males of her fertility. No ovulation = no mating = no babies.
- Think about the market.
- If you’re running a business, you’ll want to make money, not lose it. Calculate your startup costs and what they payoff is likely to be. Do some research and find out the value of the snakes you’re hoping to produce.
- In the ball python market, morph is everything (after health), so breed carefully.
Two weeks after fertilization, the female ball python will shed. Approximately 30 days later, she will lay her eggs. Eggs require incubation.
Females naturally incubate the eggs themselves, but may not eat well during this period. For this reason, some breeders prefer to incubate the eggs themselves, to allow the female to retain her strength.
Welcome to the fantastic world of ball python morphs. As you can see, there is much to learn, discover and enjoy, when it comes to ball pythons. With dozens of primary morphs to choose from, there is a veritable smorgasbord of possible pattern combinations and secondary morphs, and new combinations are being produced all the time.
I hope this guide was useful for you! If you have any other questions, one of our other guides may be able to help you. Good luck on your journey!
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