The piebald ball python is a member of one of the most popular species of pet snake in the United States. Ball pythons typically have an easygoing temperament, relatively docile nature and are, on the whole, very easy to care for. On top of this, they come in a huge range of designer morphs, colorations and patterns, they are affordable, and they are adorable!
What is a piebald ball python? Piebald is a recessive base morph of the immensely popular ball python. There are several base morphs of the ball python species, from which breeders and herpetologists have selectively bred many, many designer morphs—probably more than you can count!
Piebald coloration is coded by a recessive gene. I will cover this in more detail below, but essentially, this means that in a mating pair, both parents must carry the piebald gene in order for the offspring to show as piebald. This also means that the piebald morph can spring up seemingly out of the blue! If each parent carries just one piebald gene, then it could be that neither of them actually appears piebald – but their offspring could!
What do piebald ball pythons look like?
Physically, the piebald trait expresses itself as partially un-pigmented with variable pattern and color mutations. The pattern is cloud-like and mystifying, with large patches (sometimes covering almost all of the snake’s body) of white making it look like the snake’s pattern has simply been erased.
The head is usually unaffected, and displays the underlying pattern. Otherwise, the piebald trait is very unpredictable! The amount of pattern erasure cannot be predicted by looking at the parents.
This beautiful morph was recorded as early as 1966, but have only been properly documented since the early 1980s. They’ve been around for long enough for the trait to be integrated into many, many other designer morphs. I’ll talk more about them later—in particular, the most expensive piebald designer morphs.
In this guide, I’ll cover 7 fascinating facts about the curious and scintillating piebald ball python. To be covered are…
- The piebald name—where did it come from?
- Habitats—could you spot a piebald ball python in the wild
- Size—how long can they grow?
- Lifespan—how long can they live?
- Prices—how much do they usually cost?
- Piebald genetics—what goes into producing a piebald ball python?
- Within this, I will go into various subheadings, such as: breeding age, the basic science of genetics, genetic terminologies, and practical steps towards breeding piebald ball pythons.
- The most expensive piebald ball pythons—including information about what other traits they exhibit, a brief description and how much they cost in today’s market.
With any luck, by the time you’ve finished reading this guide, you’ll be geared up and ready to set off on your own ball python adventure. And I hope you will consider a piebald ball python when choosing which morph to start with!
We’ve got a lot to get through, so without any further ado, let’s jump into Fact #1: the piebald name.
#1 Piebald ball pythons actually have 2 names
Piebalds also go by the alias: pied.
For example, you might see designer morphs called ghi pastel pied, Mojave pied sulfur, or pinto pied. These are all designer morphs which contain the piebald gene, not some mysterious, unaccounted-for extra trait that no one knows about.
So, if you hear someone talking about a pied ball python, they’re not talking about a snake who ran out of luck on a game show, and ended up with a lemon meringue pie to the face. In the context of ball pythons, pied is synonymous with piebald. I hope that clears up any confusion!
Piebaldism is actually a condition by which an animal has patches of black and white. It can occur in animals, including humans. It can occur genetically – that is, brought about by a somewhat predicted combination of genes – or it can come about ontogenetically. Piebaldism in ball pythons is an inheritable trait, which was proved in 1997, at the Peter Kahl Facility.
Incidentally, the BALL in ball python comes from a natural behavior of the snake. When it feels threatened or nervous, the ball python will curl itself up into a tightly coiled ball. In doing so, it reduces its vulnerability: in this position, it is ready to strike immediately, and it can protect itself more effectively. It has been said that it would even be possible to roll a coiled ball python along a smooth surface. However, this is obviously not recommended.
#2 Piebald habitats & history
The ball python is endemic to western Africa: namely, Senegal, Mali, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and the Central African Republic, from Sudan to Uganda.
The first reference to a piebald ball python was in 1966, about 100 miles inland from Accra, in Ghana. A large male piebald ball python was captured, and killed, by villagers. Presumably it had caused a fright, due to its mysterious pattern.
When herpetoculture (snake keeping) exploded onto the United States pet scene in the early 1990s, ball pythons immediately became very sought-after creatures, and demand shot up. Ghanaians and Togolese set to work to mass collect ball pythons and their eggs, to be shipped to the United States. Piebalds were among those collected during this period.
Can piebalds survive in the wild?
Amazingly, yes. Given their distinctive and vivid coloration, these snakes are easy to spot, and make prime targets for their predators. However, they continue to live in the same locations as their ‘normal’ ball python cousins.
What is their usual habitat?
They like to live in grasslands and open, dry forests. Ball pythons spend much of their time underground, in burrows dug out by other animals. They are often nocturnal, coming out only at night, when it is cooler, to hunt. They are most active at dawn and dusk.
#3 How big do pied ball pythons get?
Ball pythons are relatively small – in fact, among all the African python species, they’re the smallest. They grow to a maximum of 5 feet (1.27m), but tend to be anywhere in the range of 3-4 ft. Ball pythons are mildly sexually dimorphic. Sexual dimorphism means the males and females are obviously different. In the case of ball pythons, females are generally larger than males. Hatchings are usually 8-12 inches in length. As snakes go, ball pythons are relatively broad and robust, with short tails.
Piebalds of any species do not, by default, grow more or less than ‘normal’ specimens. The same goes for all morphs—ball pythons, rosy boas, or corn snakes. The morph does not dictate the shape or size of the snake, or anything about what goes on inside the snake. Rather, it simply dictates the coloration and pattern. Color morphs manifest only in the outward appearance of the snake.
Is there any reason piebald ball pythons might grow smaller anyway?
If you see an adult piebald ball python in the wild, there is a chance that it will be smaller than its potential maximum size. Can you think of a reason? Hint: it’s the same reason albinos might be diminutive too.
Piebalds stand out in their natural environment—their mutation makes them highly visible and renders them vulnerable to their predators. A leopard stalking through grasslands is much more likely to see piebalds and albinos than, say, a regular patterned ball python. To stay alive, therefore, piebalds have to be very good at hiding! The fight for survival might mean they have to stay hidden a lot more than normal. As a result of this, they cannot hunt as frequently, or as successfully, and can me malnourished.
But in captivity, piebald ball pythons should grow no less, or more, than their relatives.
#4 How long can a piebald ball python live?
The same goes for piebald ball python longevity – in captivity, they should live no longer, or shorter, than other base or designer morphs.
There are designer morphs of other snake species whose mutations, for some reason, result in difficulty growing. For example, caramel rosy boas often suffer kinking in their tails. Others are prone to self-cannibalistic behavior. These are certainly morphs to watch out for, and avoid, but there are no known problems with piebald ball pythons!
Piebald ball python lifespan
The typical lifespan of a ball python in captivity is 20-30 years. With proper care, they can live even longer – the record age for a ball python is a whopping 47 years! Think about that: if you start owning your hatchling ball python when you’re in college, it will still be alive when you go through your midlife crisis. And it might even be around when you retire. Having a friend with you throughout the bulk of your life can be incredibly comforting.
Sadly, in the wild, ball pythons don’t live anywhere near as long. The average life expectancy of a wild ball python is just 10 years. This is due to all the pressures being exerted on a wild animal: pressure to hunt, pressure to hide from predators, and so on. In an uncontrolled environment, there are many obstacles for the ball python to overcome.
#5 Piebald ball python prices
Depending on their sex, age and size, you can purchase a piebald ball python for anywhere between $300 and $500. The most frequently cited price for a pre-adult female is $400. Females often sell for more than males, and adults fetch higher prices than juveniles and hatchlings.
So, if you just want to have a pet, I recommend getting hold of a male hatchling. You can pay significantly less for these, and seeing your snake through from youth to old age will be so much more satisfying!
The really high prices come along when the piebald ball python base morph is combined with one (or several) other morphs. The controlled breeding, by professional breeders and herpetologists, of rare and unique designer morphs, is where the world of ball pythons gets really fascinating.
See below, in section #7: 10 most expensive piebald ball python morphs, for a list of the most interesting (and, yes, expensive) designer ball pythons which contain the piebald gene currently on the market. Some of the prices might surprise you!
#6 How to make a piebald ball python?
Often considered the most exciting element to breeding piebald ball pythons is that every hatchling produced is totally unique.
Ball pythons take a relatively long time to reach sexual maturity. They tend to be ready to take the plunge at around 2½ to 3 years old. On paper, that may seem young, but compared to many other similarly sized animals, it’s quite old!
Still, relative to their total lifespan—up to 30 or even 40 years in captivity—being able to breed at 3 years old leaves a long time for you, as breeders, to experiment.
Before I give a recap and rundown on how to breed piebald ball pythons, I will define some important terms. You need to understand these before you embark on your ball python breeding program!
Genetic definitions in a nutshell
- Genotype = genetic type, or the set of genes present within a cell/organism.
- Phenotype = physical type, or the way in which those genes are expressed.
- If a snake (or any animal) is heterozygous for a gene, it only possesses one copy of that gene. For example, sperm and egg cells are heterozygous—they contain only one copy. When they get together to form a zygote, their genes are combined. If only one of them contains a piebald gene, then the zygote will be heterozygous for piebaldism—and will not BE piebald. However, it will carry the piebald gene with it in its own process of reproduction.
- This is the opposite. If an animal is homozygous for a gene, it contains two copies. A ball python must be homozygous for the piebald gene in order to actually be piebald. That’s why het piebalds look just like normal ball pythons—because they are!
- Recessive genes
- Two recessive genes are required for a trait to manifest in the phenotype. In the struggle to be expressed, they always lose to dominant genes.
- The gene which codes for piebaldism is recessive.
- Dominant genes
- These are, in effect, stronger than recessive genes. They are always expressed when paired with a recessive gene. If paired with a dominant gene, they become co-dominant.
- Co-dominant genes
- When two dominant, or two recessive, genes are paired together, they are both expressed. In this situation, they are co-dominant—like two recessive piebald genes being expressed in the phenotype in the form of piebaldism.
Where does the piebald ball python fit in with all this?
So, now you know the lingo—where do piebald ball pythons fit in? That’s easy (kind of).
Piebald is a recessive trait. As we know, two recessive genes – one from each parent – are required to produce offspring that display the recessive trait. The same goes for albino, and many other base morphs.
Let’s say you have a healthy breeding pair, both of which are heterozygous for the piebald gene; they do not appear piebald, but they are carriers of the gene. Breed them together successfully, and each egg that the female lays will, in theory, have a 25% chance of exhibiting the piebald trait. Simple!
As you will see below, designer morphs sometimes contain genes from half a dozen different base morphs. This makes the genetic calculations very complicated, and harder to predict! And even if you can predict with 100% certainty that your two snakes’ offspring will have the chance to be piebald (i.e., both parents carry 1 piebald allele), then by the very nature of piebaldism, you will not be able to predict the way in which the piebald genes express themselves. Piebaldism is random—it can cover 10% or 90%. Tricky, huh!
Quick Steps: Breeding Program!
In general terms, to breed ball pythons, the best you can do is make sure they are relaxed and ready—conditions must be perfect. Indeed, if the conditions aren’t just right, the ball pythons may switch off completely, and refuse to mate at all.
- Males must weigh at least 1.5lb (700g), and be at least 1 year old. Find out if your male is sexually mature by applying gentle pressure to the cloaca. If white, cheesy matter is produced, the male is ready.
- Females should be at least 3 years old and weigh 3.75lb (1700g).
- Lower ambient air temperature to mid 70°s F (low 20°s C) – replicate central African winter.
- Gently, periodically, introduce male and female. When they are familiar, return the enclosure to its regular temperature.
- If possible, place a number of males together for 10-20 minutes, in order to produce sexual excitement.
- Place female and male together, and let nature take its course. They may stay connected for up to 48 hours. Do not interrupt! Minimum 3-4 hours is required for effective coupling.
- If you plan on breeding the male again, give him a week to recover his potency.
- The sperm can remain in the female’s system for up to two years! So don’t panic if she doesn’t become gravid immediately. Be patient!
If you make it to egg-laying, and they are certifiably fertile, congratulations! You will probably have a maximum of four eggs. Again, this is a pretty modest sum compared to other snakes, which can produce clutches of 20 or more eggs at a time. Corn snakes can lay up to 30, kingsnakes up to 24, and rosy boas up to 7 or 8.
The mother ball python wraps herself around her eggs, curling up to protect them. This period of incubation can last anywhere from 2 to 4 months. At the end of it, you should have 4 healthy ball pythons.
If both breeding parents are piebald, i.e. are homozygous for the piebald gene, then all their offspring will be piebald. This is because, in the genetic game, the offspring takes any 2 alleles from a selection of 4 piebald alleles. They have no choice but to be piebald.
If one or both of your breeding parents are not homozygous for the piebald gene, then it falls to statistics and mathematics to predict whether or not each hatchling will be piebald. Like I said earlier, two het piebalds have a 25% chance of producing a piebald offspring.
#7 10 most expensive piebald ball python morphs
- 2019 male VPI Axanthic Black Pastel Fire Piebald Ball Python: $7,500.
Traits: black pastel, axanthic (VPI), piebald and fire.
This Floridian snake is almost entirely white. Only its head and the tip of its tail retain the axanthic pattern and coloration. The axanthic gene codes for a lack of yellow pigmentation (repeated once below), which results in a monochrome variation on the regular ball python pattern.
- 2019 male Tri Stripe Het Pied Ball Python: $7,500.
Traits: tri-stripe, 100% het piebald.
As the name suggests, this snake has three virtually solid black stripes running from head to tail. They are of different thicknesses; one, in particular, is very irregular. Oddly, it does not exhibit the piebald trait at all, but the seller promises that he carries it.
- 2019 male Scaleless Pied Ball Python: $8,000.
Traits: piebald, super scaleless head.
From Toronto, this juvenile ball python is completely scaleless, making its skin curl in strange folds where its body bends. Its pattern is an unostentatious pale black on cream, with a large grey blotch covering much of the top of its head. It is approximately 40% patternless.
- 2018 female Panda Super Black Pastel Piebald Ball Python: $8,500.
Traits: piebald, super black pastel.
This gorgeous snake earns its panda name because its pattern is white with an almost sheer black. This particular specimen, from Florida, has an entirely white body, and an entirely black head.
- 2017 female Scaleless 66% Het Pied Ball Python: $10,000.
Traits: super scaleless head, 66% het piebald.
The percentage of piebald refers to the proportion of its possessed alleles coding for the piebald gene. It is a calculation by the seller. This particular specimen is about 75% white, and exhibits the normal ball python pattern on the remaining 25% of its body. The pattern is a combination of mud-brown, yellow-brown and near-black, in a camouflage formation.
- 2017 female Albino Probable Panda Piebald Ball Python: $11,500.
Traits: piebald, super cinnamon, albino.
This illustrious snake is very pale, and has dull red eyes, owing to its albino gene. Its base color is a pale pinkish cream, and its pattern is an almost equally pale creamy yellow. This pattern shows up only in small patches on its nose and twice on its body. This is a testament to the unpredictability of how the piebald gene will be expressed.
- 2019 female Enchi Spinnerblast Orange Dream Yellow-belly Malum Piebald Ball Python, asking price: $12,000.
Traits: pinstripe, malum, spider, yellow belly, piebald, pastel, enchi and orange dream.
This ridiculously long-named ball python lives in New Hampshire, and holds a great deal of genetic information. Its phenotype is mostly milky-yellow, with faded patches of an almost indistinguishable pinkish white. It has a random pattern of dark markings, and eerie black eyes.
- 2018 female Graffiti Piebald, claimed to be entirely unique, with an asking price of $12,500.
Traits: piebald, super paint and calico. The seller claims that this is the only ball python to contain this genetic combination. And true enough, there is no such morph on the World Of Ball Pythons morph list.
She lives in California, and was born of a calico paint het piebald ball python and a paint het piebald ball python pairing. As you can see, when the genetic combinations get this complex, every name combination is a real mouthful!
- 2014 female Skittles Paradox Albino Piebald Silver Streak Chimera Ball Python is currently on the market for a whopping $29576!
You read that correctly. It’s the most expensive ball python currently on the U.S. morph market. But what makes it so valuable?
Well, it’s a female, which adds to her value. Also, she’s already an adult, weighing in at a healthy 1600g, and has a successful breeding history. This proves to potential buyers that she has the capacity to successfully produce healthy offspring.
But the most astonishing thing is the extensive list of genes she contains! Her traits include piebald, super pastel, albino, paradox and black pastel. She is one of a kind and even has her own Facebook page. Her alluring pattern is a combination of piebald whiteness, albino-affected yellow-black blotches, and irregular faded segments of grey and grey-black.
- The *potentially* most expensive designer morph ball python currently on the market in the United States is…
A female Lightning Pied Ball Python, born 2019. Located in Manassas, Virginia, its price is currently unlisted. At time of listing, it weighs 80g, and is almost completely white! Only its head, the very upper part of its neck, and the very tip of its tail are patterned. The rest of its body is completely blank, like a canvas.
Lightning Pied ball pythons exhibit a combination of two recessive genes, co-dominant with each other: piebald and axanthic. The axanthic gene codes for a lack of xanthophores, which produce yellow pigmentation. This often leads to very dark individuals. The combination of the two, in ball pythons, makes for a dark, monochrome pattern, clouded over according to how active the piebald gene is.
How much do you think it is worth?
Well, that concludes my piebald ball python genetics guide. I hope it answered a few of your questions! If not, then maybe it generated some new ones, and will kick you off on your own ball python journey.
Whether you decide to breed ball pythons or simply keep one as a pet, we would love to hear your thoughts and experiences to do with these wonderful snakes. Got a funny story? Please share it!
And as always, feel free to share this guide with anyone who might have an interest in ball pythons, reptile genetics, or herpetology in general!