Axanthic Ball Python Morph Guide

Axanthic ball pythons are striking as babies. They look like a black and white photo of a normal ball python. As they grow older most Axanthic balls “brown out.” But Axanthics are still prized by breeders who have used the Axanthic genes to create some stunning morphs.

An adult Axanthic may retain much of its color or it may be nearly indistinguishable from a normal ball python. That Axanthic will still provide its keeper with years of enjoyment and scaly companionship. It will also pass its Axanthic genes down to its offspring.

Breeding Axanthics can be a rewarding hobby or a lucrative business. But breeding Axanthics takes a bit of research. Before you put Axanthics together for mating, you have to know which of several different lines those Axanthics come from.

This article will tell you more about the various lines of the Axanthic ball python morph. Armed with that information, you can decide if an Axanthic ball is a good fit for your collection and how it fits into your breeding plans.

Axanthic Ball Python Morph Appearance

A baby Axanthic ball python looks like a charcoal sketch come to life. Their black patterns stand out on a silvery-gray background. While some Axanthics retain much of their color into adulthood, most become browner. It can be difficult to distinguish between a dark brown Axanthic and a normal ball.

Where a normal ball python is brown, an Axanthic ball python is gray. Baby Axanthics will show little or no brown coloration. But as they get older most will “brown out” or become more brown. Adult Axanthics lack the golden and yellow hues of a normal ball python, so their background color is a more neutral umber.

Some lines reportedly carry more of their juvenile coloration into adulthood. TSK and VPI Axanthics are said to brown less: Jolliff Axanthics reputedly brown more. But every snake is different. A Jolliff may remain gray throughout its lifetime, while a TSK or VPI may become brown.

Many Axanthic keepers will sell their adult Axanthics once their stunning juvenile coloration dims. But a brown adult Axanthic will still produce gray Axanthic babies. If you are interested in breeding Axanthics, you may be able to pick up a breeding-age specimen at a bargain price.

Genetics

Albinism affects the production of melanin. Axanthism interferes with the production of red and yellow pigments. Chromatophores, pigment producing cells, produce skin and eye color in cold-blooded animals. They are generated in the neural crest during embryonic development.

In an Axanthic ball python, the yellow xanthophores and red erythrophores are greatly diminished or altogether lacking. Since melanin production is not affected, this results in a gray snake with black markings. Axanthism is found in many reptiles and amphibians:

  • Axolotls: Axanthic axolotls are light grey with dark spots. The darker axanthics may appear purple, rose or gray.
  • Bearded Dragons: Axanthic bearded dragons are cream-colored with dark grey patterns.
  • Iguanas: Axanthism transforms Green Iguanas into a stunning shade of sky blue.
  • Monitors: Axanthic Water Monitors and Savannah Monitors trade their sandy and rusty coloration for more subdued shades of grey and black.
  • Skinks: Axanthic Blue-Tongued Skinks are lighter than normal Blue-Tongued Skinks, with their brown tones replaced by a light gunmetal gray.
  • Snakes: Axanthic Boa Constrictors, Carpet Pythons, Corn Snakes and Hognose Snakes are just a few of the axanthic snakes found in the wild in the pet trade.

Pattern of Inheritance

With most ball python morphs, breeding is pretty straightforward. If you breed Piebalds, you get a clutch of Piebalds: an Albino and het Albino give you 50% Albinos and 50% hets. Breeding Axanthics is more complicated. There are several different Axanthic lines which are incompatible with each other.

  • Jolliff: Mike Jolliff proved his Axanthic line in 1997. Jolliff Axanthics have interesting banded patterns, but also have a greater tendency to turn brown as they mature.
  • MJ (Markus Jayne): Canadian breeder Markus Jayne produced the first MJ Axanthics in 2008. MJ Axanthics have light silvery sides and pale bellies.
  • TSK (The Snake Keeper): Dan and Collette Sutherland produced the first TSK Axanthics in 1999. They are said to retain their
  • VPI: David and Tracy Barker first produced VPI Axanthics in 1997. They are the most widely available Axanthic balls.
    • NERD (New England Reptile Distributors) has an Axanthic line which is compatible with VPI genetics.
    • In 2008 VPI introduced a Black Axanthic line which is darker than their original line, but which is not compatible with that line.

Each of these Axanthic mutations is a recessive gene. Both parents must carry the gene and the zygote must receive a copy from each. But because these lines are incompatible, breeding a Jolliff Axanthic with an MJ or a TSK with a VPI Axanthic will produce a clutch of normal-looking balls which carry one copy of each line.

When a “het Axanthic” ball python mates with an Axanthic that carries both copies of the proper gene, half the clutch will be Axanthic and the other half het Axanthic. If you breed two het TSK Axanthics, the clutch will consist of

  • 25% TSK Axanthic
  • 50% TSK Het Axanthic
  • 25% Normal

If a het Axanthic mates with a normal ball, half the clutch will be het Axanthic and half normal balls. But since there are no visual differences between normal and het Axanthic ball pythons, there is no way of telling which is which!

Breeders describe these clutches by the chance each normal-looking ball has of being het Albino.

  • Jolliff Axanthic + normal: 100% het Jolliff Axanthic
  • 100% het TSK Axanthic + 100% het TSK Axanthic: 66% het TSK Axanthic
  • 100% het MJ Axanthic + normal: 50% het MJ Axanthic

(Please note that the actual number of normal and morph offspring can vary with each clutch. Over a greater number of breedings the percentages will move toward the mean. But any given pairing can produce a disproportionate number of morph or normal babies.)

If that isn’t confusing enough, in 2001 Corey Woods introduced a completely different Red Axanthic line. The Woods Red Axanthic mutation is co-dominant. Breed a “Het Red Axanthic” to a normal ball and half the babies will be Het Red. Breed two Het Red Axanthics together and 25% of the clutch will be a more vividly-tinted Red Axanthic.

Axanthic Clown Ball Python
Axanthic Clown Ball Python

Axanthic Ball Python Issues

Other than their coloration, an Axanthic ball python should be as healthy as any other ball. Axanthism does not produce colors that would make a ball more visible in the wild or interfere with their hunting. This may explain why so many different varieties of Axanthism pop up among ball pythons.

Popular Axanthic Ball Python Combinations

Axanthics are especially prized by breeders looking to make combinations and designer morphs. Many combination Axanthic morphs retain their silvery color as they mature. If you are hoping to mix and match your Axanthic, make sure you know which line you have.

Axanthic x Albino (Snow): The Axanthic Albino mix was one of the first attempts to create a white ball python. Snow balls are white with red eyes and very pale yellow patterns.

Axanthic x Clown: Axanthic Clowns generally retain a good bit of their juvenile coloration into adulthood. Their typically golden-orange background becomes taupe with age and contrasts well with their blotchy pattern.

Axanthic x Enchi: The Enchi gene produces a more defined pattern on Axanthics. Most Enchi balls are more yellowish, but since Axanthics cannot produce yellow the Enchi gene lightens the adult Axanthic’s sometimes muddy browns

Axanthic x Fire: The satiny orange-brown background of the Fire becomes a warm gray in Axanthic Fires and the coffee-hued pattern becomes a dark sparrow-brown. Since Fire is co-dominant you can produce more Axanthic Fires in your next breeding season.

Axanthic x Genetic Stripe: Adult Axanthic Genetic Stripes will become browner, but their dorsal stripe will remain a very striking and attractive gray.

Axanthic x Mojave: The Mojave pattern looks great in Axanthic. Because Mojave morphs are more yellow, Axanthic Mojaves stay lighter. And because the Mojave gene is co-dominant, breeding an Axanthic Mojave to an Axanthic will give you 50% Axanthic Mojaves.

Axanthic x Pastel: The Pastel morph lightens and brightens the coloration of baby and adult Axanthics. If you breed two Axanthic Pastels together, 25% of the clutch will be even lighter Axanthic Super Pastels.

Axanthic x Piebald: Axanthics may grow darker with age but the Axanthic Piebald’s white patches will never change. And the Piebald pattern and blotchy dorsal stripe is attractive combined with any ball morph.

Axanthic x Pinstripe: Axanthic Pinstripes have a clean, brownish-grey background with a thin striped pattern and a lighter dorsal area.

Axanthic x Spider: The Spider ball’s flanks tend to be lighter and their pattern consists of thin weblike lines that give the morph its name. This further lightens the color on Axanthic Spiders, but be aware that Spiders have neurological issues which cause their notorious head-wobble.

There are also some impressive Axanthic multiple designer combinations, including:

Caring For an Axanthic Ball Python

Raising an Axanthic ball python is no more challenging than raising a normal ball python. Give them adequate space, a comfortable hiding place, fresh water and a temperature gradient between 75° and 95°. Misting your Axanthic ball’s container with a light spray of water every couple of days will help ensure clean and complete sheds.

Axanthic balls, and ball pythons in general, should be fed frozen/thawed food rather than live prey. A cornered rat can injure or even kill a snake, and prey can also carry parasites. If you have a fussy ball which turns up its snout at frozen food, stun or kill the prey before feeding. You can also scent thawed rats with chicken broth before feeding.

Many fussy ball pythons are actually refusing food because of stress. If your Axanthic ball is not eating, give them some quiet time. A towel over their cage can provide privacy and smaller prey items may prove more appealing than larger ones.

If your are concerned about your Axanthic ball’s lack appetite, keep in mind that snakes often go months without food in the wild. If your ball appears lethargic or you can see its spine you should see a herp vet. Otherwise there is no reason to panic. Your snake will eat when it is ready.

If you plan to breed your Axanthic ball python, you must know its lineage. If the seller does not know which of the lines your Axanthic ball comes from, you will not be able to find suitable mates to produce Axanthic babies. This is not an issue if you just want to keep your Axanthic as a pet, as none of the Axanthic lines have any genetic issues which could prove challenging.

Conclusion

Axanthic ball pythons are beautiful, easy to keep and relatively inexpensive. Take your time to find a reputable dealer. Choose a snake which looks healthy and is feeding. (But don’t be surprised if your new Axanthic ball refuses to eat until they are settled into their new home). A bit of caution now can save you a lot of trouble in the future.

Do your research before buying. Groups like BP Forums and Fauna Classifieds Ball Pythons Forum will put you in touch with other ball python lovers. They will be able to offer experienced advice on any questions you may have.

Do you have an Axanthic ball python? What advice would you give somebody thinking about adding an Axanthic to their collection? Do you have any pointers, stories or photos you would like to share? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!