In the early 1980s Tyrone Dillon of California Zoological Supply imported two ball pythons with white blotches on their bodies. A few years later a white-patched baby appeared on the market. These snakes were very rare in the wild, but not unheard of. In 1966 Ghanian villagers killed an adult male ball with similar marketings.
The 1992 debut of Bob Clark’s Albino ball pythons sparked new interest in unusual ball pythons. In 1994 snake breeder Peter Kahl began purchasing these odd white-blotched specimens in hopes that he might reproduce their condition and thereby prove this was a heritable morph.
This was a risky financial move. The markings looked very much like piebaldism, a pigmentation issue found in many vertebrates (including humans). But they could also be caused by unknown environmental conditions, or a random mutation which appeared occasionally but could not be reliably reproduced in future generations.
In 1997 a pair of Kahl’s piebald ball pythons produced a clutch of five eggs. Each of the offspring had a degree of sporadic pigmentation loss. Kahl’s 1998 breeding season produced piebalds in breedings between the offspring of a piebald male and normal females. Snake hobbyists now knew that the Piebald trait was heritable and transmissible.
Kahl’s investment turned out to be a winner. The Piebald morph was a huge hit with the snake community. Breeders spent tens of thousands of dollars adding Piebalds to their collection. Today, after over twenty years of Piebald clutches, the price of a Piebald has dropped to much more reasonable prices. While particularly striking or “high white” Piebalds can cost more, you can get a baby Piebald for $500 or less.
This article will tell you more about the Piebald ball python morph. It will explain the genetics of piebaldism and help you understand why your Piebald has those beautiful snow white patches. It will also talk about some of the designer Piebald morphs which are available, and give you the information you need to decide how Piebalds fit into your ball python keeping or breeding plans.
Piebald Ball Python Morph Appearance
Piebald balls look like somebody took a normal ball python and erased some of its pattern. It may take novices some time to sort out the differences between a Fire and a Yellow Belly. Piebalds are easy to spot and hard to forget.
Piebalds produce pigments like every other ball python. But their pigmentation is unevenly distributed. Some parts of their body have typical coloration and patterns. But some have no pigment at all. Their snow-white patches stand out against their background – and vice versa!
“Low White” Piebalds may look normal save for a small splotch. “High White” Piebalds may be entirely white save for their heads. But all Piebald balls have a blotchy dorsal stripe and paired elongated blotches on their patterned areas. They also have pure white bellies.
Other than their unusual coloration, Piebalds are generally no more prone to problems than normal ball pythons. While Piebalds are rarely found in the wild, the ones caught have been reasonably healthy and of normal size. The Piebald male killed in 1966 was 118 cm (3.87 ft) long – a respectable length for any adult male ball python.
Piebaldism is a genetic condition which affects the distribution of pigmentation. You can find piebaldism throughout the animal kingdom. Some notable examples are:
- Cattle: Piebaldism gives Holstein cows their distinctive black and white pattern.
- Dogs: Piebald Newfoundlands are called Landseers. The AKC has recently recognized the Biewer Terrier, a piebald Yorkshire Terrier, as a distinct breed.
- Horses: The horses American equestrians call Pintos are called piebalds and skewbalds in Britain.
- Snakes: The piebald gene has been found not only in ball pythons, but also in corn snakes, Burmese pythons, reticulated python, Persian rat snakes and many other species.
As the embryo develops, pigment cells migrate toward the skin. But mutations in the KIT proto-oncogene – a gene responsible for cell growth and division – can lead to slower reproduction in the embryonic pigment cells. The resulting baby will have skin patches which lack pigment.
Pattern of Inheritance
Piebaldism in ball pythons is recessive. Both parents must carry the gene and the zygote must receive a copy from each. The offspring of a Piebald ball python and a normal ball will all look like normal ball pythons. But each will carry one copy of the Piebald mutation.
If a “het Piebald” ball python mates with a Piebald, half the clutch will be Piebald and the other half “het Piebald.” But when two het Piebald balls mate, things become more complicated. That clutch will consist of:
- 25% Piebald
- 50% Het Piebald
- 25% Normal
If a het Piebald mates with a normal ball, half the clutch will be het Piebald and half normal balls. Breeders describe these clutches by the chance each normal-looking ball has of being het Piebald.
- Piebald + normal: 100% het Piebald
- 100% het Piebald + 100% het Piebald: 66% het Piebald
- 100% het Piebald + normal: 50% het Piebald
There is considerable controversy about “het markers.” Many ball python collectors say het Piebalds show “rail-road tracks,” black lines running along either side of the belly scales from the tail up the body.
But this is not foolproof. Snakes that are later proven het by breeding may show no tracks, and a normal ball may sometimes show these markers. You will have more success working with a reputable breeder than with guessing for yourself.
A Piebald ball python will have some unpigmented patches. There is no way to know what percentage of their body will be unpigmented. The KIT mutation slows the division of embryonic pigment cells.
But a 2015 research paper found that that there is no way to predict the results. “There’s a randomness in the way the cells behave,” explains Dr. Ian Jackson, one of the authors. “which means that the white patch you get is never the same, even in genetically identical individuals.”
Prospective breeders can safely add a healthy but modestly white Piebald to their mating stock. The Piebald gene is heritable, but the percentage of white is not. And since low-white Piebalds often cost less than their more spectacularly patterned litter mates, you may even save some money.
Piebald Ball Python Issues
Piebald ball pythons are no more prone to genetic problems than normal ball pythons. Properly cared for, a Piebald ball should provide you with many years of beauty and companionship.
Popular Piebald Ball Python Combinations
The Piebald gene has been combined with many other morphs.
Piebald x Albino:The Piebald gene often darkens the Albino pattern to a rust-orange. These saddles jump out against the white patches. Albino Piebalds are one of the most popular, and memorable, Albino designer morphs.
Piebald x Banana: White patches set off by a lilac and orange background make the Banana Piebald truly memorable. And if you breed your Banana Piebald to a regular Piebald, half the clutch will be Piebald.
Piebald x Lavender Albino (Dreamsicle): One of the first “Holy Grail” morphs, Dreamsicles look like Albino Piebalds with a lavender overlay. The first Dreamsicles cost $20,000 and up. Today they can be found for 1/10 that price.
Piebald x Candy: The Candy morph looks very similar to the Lavender Albino with brighter red eyes. A Candy Piebald looks like a Dreamsicle and is said to be even more brightly-colored as an adult.
Piebald x Candino: The saddles of a Candino (Candy x Albino) Piebald will have a more pale blue-lilac background. You really can’t go wrong with any of the lavender-hued Piebald designer morphs!
Piebald x Clown: The Clown’s pattern consists of lava-lamp patterns. “Pied” patterns – patches of motley colors – were traditionally worn by harlequins and clowns The Clown Piebald is a snake that will catch your attention like the Pied Piper.
Piebald x Pastel: The Pastel morphs lighten the Piebald’s saddles. If you breed two Pastel Piebalds together, 25% of the clutch will be brightly colored Super Pastel Piebalds.
Piebald x Black Pastel produces a snake with dark saddles. If you breed two Black Pastel Pieds, 25% of the clutch will be Super Black Pastels or “Panda Pieds.” Panda Pieds have near-black saddles which give them their name.
Piebald x Enchi: Enchis don’t look especially impressive when born, but they get better with age. Enchi Piebalds will have brighter colors and better-defined patterns. And when you breed two Enchi Piebalds together you have a 25% chance of creating a Super Enchi Pied.
Piebald x Pinstripe: The Pinstripe morph produces a clean, copper-tinted background with a thin striped pattern. The Piebald gene strengthens the dorsal stripe and produces produces beautiful near-metallic saddles.
Piebald 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. The Piebald gene amplifies the color and Piebald Spiders are beautiful, but watch out for the head-wobble.
Piebalds have been used to create some amazing triple and quadruple combinations, including:
- Albino Black Pastel Piebald Super Pastel (Silver Streak Albino Piebald)
- Calico Enchi Piebald
- Clown Leopard Pastel Piebald
- Ghost Mojave Piebald
- Leopard Piebald Pinstripe (Lion Piebald)
- Piebald Pinstripe Super Pastel (Killer Blast Piebald)
Caring For a Piebald Ball Python
Piebald ball pythons are no more difficult to raise than a normal ball python. Give them adequate space, a comfortable hiding place, fresh water and a temperature gradient between 75° and 95°. Misting your Piebald’s container with a light spray of water every couple of days will help ensure clean and complete sheds.
It is still best to feed Piebald balls, and ball pythons in general, with frozen/thawed food rather than live prey. A cornered rat can injure or even kill a snake. If you have a fussy ball which turns up its snout at frozen food, you should stun or kill the prey before feeding. You can also try scenting thawed rats with chicken broth before feeding.
Many fussy ball pythons are actually refusing food because of stress. If your Piebald ball is refusing to eat, give them some quiet time. A towel over their cage can provide privacy and smaller prey items may prove more appealing than larger ones. And if your Piebald Ball’s stress is making you stressed, remember that snakes often go months without food in the wild.
Piebald ball pythons are beautiful, easy to keep and relatively inexpensive. Take your time to find a reputable dealer. Snakes from the best breeders cost you a bit more, but the money you spend now will save you heartache, time and veterinary bills 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 a Piebald ball python? What advice would you give somebody thinking about adding a Piebald 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!