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Pet Talk: Colorful pythons are gems of reptile world

Linda Lombardi
Associated Press
Vail, CO Colorado
Mark Gilliland/APA male green tree python, which is one of more than 350 snakes owned by Rico Walder, lays wrapped on a perch in Signal Mountain, Tenn.
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Know how to make a small fortune breeding green tree pythons?

“You start with a large fortune,” advises Rico Walder of Signal Mountain, Tenn.

With prices commonly in the $1,000-$5,000 range ” and exceptional specimens going for more than $10,000 ” these snakes might sound like a gold mine. But those figures reflect the challenges of keeping the temperamental reptiles, and the gamble inherent in breeding them for the most desirable characteristics: beauty and color.

A passionate community has grown up around the green tree python, which drapes itself over a branch in an unusual posture of concentric loops that perfectly displays its hues and patterns.

“They don’t hide under the substrate or dig into a plant pot,” says Walder. “They sit on the branch and look visually stunning.”

In nature, the green tree python is, mostly, green. But its spots and patterns of yellow, white and blue give breeders the genetic material to produce animals never seen in the wild, with interestingly unpredictable results.

“The color that they come out is not random, but it’s kind of an unknown,” says longtime breeder Tim Morris, a schoolteacher in Ellicott City, Md. “You can breed these animals and every single one in the litter is different.”

Morris is credited by many for having produced the first all-blue green tree python.

Given the high prices that blue specimens command, you might think he’d simply keep repeating that success. But that isn’t his priority.

“I guess some people would like to master breeding two blue animals together and getting blue offspring,” he says. “But when you mix them together, you get new things ” that’s part of the fascination with them. There’s no other snake that I can think of where you get this kind of variation.”

Waiting to see those new things can be excruciating, though. The snakes mate fairly readily, but everything else about their reproductive cycle is chancy, compared to most commonly bred snake species.

Even if the young hatch successfully, you still don’t know what color they are. Born either bright yellow or a hue of maroon to brick red, they don’t change to their adult color until they are 6 to 12 months old.

There’s no reliable way to predict how a baby will look as an adult, but given the expense and difficulty of raising them ” on top of everything else, they are often fussy eaters ” keeping all the offspring until they change doesn’t necessarily make economic sense. What’s more, some buyers want baby snakes so they can watch the process.

So the decision of which to sell and which to buy – and at what price – is based on the snake’s lineage. As with race horses or show dogs, breeders keep pedigrees going back generations, and the names of certain animals are spoken with the kind of familiarity accorded to thoroughbreds like Secretariat or Man O’War.


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