Hybrids

Q: Hogg Island x Rainbow Boa... Possible?

Q: I got a boa a couple months ago and the guy I got him from told me he was a Corn Island Boa.  After I got him I quickly realized he was not and honestly he looked like a Hogg Island.  But his sides remind me of a Rainbow Boa.  I was informed that cross was not possible, but then I was watching a show about hybrids and saw that someone crossed a retic and a ball python, so I wondered if maybe this was possible.

When I bring him into sunlight he has that iridescent shine to him.  He's rather beautiful and because of this I thought about buying a female hogg island and a female rainbow boa and crossing them with him to see what I'd get.  I just want to know if this is possible?


A: I’ve seen ball pythons (from Africa) that have been crossed with woma pythons (from Australia), so I would't rule out the possibility that two boas could hybridize (under some highly artificial circumstances) even from separate genera.  That said, this is a terribly foolish and irresponsible suggestion.  You're going to find that almost all serious keepers look down on this very strongly.  I'll summarize why, and if I sound harsh, let me assure you that this is as fair and level-headed as I can be about this topic. On virtually any other forum this suggestion would get you torn to shreds.  This topic makes blood boil.

Let's start with the premise of "crossing" animals.  When you cross two dogs (say a corgi and a dalmation), the puppies from your cross are still dogs.  They may be ugly, but they are the same species.  They are still Canis familiaris.  When you cross reptiles from two different species, you have
not created a "mix" in the same sense.  You have created a hybrid.  Although it's certainly not the snake's fault, the hybrid is a functionally unnecssary and ecologically worthless organism. It represents a completely artificial amalgamation of genes thrown together to satisfy childlike curiosity with childlike foresight. 

The snakes you keep are not dogs.  You may name them and pet them and even love them, but they are essentially wild animals whose future -- in captivity as well as in the wild -- is far from certain.  The people who advocate hybridizing are almost invariably amateurs who haven't been around long enough to appreciate the peaks and crashes in the industry (on the private side) or the irreparable ecologic or legislative damage (on the environmental or political side) that has prevented us from acquiring species that we used to.  Just try to go find pueblan milk snakes like the beautiful Zapotitlan Basin, MX campbelli we used to see in the 80s.  You see pueblan milks in every pet shop and on every other table at reptile shows, but their true form has all but disappeared.  And this wasn't even from hybridizing, but simply from intergrading different subspecies (e.g. Nelson's) trying to add new "morphs" to the line.  Try to find Sanzinia from Madagascar.  Try to find outbred ringed pythons.  Try to legally import Aspidites.  Try to find a wild-type CB corn snake that isn't het for some morph.  Speaking collectively about the reptile taxa we keep in captivity, the natural authenticity of what we preserve is a house of cards.  When you come to appreciate this you'll wish to defend -- very passionately -- what's left.

One's fickle fancy for hybrids will change like the seasons.  Any idiot can take two cheap snakes from neighboring taxa, throw them together to make some weird looking "breed" of snake and hope to sell the offspring to turn a small profit.  And a season later neither the breeder nor anyone else will care, but the damage will have already been done.  The hybrid offspring have been sold -- to other amateurs, no doubt -- who will breed them and market them and the taxonomic illegitimacy spreads like cancer.  Defenders of hybridizing will say "the practice is OK as long as the hybrid offspring are marketed honestly."  That's like tearing open a down pillow atop a skyscraper in Chicago and promising to avoid making a mess by picking up the feathers.  Hybrids and their genes just cannot be regulated once they've left your -- the breeder's hand -- and decades of washed out "hobby" animals has proved this point to anyone paying attention.

You sound relatively new and perceptive and enthusiastic, so I hate that I sound jaded and patronizing.  This is just such an important issue.  So much damage can be (and has been) done by curious, well-intentioned individuals who haven't taken the time to consider the downstream consequences of their actions (or don't care).  For the sake of the next generation of naturalists and herpers, keep your animals REAL! - BJW


R: I definately hear what you are saying.  I originally wasn't planning to breed him at all, mainly because I had no clue what was in him and didn't want to sell babies not knowing what I was selling.  The reason I became interested in the idea of breeding him was I watched an episode of SnakeBytes on youtube and Brian Barczyk was talking about hybrids and the ups and downs and I found it really interesting.

So let me ask you, if you got a snake like him what would you do with him?  Just keep him as a pet and not breed him or would it be ok to breed him with a hogg island?

Just to clarify, you don't have an issue with morphs (since you mentioned corn snakes being normal, but het for something), cause I love my corn snakes and all the colors they come in.

The one thing that I find interesting is that by defination a species is one that can reproduce and produce viable offspring.  Now I know they are not the same species, but it's interesting because wolves and dogs are 2 different species, yet can produce viable offspring.  Then you have horses and donkeys that can breed, but produce either a mule or a hinny, which are sterile.  Now cause I have horses also I know that in the equine world this hybrid is a wonderful thing because mules are the best of both worlds, unfortuantely hinnies are the worst of both worlds, which is why you rarely see them.

I appreciate you letting me know this valuable information!  Please do let me know about what you would do if you got a snake like him, or at least what you think I should do.

Thanks!


A: In my personal opinion, I would keep the boa as a pet and enjoy him as such.  Like I said, the animals can't help it if we breed them to be "mutts."  I have owned (and still own) some excellent snakes that bring me a lot of happiness; they're just not animals I would breed.  Imagine breeding your presumptive hog island boa (maybe to one someone else thought looked like a hog island boa?) and extend that logic through a few different breeders and over a few generations and you can see how we've managed to muddy the waters so badly...  If you want to breed hog island boas, go to a reliable breeder and get some incredible hog island boas from a locality lineage and produce the nicest, most beautiful and authentic snakes you can!  Don't add mediocre snakes from questionable lineages to an oversaturated market...  There's no sense in that, right?
Morphs are a different subject.  I don't think there's anything wrong with morphs, and I keep several myself!  The important thing to keep in mind though is that it's an entirely different type of project.  Rather than maintaining the species for what it is naturally in the wild, in this case you're exploring the mysteries of the "hidden" recessive genes that the species posesses.  You're unlocking the visual secrets of their genome, so to speak.  The important part to remember is that you're still experimenting with a species.  Too many people have tried to hybridize snakes trying to introduce a morph (e.g. albino) into a different species with the intention of back-breeding offspring to pure animals so nobody notices after a few generations.  It's dishonest, frequently ineffective, and has done a lot of harm to our captive lines.  Play with morphs all day, just keep them real too.  I'll give you an example I'm all too familiar with.  Honduran milk snakes have been the predominant "morph" milk in the hobby for a number of years now.  Serious milk snake enthusiasts breed them, they enjoy them, they're fascinating and fun to work with, but as a group they're referred to as "hobby hondos" and they do not evoke the same sense of awe and respect as an authentic, verifiable tri-colored hondurensis whose origins can be traced back twenty years to a known source in Central America.  
On a related note, I think the "holy grail" morphs are those that are verifiably pure natural morphs traced to known lineages.  If you're into corns, the "terrazo" key locality varietals are a great example!  Here you have a stunningly different morph from a real snake from a real place.  This is the coolest of the cool in my opinion!  :)
Finally, the biological issue you bring up is a fascinating one that I can't delve into too deeply here.  The species definition you cite is a very classical one, but isn't considered so cut and dry anymore.  The main thing to keep in mind is that when it comes to taxonomy we're ultimately trying to put black and white names to relationships that are millions of years in the making and far more fluid than we even understand (think back to my ball python x woma python example). - BJW



Source: http://www.iherp.com/Answers/ReptileProblem.aspx?Id=21742

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