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.


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


A new strategy for 2010?

Screen shot 2010-01-01 at 7.02.37 PM

The ongoing legislative attacks against the herpetoculture hobby and industry have taught me a lot in the last few years, one of the most poignant lessons being how deceptive some of these gigantic lobbyist agencies are with regard to their stated purposes and intentions.  It will come as no surprise to anyone here that "the ethical treatment of animals" doesn't even begin to accurately characterize the true nature of PETA's or HSUS’s political agenda.  That said, consider how many thousands (maybe millions?) of people donate money to these agencies every year thinking they're doing their part as active citizens without ever paying another lick of attention to how their money is being used.  I bet many people would be shocked to learn the scope of HSUS's agenda.  And outraged to think of their money being used to support it. 

While listing an item on eBay tonight, I noticed a strange option on my "create listing" page.  Refer to the image at the beginning of this blog.

I have to wonder how many thousands of dollars HSUS gets from generous (albeit totally clueless) benefactors that contribute in this way.  And not just from eBay, but from other websites.  And from the millions of stupid plastic yellow dogs you see at bars and restaurants all over the country -- the ones with the sad droopy eyes you can't help putting nickels into when you're drunk. 

Our defensive work against S373 and the related legislation that will undoubtedly follow it is far from over, but maybe while we have these brief hiatuses as we wait for Congress to vote, or while we're waiting for new meetings and hearings, maybe it's time to go on the offensive a bit?  If you've done your part screaming yourself hoarse at your state representatives, maybe it's time to send eBay a note bringing the deceptive nature of HSUS's practices to their attention.  Or maybe it's time to write your family and friends and describe to them HSUS's true colors.  It's going to take a lot more than just a concerted defensive on our part to protect our freedom to keep and breed reptiles; I think we need to send a powerful message to these lobbyists that their misguided attacks have stirred up a hornet's nest of resentment.  And to do this we'll need to hit them where it hurts most -- in the pocketbook.  I don't expect these types of offensives will effect any sort of overnight change, but I do think they'll represent an important component of our success strategy.  After all, isn't a strong offense the best defense?


An open response to the Orlando Sentinel

The Orlando Sentinel recently ran an opinion piece on the “Burmese pythons in the everglades” issue.  The article can be found here.  My response (posted on their “comments” page) follows below.

This op-ed is embarrassingly shortsighted.  For someone apparently so concerned about the environment, the author certainly fails to consider the dozens of reptile and amphibian species that still EXIST thanks to responsible captive propagation in the private sector.  Hog Island boas, an insular variety of Boa constrictor imperator for example, are almost certainly extinct in the wild save for the hundreds of enthusiasts who continue to breed them -- privately and responsibly -- in captivity every year.

Or what about the dozens of Australian python species whose numbers continue to dwindle lower and lower thanks to human habitat encroachment and fragmentation?  Australia's laws are so restrictive that one cannot even RESCUE an injured reptile from the road, let alone keep native species without a costly permit.  The author laughs at the prospect of the US goverment kicking down doors to confiscate a gerbil, yet these types of tactics, unannounced inspections and the like, are common obstacles for  Australian reptile keepers and breeders.  With barriers like these, it's no wonder Australia's wildlife is disappearing!

It's captive keeping and breeding -- by thousands of individuals nationwide who collectively work harder and spend more on their projects than any one zoo ever could -- who will ensure the long term survival of endangered species like the Australian woma or blackheaded python; species this bill would ban people from breeding, species this author apparently hasn't given two seconds to consider before launching into his or her poorly-thought out and typically unscientific diatribe.

Arguments using the snakehead fish or the Asian carp as invasive species analogies doesn't even begin to hold water when discussing herpetofauna.  The vast majority of reptiles are NOT ecological generalists; as ectotherms they require a very narrow range of temperatures, most survive only in specific climates with specific rainfalls, relative humidity, and elevations.  Although burmese pythons are an unusual case at the very southern tip of Florida, there are a sorry few examples of invasive reptile species, and to my knowledge the brown snake in Guam, which the author cites, is the ONLY other example of an invasive snake species that has caused widespread ecological damage on record.

The author also takes the all-too-common collectivist approach to his or her economic risk-assessment.  Even if it WERE true that the U.S. pet industry would not collapse (and the author cites no study, offers no evidence that this is the case), there are still THOUSANDS of small hobby breeders, family men and women, students and researchers like myself, who would lose a significant portion (if not their entire source) of income with the passing of this bill.  What about them?  I have to wonder if the author would feel the same way, standing face to faces with those thousands he or she has smugly dismissed as a meaningless fraction of the US pet industry.  I would URGE congressmen and CERTAINLY the media (ahem, Orlando Sentinel) to take a ruthlessly scientific approach to these considerations, not to react so impulsively and emotionally.  The life work and careers of thousands of dedicated individuals is at stake.

Brad Waffa

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Q: I am considering having my snakes microchipped. Has anyone done this? Anyone else considering it?

Q: Just curious if this is something others have done or are considering doing. I have been thinking about it for a while now. My snakes mean the world to me and if somehow they escaped and were found, getting them home would be a lot easier if they were chipped. Shedding would concern me though. Please... share your thoughts.

A: From my understanding, the rationale behind microchipping snakes is a little different than that behind chipping other pets, like your dog.  There's -- as Nick mentions -- a legal requirement in certain states (like FL) for certain large (potentially "injurious") species to be chipped.  In the event that an escaped burmese or retic is found, the owner can be identified and slapped with a nasty fine.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, certain big-name breeders have talked about microchipping their snakes so that there would always be some digital record on the animal that PROVES the animal came from their stock.  Never again would you have to go on someone's word when you bought an animal online that it WAS in fact from VPI.  It would come with a microchip and a certificate proving so.  I've heard talk that some of those big-name breeders may begin to offer it as an option for an additional fee.  You can imagine how handy this might be if you're re-selling the snake down the road and want to make sure to get your money's worth...

Tagging your animals in case they got lost though is really just up to you...  Personally, I have my doubts that the animal would ever make it back to you.  It would have to survive long enough outside to be found in an environment that is, unless you keep native species, dramatically different than what it requires.  It would have to evade foreign predators like hawks, dogs, cats, cars, etc.  And then it would have to be found.  And not just found, but found by one of the few people who wouldn't seek to kill it outright, and also by someone with the foresight to wonder if its microchipped, take the snake to a vet or animal shelter, have it scanned (assuming they even know where to scan on a snake), and then contact you to get it home.  It's certainly something that could be done, as Nick said, to the tune of about $35 a snake.  But in my personal opinion, ensuring that your snakes never escape to begin with is a more sensible and economical option. - BJW

Source: http://www.iherp.com/Answers/ReptileProblem.aspx?Id=6565