Around 2002-2003 I was contacted by a university student working on a biology degree. He asked if I could contribute 25 ball pythons for a study on digestion. I agreed and asked that he contact me at the conclusion of the study to tell me what they found. Several months later he called me and discussed some interesting findings. I have applied the results to help me grow ball pythons more quickly and breed them at a younger age than previously thought possible.
In order for ball pythons to be able to withstand long periods of time between meals the gastrointestinal tract remains in a state of dormancy. In this state the stomach does not produce acid and no digestive enzymes are secreted. Essentially all of the organs have reduced activity during this time to conserve energy, reduce metabolism and survive long fast periods. There is even reduced cardiac output. He told me that the measured ph of the stomach remained near neutral up to around 24 hours after the ingestion of a meal. After 24 hours the stomach began to secrete acid and all other metabolic systems rose dramatically.
I am just a layman, a hobbyist like most of you. So this was very interesting to me but I began to think about how it could be applied to gain advantage in the competitive breeding world. There would be a huge advantage if I could breed a male with a special trait in the same year of his hatch. I could buy a male with a new trait and breed him that fall when he was just a few months old.
I hypothesized that if I could keep the metabolic systems revved up the snake would grow more quickly and likely breed earlier. What I discovered was exactly that. A ball python will grow more quickly if fed a 20 gram meal daily instead of a 100 gram meal every 5 days. By doing this you eliminate the cycling up and cycling down of the digestive system and the corresponding metabolism. So I began feeding small meals every day to a few special males, only missing shed cycles. What I found was a dramatic increase in growth rate over weekly feeding. I still have many of those snakes and there has been no noticeable detrimental health effects by employing this method. Now I must say that not all snakes will cooperate. But many will and it seems that as the metabolism stays in a heightened state the snake is hungry and feeds aggressively on most offerings.
One of the first snakes I used this on was the Pinstripe. At the time the Pinstripe was the most coveted project in the industry. I was lucky enough that I was able to purchase a baby Pinstripe from Brian Barczyk at Daytona on the first year he offered them. I met him in his hotel room with a cashier’s check for $25,000. I purchased the 70 gram snake in August of that year. He had just hatched. By mid November he was 650 grams and breeding. He produced 10 ovulations that year and I think Brian and most people were shocked that I was competing with him the next season after purchasing the baby. The conventional wisdom had been that I should be breeding him the next year.
Over the years I have developed several methods that help my company be more productive, keep healthier animals and grow more robust babies. I have told a few of my best customers about this method and other things I have learned in the last 25 years. I am going to start writing about some of them here from time to time. I have a few others in mind to write about so keep coming to the MM forum and contributing. Let’s make this forum a great place to share knowledge. Good luck to everyone and I hope this helps with your breeding endeavors.
ps…I have found no real advantage to growing females quickly. They will routinely breed at 18 months but I think it is better to wait until they are 2-3 years of age. They seem to have more eggs throughout their lifetimes and grow to an overall larger size if you wait to breed them.
Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge! Have you used this method on fresh hatchlings and what about ones that are hard to get started on feeding, does this work for them as well. Also do you increase the size of the meal as they grow or do you continue to feed a 20 g meal to a say 3-400 gram animal daily?
How have your powerfed snakes fared long term (have you noticed a change in natural lifespan/kept one long enough to know)? I would be worried of the long term effects of keeping it’s metabolic rate so much higher for so long. The general consensus of the research I have read stresses importance of both feeding and fasting states on the snake’s bodily systems and I wouldn’t think artificially staying in just one state would be healthy for the other systems of the body.
Has there been an actual scientific study done showing the “importance of both feeding and fasting states on the bodily systems” I have not been able to find one. How is doing this any different than what people who eat multiple small meals a day to keep metabolism up?
I addressed this in the post. I have not noticed any difference in longevity. It must be noted that once they are breeding size (500-600grams) I resume normal feeding about every 2 weeks. During the breeding season the males breed all season only resting during shed cycles. They are fed after the shed and go back to breeding the next day. I think long term if you fed a snake everyday for it’s entire life you might see some health issues. Doing it for a few months does not seem to have any detrimental effect.
I have to ask. What behavioral and handling differences have you noticed? Every snake i buy is decided by genetics and attitude. Everything we buy becomes a part of our family. Will this increase their feeding responses over their entire lifetime?
That’s not really equivalent. This would be like having a human baby and feeding it in such a way that at 5 years old it was the size of a teenager and hit puberty.
Believe it or not, there are those of us who breed because we enjoy the animals. Taking shortcuts because you want to make more money might have been all good and well for breeders before the internet, but it’s quickly becoming a lot less acceptable as knowledge is more readily available.
You should be putting your animals first, not trying to see how much money they can make you. That seems to be a lot better long term plan in my opinion.
Comparing an animal that is programmed to grow fast in their first year (it’s encoded in their DNA and a matter of survival) and a child who will not as you think be the size of a teenager but simply a morbidly obese kid is like comparing apples and oranges.
A few things you must have missed here
The feeding regimen is not all that different as far as amount goes.
A ball python will grow more quickly if fed a 20 gram meal daily instead of a 100 gram meal every 5 days.
It’s not forever
It must be noted that once they are breeding size (500-600grams) I resume normal feeding about every 2 weeks.
Does not work on every animal so you can’t force it.
I have only used this method on fresh hatchlings. The pinstripe had just hatched. If the snake does not cooperate then you are out of luck.
Now the good news is you may not agree with this feeding regimen and it’s fine, you don’t like it, don’t do it.
Personally I only feed my animals once a week or once every 10 days, and I even skip meals however I found the data and conclusions interesting so you may not want to be so quick to judge others and their practices.
While you are enjoying them you should take a little time to learn about them. Having a little curiosity about how the animals you work with are designed should be enjoyable to you. It might not be as fun as watching TV with them but it’s close.
This digestive system study revealed an adaptation to allow these predators the ability to fast for long periods of time during times of prey scarcity. We are simply looking at the reverse side of things. During times when there is a plague of rats, these predators are programmed to grow faster and breed younger and produce more predators. It is really a magical window into one of the ways that nature keeps the balance. I discovered this and was sharing this discovery. If you choose not to use this method then cool, I’m not judging you. Go back to enjoying your animals and watching TV with your snake. Judge Wapner’s on at 4.
Very well said. I think we all do alot of things differently in this hobby with the same or better results in some cases. And like he said its only until the animal has reached 500-600 grams and then transitioned to a regular feeding schedule. I myself found this information very interesting and well thought.
I haven’t noticed any difference in attitude related to frequent feeding. There is a marked feeding response increase but in a ball python that has never concerned me. It is easy to turn off that response by employing a conditioning method like touching on the nose with a particular object. I usually don’t bother because a ball python bite is not dangerous. We used a strict protocol with reticulated pythons but my little girl can take a ball python bite.
This may be a topic for another post but this guy’s post made me think about something that seems exceedingly prevalent today. Anthropomorphism which is the attribution of human traits, emotions, or intentions to non-human entities.
I have heard it all over the years. “My snake likes to take baths with me”…“My snake likes to watch TV with me.” etc…etc…etc. Your snake might tolerate these things but “like” is probably not something your snake knows how to do. This tendency to give our snakes human emotions has always seemed odd to me. Now during a discussion on feeding frequency and growth rates I get warned not to feed my human baby too much because they might hit puberty at age 5. Is this for real?