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.