Masters Thesis Study with Ball Pythons

I am planning to do this study September 1, 2021 - April 30, 2022. As a small operation ball python breeder myself, I have always heard that spider ball pythons eat better than most morphs while bananas are more picky eaters. I am wanting to buy 16-18 baby ball pythons (or more depending on your opinions) to compare feeding habits and growth rates to see if these morphs that affect pigmentation of the skin affect feeding response.

I cannot decide if I want to focus on four different morphs (Normals, Spiders, Bananas, and Banana spiders) with 4 snakes in each group (that come from the same clutch to minimize genetic differences) or if I want to do 2 snakes to each group and expand my study to compare more morphs. With contacting breeders, some have told me that mahogany morphs eat better than fire morphs as well as a few other comparisons.

Does anyone have any morphs that seem to eat better or worse than others? I am trying to get a list going and decide which ones I will be choosing before submitting my proposal to the IACUC at my school to get approval!

This study may seem small compared to others being done but I might have to possibly fund this study out of pocket as there are not a lot of grants being given out at the moment. I am in the process of contacting various breeders and businesses to see if any of them can help fund my study. If anyone has any suggestions with that I will take them as well! It wouldn’t need to be large scale anyways as my school is on the smaller level and this will be for my Veterinary Management masters program.

I understand that some people claim that all pythons are the same and it can depend on the individual on eating habits. I completely agree that it can depend on the individual but I am testing if any of these morphs eat better than others and comparing the appetite response to growth rate! If the results show that there’s no correlation then those are still results!


This is awesome! Keep us updated on the results. You’re going to want a large sample size because there are other factors that determine eating. I would stick with as few morphs as possible with as many animals as possible. You want them to be from different clutches to prevent any other factors.

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I have a female Lesser Enchi het. Ghost that is a complete garbage disposal. She has NEVER missed or refused a meal.

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As a potential warning to you - The time frame you are planning on running your studies encompass the time of year when ball pythons are known to seasonally go off feed which could act as a confounding factor in accurate representation of feeding behaviour.


Seems like doing a sophisticated survey could gather a ton of data for 1000’s of snakes in various environments? Is that an option?

What about environmental factors?

We know that you can often take a problem feeder and decrease the tub size to get it eating again.

We know that temperature and humidity can affect willingness to feed.

Some people report that there are differences in feeding responses depending on prey type (rat, mouse, asf, etc.)

Personally I have a couple of BPs that were terrible eaters on newspaper and absolute monsters on coco substrate.

Seems like a lot of variables to deal with…

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An n=4 for each group is likely not going to be enough to achieve statistical significance, 2 absolutely isn’t even enough to make an observation. I would probably have a minimum of 7-8 per group, which is what I usually see for mouse studies. Especially if you’re funding it out of pocket, buying 7-8 of each morph is going to get pricey.

And then you run into the issue of controls for this experiment. Since we know so many things from stress to breeding season to shedding can affect feeding, you’re going to have to control for all of these things.

Each snake you bring into the experiment is going to need to be raised, fed and handled exactly the same way because spider vs normal vs whatever should be the only indepedent variable. Each of these snakes is going to need identical enclosures, heated to the exact same temperature with the exact same humidity. They will all need to be offered food at the same time period on the same day (for example only feeding from 7-8 on Sunday) because things like time of day and weather patterns can affect feeding. All of these snakes would have to be started from birth on the same type of food, because if some were used to a different type (rat vs mouse, f/t vs life) it will affect the outcome of the experiment if you have to convince some to switch to another food source. You’ll also have to figure out how to handle sheds, because some snakes will eat during shedding and others won’t. Will you count those times as data points or not?


Just putting it out there that I have had 2 bananas, and both have eaten anything you put in front of them without hesitation. It is likely just depending on the individual snake and if they are kept correctly or not. It also depends on just how shy and timid the snake in question is, as stress is the main factor for not eating. Given most responsible keepers have to keep spiders and other wobble morphs as low stress as possible to keep them from having worse wobble, it makes sense that you might see more successful feedings in them.

That or it could just be an agenda preached by those that don’t want spiders looked down on or bashed due to their wobble. They could say that to glorify spider production (large breeders of spiders usually). But again, I am pretty sure it is all depending on the individual snake in question.

The thing I usually hear is that spiders eat just as good as any other BP, not better than any other BP. I have also personally never heard of bananas not being good eaters. But yeah, this study will need a much larger group, longer timeframe than any would likely want to fund, and likely fail due to the many many factors at play that others have mentioned. @chesterhf especially makes good points.

Another thing is, say you have a spider that decides not to eat for you for 4+ months because all you have been offering it is f/t rats. Then to get it eating you have to give it a live mouse. Do you include this data as it being a bad feeder, or just a picky eater that was started on mice and never properly switched? There are so many factors that this study is probably not the best idea if you want concrete results and not to have to spend $$$$s from your own pocket.

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I did the numbers and it comes very expensive.

For 8 $350 bananas = $2800

For 8 $400 Banana spiders = $3200

For 8 $125 spiders = $1000

For 8 $65 normals = $520

So just for the animals the grand total is equal to $7520


And this of course isn’t including shipping variation or the chance of a DOA or sick animal.

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Or racks, food, electricity, heating, vet bills, etc. It would get very expensive quickly. At the end of the day 8 isn’t even a very large sample size. You might be able to wholesale or get donations to make the cost cheaper.

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It seems like it would work much better to only have two groups, the control group (normals) and a group consisting of a single morph, for example, 10 normals and 10 spiders. Then you might get meaningful results and the cost would be much more reasonable.


You probably should 25-30 at least to get somewhat “accurate” results

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A prebuilt rack system (more than likely from vicarious electronics) will be utilized with the appropriate tubs will be utilized to keep humidity and temperature factors the same throughout each microenvironment the ball python is in. I won’t be offering f/t unless the breeder has them started on that, to which I will note if they eat or do not eat as that is still applicable to my study even if I have to feed them live!

Environment change can affect the feedings of ball pythons but that is still applicable to my study. This study isn’t super official as I go to a small agriculture based college in Western Kentucky! If i had the space and unlimited funds to do this on a large scale with 10 ball pythons for each morph group I would, but it is not feasible at this time.

Since my thesis is primarily graded by my professors and has been getting positive responses (other than my veterinary professors not knowing a lot about ball pythons other than the basics), I will more than likely stick with 3-4 per morph and decide which ones I want to stick with for sure. Right now, I am just looking for opinions on which morphs eat worse than others as hatchlings as those are the ages I will be working with! It seems that banana ball pythons are better eaters than I have been originally told, so I might not focus on them as much in my study or would compare their good eating habits to the spider ball pythons!

If a larger scale breeder wants to look at my study as a “test” study to see how a large scale study would work, one could also look at it that way! Thankfully, the thesis process at my college is not as formal and doesn’t have to be on a massive scale!

You should do at least 3-4 times that, sticking with that few, each one will eat differently and you likely won’t see any definite pattern.

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With a sample size of 3-4, your study will have no scientific validity, and your results could easily be misinterpreted by individuals who do not understand that. This could have a potentially negative effect on the reptile community.


Would a sample size of 6 be more acceptable? I have bought a rack system that holds 18 but could possibly get a larger one. I want to have the normal ball pythons as a control group, spider ball pythons, and then another morph at least to compare feeding habits!

I’m still in the planning process so any advice would help!!

@t_h_wyman Since you are an actual scientist, could you weigh in as to what would a minimum sample size look like for meaningful statistics in a study like this?


I don’t really want to burst your bubble but as others have said this study will literally have zero scientific merit of any kind imo. There are so many different things that can influence a ball python’s appetite from bloodlines, feeding habits formed in the first few months of life, basic husbandry, personality of the actual snake the list goes on and on and in my honest opinion after hatching a half decent number of snakes over the years, morph has absolutely nothing to do with how well or how bad a snake eats. Different breeders will tell you X eats good in general or Y eats bad in general because we all work with different animals and hatch all different things. I am convinced that Bananas, Clowns and and Cinni complex stuff eat great but that’s also just because I have a lot of them in my collection.
It’s definitely an interesting topic and to learn more about it I would suggest trying to contact different mid size to larger breeders and asking their opinions. People who work with hundreds to thousands of different animals that get rotated out every breeding season could give you WAY better insight to topics like this than a study ever would especially with the very small sample size that you suggested. Again not trying to poopoo all over something you want to look into I just don’t see it as a worthwhile endeavor scientifically- good excuse to buy some new snakes though so there’s that!


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