Piebald... More than just a morph

Image from Deborah Stewart at Stewart Reptiles @stewart_reptiles

Piebald, we all know of it, the crazy combos are probably what brought all of your attention to Ball Pythons it the first place. But did you know this was something that occured in other animals?

Stick with me, this is going to go from informative too very confusing rather quickly.

To quote Wikipedia… "A piebald or pied animal is one that has a pattern of unpigmented spots (white) on a pigmented background of hair, feathers or scales."¹

The word piebald originates from a combination of “pie,” from “magpie”, and bald, meaning “white patch” or spot. The reference is to the distinctive black-and-white plumage of the magpie.

Random Trivia

In medieval English “pied” indicated alternating contrasting colours making up the quarters of an item of costume or livery device in heraldry. Court jesters and minstrels are sometimes depicted in pied costume; this is the origin of the name of the Pied Piper of Hamelin.


In many dog breeds the Piebald gene is common. The white parts of the fur interrupt the pigemented coat patterns. Dogs that may have a spotted or multicolored coat, are often called piebald if their body is almost entirely white or another solid color with spotting and patches on the head and neck.

Beagle 600
The Beagle is usually tricolor by the Piebald gene.

Beagles with recessive red have the Piebald gene as well.

The bald eagle derives its name from the word “piebald” in reference to the contrast of its white head and tail with dark body.


The allele is called sP on the S-locus and is localised with the MITF gene. It is recessive, therefore homozygous individuals show this coat pattern, whereas the heterozygous carriers can be of solid color.

Other Piebald Animals

This is where I nearly lost myself… hold on to your heads, it’s going to be a bumpy ride…

The fact we have animals of completely different species that can be altered by the same genes, such as Piebald, Albinism and Leucism, led me to a question… Do we have Clown dogs, Axanthic horses and Genetic Stripe cats?

Horses was my go to, as I know extensive effort has not only into preserving certain genes but also to document them.

I started off with Equine coat colour genetics and quickly came to the conclusion that I was way out of my depth.
But from what I could understand, I am led to believe, yes, their must be a “Clown” Horse out there…

A horse that has a visual change due to the same “Clown” mutation of a gene on a certain locus…
It may or may not display the same way, but surely, even if it has already been lost to time, this mutation must or will eventually exist…
Though I’m going to ask @t_h_wyman to make sure I’m not lost in my own thinking.

This is just something I thought I would share and wondered if anyone has been down this worm hole before and has any answers for me…


Where’s the horses :heart_eyes:

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You are not necessarily lost in your own thinking. That said, you are not necessarily correct either

Here is where you went astray, just because a mutation could exist does not necessarily mean that it must exist. I will address below

I am somewhat known for espousing the phrase ‘genetics is genetics is genetics!’ And, broadly speaking that is correct. What I mean by that phrase is that the way genes/genetics function is rather universal and you are not going to have a species (on Earth) that regulates its genes in a completely foreign and alien way.

That said, just because a gene exists in one species or genus or family does not mean that same exists universally across all organisms. As an extreme example, the sporulation genes found in Bacillus subtilis are NOT going to be found in you or me.

Like I said, that is an extreme example so let me bring it closer to the topic here. In your original post you mentioned Axanthic horses. I can tell you, with absolute surety, that there is no such thing as an Axanthic horse.

“Well how do you know that?” I can hear you say (some of you with genuine curiosity and others with a note of derision LOL)

I know this because, in mammals, there are no xanthin pigments. ALL pigmentation is melanin-based.

So, if you do not have the genes that code for xanthin pigments then, you cannot have a mutation to those genes that prevents xanthin pigmentation.

What does this mean for “Clown” horses? It means the best answer for you is: Maybe.

It is possible that the gene that is responsible for the Clown phenotype in ball pythons is also present in horses but, without knowing the exact gene that is responsible, we cannot say for sure that horses have the same gene.

You are not alone in falling down that rabbit hole. I have been down that one and so many others besides LOL


Thank you for all of that, it makes perfect sense.
Say we use a Blood python as a example as it’s closer genetically. Would I be right in saying most mutations found in Ball Pythons could be found in Blood Pythons?

I feel like I should have more questions but you have answered everything.
Thank you again Travis :+1:

I added a horse, just for you :joy:

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Thank you :heart::heart:

In broad terms, yes, the more closely related any two species are the higher the likelihood that they will share a given gene. It still is not an absolute however

Any time :+1:t4: :+1:t4:

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@eaglereptiles just FYI, there already is a Piebald Blood :+1: