Spider BP Research

Hello all!

I am a senior Pre-Veterinary student at Murray State University and I’m trying to collect some data on spider ball pythons.

For breeders, how often do clutches product a spider ball python that has a neurological defect? I’m including anything from a slight wobble to full on severe corkscrewing!

This is for a research study for an Honors Ethics class! I’m also doing this to possible study more in depth for a masters research thesis on what makes spider BP corkscrew (gene studying!)


All spider ball pythons have the the defect. The same mutation that causes the patterning known as the “spider morph” also causes the neurological problems. Certain husbandry conditions and stress can worsen it and can make it more visible, but it’s present in all.

If you want more in depth information on it, there’s a lot more information in this thread - Ethics of Spider ball pythons and spider breeding


Thank you! I’m looking at doing a future study through my school to analyze the specific gene that causes it and why some are severe and some arent! The thread you listed definitely helps with my ethics assignment though!


As @chesterhf notes, all Spiders display some degree of wobble, it an inherent secondary phenotype to the mutation.

I will be honest, the scope of this is more in the realm of a doctoral thesis or full on research project. You are going to need comparative whole genome analysis between WT and Spider to locate the specific gene.

Stochastic expression of gene product


The main reason that some are severe and some aren’t is husbandry. A snake in a proper mostly stress-free enclosure will show barely any, if any, signs of a wobble. However, a snake in a clickbait youtube video is usually not housed in a proper enclosure and is stressed which will maximize the effects and support the claim that “spiders are unethical”.


Look up Clint Laidlaw he has done some studies and youtube videos on it and is very knowledgeable on the subject.


I agree with @t_h_wyman on this one, I think your idea for a project is going to be more advanced and much more work than you think it will. First you’re going to need to identify the exact gene that’s mutated to cause the spider morph, which will involve sequencing multiple spider and normal/WT ball pythons, and then comparing the sequences. Do you have access to a sequencer, experience extracting DNA and preparing samples for sequencing, analyzing sequence data and and probably minimum 10K worth of funding to pay for sequencing and the programs you will need access to?

Then, once you’ve identified the gene and genetic variant that causes the spider morph, in order to figure out why some cases are more severe than others, you will need to look at both environmental and genetic variation.

But first you’ll have to find a way to quantify the severity of a ball python’s neurological defects, and how you are going to measure and analyze these.

As @erie-herps mentioned, severe cases of the wobble are often due to improper husbandry. In order to look at which environmental factors influence the neurological defect, you’ll need to use clutch mates so they have similar genetic backgrounds as possible, so you can’t just buy a bunch of random spider hatchlings. You’ll either have to hatch them yourself or buy several clutches of single gene spider hatchlings from the same breeder so you know that they were all incubated and raised the same way before subjecting them to different environmental experiences (like stress or high temperature). You’ll want to look at hatchlings, adolescence and adults to see how it the neurological phenotype changes with age, so you’re probably looking at several years of studying this set of snakes.

You’ll also need to look at genetic modifiers of the phenotype, which will involve looking at a different set of spider ball pythons with diverse genetic backgrounds (not clutch mates), use the same set of criteria for determining which spider ball pythons are more severely affected, and which are less affected, and sequence and analyze to identify which genetic variants may be enhancing or suppressing the spider neurological phenotype, like I’ve discussed here. This in and of itself is a full PhD thesis project.

All in all, not an impossible project, but a bit much for a senior thesis or even a masters project


However, would it be necessary to have the genetic sequencing data? Or would it work just to say what part of the brain causes it, the different effects of it, and the different factors that affect it?

If she wants to identify the gene, it would involve sequencing. I haven’t even touched on the experiments to address what brain regions/cell types/pathways are affected. Certainly she could dissect out multiple brains of both wild type and spider ball pythons and look for regions of the brain that would be more/less affected. Some electrophysiology experiments to see how the neurons are firing would be super interesting. But that is only going to add to the workload and complexity of the project. I know people who have spent several years just trying to get electrophysiology data on known mutations/neuronal circuits

I’m sure there are ways to cut corners and make it an easier/cheaper/shorter project, but it’s still going to be a lot more work, time and funding than it seems. Especially if you want it done the right way with the proper controls


The project would be for my masters program and would be started in a couple of semesters so I’ve been conversing with geneticists at my school to see if it is even possible!

As a ball python breeder myself, I don’t breed spiders since I’m on a smaller scale and personally think pinstripes are prettier.

I’m just gathering info right now as I’m doing an honors ethics final paper on how ethical breeding animals with neurological or physical deformities (aka pugs and other similar issues) but thought that studying the presentation of the spider gene set would be a cool possible project!

Thanks for everyone’s help with this!!!


As Hilary notes:

If we had a comprehensive map of the ball genome then you might be able to use linkage studies, but we do not have the prior so…

The fact that the hobby has collectively settled on ‘neuro’ as the epithet for the secondary phenotype in these morphs has apparently given rise to the false conclusion that this is absolutely something to do with the brain. “Neuro-”, as a prefix, means ‘nerves’ so neurologic symptoms are symptoms pertaining to the nervous system as a whole, not just brain. I would bet dollars to doughnuts that the wobble phenotype has exactly nothing to do with the brain itself but instead with other neurogenic tissues

With due respect to the geneticists at your school, in my years of experience both as one and dealing with them, many scientists have a very bad tendency to over-estimate realistic possibilities. Speaking as a geneticist myself, with applicable experience in this arena, I am telling you quite factually that this is a massive undertaking. Hilary outlined a good deal of it but she also left out parts as well:

Without an annotated genome, what are you going to scaffold your reads against? Or are you going to compile and generate the genome de novo? How will you annotate the genome once it is compiled? What will be your DoC to ensure accurate nucleotide representation. What kind of bioinformatic analysis programs do you have? How large of a processing core do you have access to to run them? If the mutation is an obvious in/del that makes life easy(ish), but what if it is just a SNP? Or a RSCNV? Once you have tentatively identified the mutation, how do you empirically prove that it is the causal source?

I am not saying this to try and scare you away, I think the idea of trying to ID these morphs on a genomic level is admirable, but I want to emphasize that this is not a small undertaking by any stretch of the imagination.


After speaking with the geneticists at my school, I believe lack of funding would be my biggest issue along with time constraints (finding a thesis I can complete in a year!), this particular project would be a stretch.

I would love any suggestions of ways I can incorporate spider ball pythons into my thesis! I’ve currently been looking at how hemp oil and the efficacy of it when looking at canines. Perhaps a hemp oil study with spider ball pythons? I’m not sure but I’d love to incorporate them into my thesis for my masters!

As well, any tips on funding would be greatly appreciated!

A lot of my ideas for spiders would take a year or more of growing up and over a year of experiments. You could try taking adult spiders and experimenting with them except you would need more to account for the lack of consistency. You could still find funding for genetic sequencing. For funding you could try either grant funding or mass funding. You could try to get a grant from somewhere though not many places would spend that much for a ball python experiment. You could also try seeing if a lot of people would donate a little except that could also take a while.

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You could try to prove or disprove the belief that Spider ball pythons eat better than most other morphs.

You could try to determine the percentage of Spiders with very bad wobble and look for anything that may have caused the wobble to get worse, overheating, exposure to mite spray or other chemicals… maybe look for the best husbandry parameters to help spiders have minimal wobble…


Has anyone tried to ever draw a parallel in what happens to horses with the lethal white gene?

I know it’s not snakes but from what I’ve learned from an account I follow on IG it’s that foals with 2 copies of frame overo are born solid white and lack a functioning intestine/colon.

Maybe it’s a similar gene affecting different areas of the animals.

There is no parallel between these two traits. They’re just two examples of mutations that cause both a pigmentation/pattern change and also negative health problems.

The genome is filled with genes that if mutated can lead to effects ranging from unnoticeable to catastrophic. Two copies of the “merle” allele in dogs lead to a mostly white dog with blue eyes, and also commonly deafness/blindness. Two copies of a mutated MC1R gene in humans cause red hair, and also an increased tolerance to anesthetics. There are literally thousand of conditions caused by mutations, both inherited and de novo


I actually really enjoy this idea!

Are there any other morphs of BP that have been seen to have a more voracious appetite that I could compare them to? Are there any morphs that have less of an appetite?

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It mostly depends on the individual animal. This could have interesting results except you would need an extremely large sample size and space to try different factors (maybe spiders eat better than clown in tubs and clown eats better than spider in tanks). Also most morphs only affect the pigments so comparing with them is pointless because they would all be the same by looking at strictly the morph. However someone with more experience might be able to make a list of the morphs that don’t just affect color (if known).

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I would more be comparing the different morphs/pigmentations and how they affect their appetite and how said pigmentation affects growth rate. I will be discussing with my professors to further discuss this but I think it’s a good start!


My ‘anecdotal’ evidence says on average. Normals are the best eaters.
They are the dominant type in the wild. There must be a genetic advantage reason.

But thats with the cavate that erie-herps pointed out, You can get an individual from any morph that has a voracious appetite.

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