Viva Variety
by Owen Maercks
July 1, 2011
When selling pythons and boas, retailers should tap the market for the many variations available.



Having unusual snakes in your inventory distinguishes your store from the competition and keeps herpers coming back to see what might be new. Of course, some customers will buy a pet snake, enjoy it and go no further in the hobby. But for others, the hobby becomes a path, and it is your place to keep providing the next stone in the path. To do this, you have to know your options and stay on top of the ever-evolving universe of boas and pythons.

There are two basic differences between boas and pythons, and both have exceptions. The first is that boas are live bearers, and pythons are egg layers. However, there are also at least a few boas (some of the sand boas) that defy the rule and lay eggs externally. The other difference­ is that pythons are native to Africa, Asia and Australia, while boas are generally found in the Americas.


Plenty of Variations
The Colombian boa constrictor is a favorite among herp fanciers. Never too big for one adult to handle, gentle and unperturbable, hardy and often beautiful, it is an ideal pet snake. Along with the much smaller Ball python and the much larger reticulated and Burmese pythons, they are commonly and successfully kept and bred. I recommend always keeping a solid stock of these snakes on hand, including at least one large adult, so that customers buying a baby have a realistic expectation of their new pet’s adult size.

However, given their commonplace status, it is also important to look into some of the myriad variations of pythons available–both the genetic anomalies that private breeders have come to specialize in and the lesser-known species that have always been around but have failed to achieve the emblematic status of their kin.

The last two decades have seen the production of a dizzying variety of color and pattern morphs in all four common species. These “designer” snakes have a singular hold on many of their breeders, who are forever chasing more obscure and expensive morphs and assigning sometimes random-seeming common names to their various permutations.

A word of warning: this field often seems to be little more than a pyramid scheme, with initial breeders making small fortunes and those who buy in down the line seeing their once unique animals descend in value.

My advice is to look at the snake, assess just how pretty it really is, look on the Internet for similar animals, and buy and price it accordingly. For instance, “spider balls,” an attractive pattern variant of the ball python, are so nice looking that there is certainly a bottom-line price that virtually anybody would pay.

Go to one of the large reptile expos held around the country, and you’ll see new things every time. On the other hand, species don’t change very fast, and some of the most exciting and unusual boas and pythons have actually been around for millennia.

One of the world’s most beautiful boas is the Dumeril’s boa. Like it’s Colombian counterpart, the Dumeril’s has a gentle disposition and stays a handleable size, but it’s pattern is extraordinary, featuring vivid and ornate markings of brown, grey, black, white and pink.

Slightly higher in price but always in demand, the emerald tree boa is, in my opinion, a difficult animal to work with. They require arboreal setups, can be fussy feeders with digestive problems and are difficult to tame. On the other hand, their nearly indistinguishable counterpart, the green tree python, seems to be a far sturdier snake, and, depending on the particular island of origin, can tame down fairly easily.

There is a complex of Australasian pythons I have a particular affinity for that are poorly represented in the pet trade, but often inspire awe when customers see them. The group includes four particular standouts: the white-lipped python, with a dark olive body and bright white scales around the mouth; the olive python, which has velvety, matt scale; the Savu (or white-eyed) python, a smaller snake with magical-looking eyes; and the Macklott’s python, which brings a light speckling to the olive look. I recommend them all.

I can’t neglect a few more boas that don’t seem to get enough play, the Brazilian rainbow boa and the rosy boa. The Brazilian rainbow is named for its incredible sheen when seen in sunlight, but it also has knockout colors, a nice size (most get in the six-foot range) and are easy to tame. The rosy is one of the dwarf boas, rarely exceeding three feet, making it a perfect compromise for families that want a boa without the intimidating size.


Owen Maercks has enjoyed being immersed in the world of professional herpetoculture for nearly 30 years. His store, the East Bay Vivarium, in Berkeley, Calif., is one of the oldest and largest herptile specialty stores in the U.S.