It soon became apparent that ALL pythons born with the gene are subject to some degree of neurological impairment.
Many keepers consider the spider ball python to be an unethical morph due to these neurological defects.
As the morph grew in popularity, spiders became a topic of heated debate.
Their associated neurological condition – coined “the spider wobble” – ultimately led to a ban on the sale of spider ball pythons at International Herpetological Society (IHS) expos in 2018.
Today, many keepers still breed spider ball pythons, while others argue that breeders should cease producing the morph altogether.
In This Article
Spider Ball Python Appearance
So what, exactly, makes spider ball pythons so unique?
In this section, you’ll learn how spider ball pythons differ from “wild type” specimens in terms of color, size, and pattern.
Color Variations and Markings
Unlike many other ball python morphs popular among pet owners, the spider ball trait does not alter the snake’s color.
Instead, it changes the shape of its markings.
As their name suggests, the patterns on these snakes resemble spider webs.
Unlike the markings on the other morphs (which are generally thick), the spider morph has narrow bands which connect to form a funky design.
This difference results from lowered melanin production – the pigment responsible for the coloration of the snake.
Spider ball pythons also possess a “crown”-like pattern atop their head.
This pattern consists of symmetrical, wavy blotches of dark brown. Some even liken this pattern to a skull or mask.
Another feature of the spider ball python is green eyes.
You might notice that most spider morphs on the market have additional characteristics not described above.
Breeders love to play around by combining different morphs to see what they can create.
Spider ball pythons don’t differ from wild-type pythons in terms of their size.
Females are generally significantly larger than males, reaching up to five feet in length.
Male spider ball pythons only grow to be between two to three feet as adults.
Spider Ball Python Genetics
The “spider” gene is believed to be a dominant one. Only one copy of the gene is required to express the unique spider pattern in a hatchling.
An animal can have either one or two copies of any given gene, inherited from one or both parents.
The genes that cause both the attractive patterns and the defects in the spider morphs remain a partial mystery.
Some believe that these are caused by a mixture of genes rather than one dominant one.
If true, then breeders might be able to separate spider ball python issues from the visual appeal of the snake with further research and selective breeding.
The Spider Morph’s Appearance
The spider morphs have a unique and attractive appearance which differs from all the other morphs.
For many, a spider ball python is an essential addition to their collection due to the morph’s distinguished and unique appearance.
Spider Ball Python Issues
The “spider wobble” is a term to describe the neurological defect that snakes of this morph possess.
Unfortunately, this defect is linked to the spider trait, which causes their unique coloration, so you cannot have one without the other.
All spider morphs will have this defect, but the severity may vary between individuals.
There is no way to predict how badly a hatchling will be affected by this condition.
The ‘head wobble’ is characterized by two main behaviors: swaying and corkscrewing.
Swaying – this behavior can range from a mild side-to-side movement of the head, to convulsions of the entire upper body.
Cork screwing – a strange movement where the snake rotates its head upside down and in a circular motion (like a corkscrew).
These strange behaviors are a result of a hereditary neurological defect, and may worsen over time.
Some hatchlings are born with more pronounced symptoms than others, resulting in an inability to eat.
Around 25% of spider ball pythons die during their first few years due to this feeding impairment.
To compensate for this condition, it’s best to keep handling and stress to a minimum with these ball pythons.
Do Spider Ball Pythons Need Special Care?
Overall, caring for spider ball pythons is almost identical to caring for regular wild-type ball pythons.
The main difference will be in accommodating the spider ball python’s neurological disability.
Because of the spider ball python wobble, the spider morph may not consume food in the same way that a normal ball python can.
When feeding your spider ball python, make sure never to offer it live prey.
This morph is not as agile as others, and is sometimes unable to strike accurately at its meal.
Offering live food will cause needless suffering for the prey animal and create risks and difficulties during feeding time.
The best thing to do is always give your spider python pre-killed, thawed rats.
Even then, the animal may still exhibit unusual behaviors, including an inability to constrict prey properly.
As these snakes are pretty uncoordinated, you also need to take care when handling them.
Be prepared for jerky, unpredictable movements and try not to hold them too high off the ground (in case you drop them).
Because of these additional requirements and concerns, a spider ball python may not be a great choice for beginners.
On the bright side, with proper care, this morph can – in theory – live as long as a normal ball python and have a decent quality of life.
Main Arguments for and Against the Breeding of Spider Ball Pythons
In this section, we hope to introduce the issues to help you decide whether purchasing a spider ball python is a good idea.
A complete discussion of individual arguments for and against the continuation of the spider ball python line would be too lengthy to include here.
Instead, we’ve summarized the most common arguments into a few sentences each.
Most people who breed spider ball pythons are aware of the “head wobble” trait, but argue that it is not as grave as people make it out to be.
Many “wobbly” snakes still live long lives and turn out to be otherwise healthy, active animals. For these snakes, it’s still possible to have a good quality of life.
Spider ball pythons also have a pattern with wide appeal, generating a large amount of demand within the pet trade.
Breeders who sell snakes for a living will attempt to meet this demand to generate profit.
For some breeders, income from selling animals is what sustains their own collections. For others, it may serve as their entire livelihood.
Some keepers and breeders even argue that this trait is what makes them unique and “cuter” than regular ball pythons.
It may even be possible to produce spider ball pythons that aren’t prone to issues through selective breeding.
Most who argue against the breeding of spider ball pythons do so on the grounds that it is unethical to knowingly breed snakes with genetically linked health conditions.
Though the “spider wobble” can be seemingly benign (not harmful) in certain animals, it’s impossible to predict how it will affect a hatchling’s life.
In any clutch, up to a quarter of hatchlings may suffer from severe neurological issues that prevent feeding and result in death.
Again, that’s not to say all clutches are severely affected, but it is impossible to know before breeding.
Though snake keepers understand that there’s no such thing as a “perfect” snake – and that the definition of a “defect” can be subjective – it’s clear that some spider ball pythons live short, uncomfortable lives as a result of the spider gene’s associated side effects.
For some people, this is enough to warrant a halt of the breeding of this lineage altogether.
How Much Does a Spider Ball Python Cost?
Today, spider ball pythons are not as expensive as they once were because they’ve become relatively common.
On average, a standard spider ball python is likely to cost somewhere between $50 and $75 (USD).
The exact price will depend on the coloration and overall condition of the animal.
The spider morphs are usually bred with other ball pythons to include several additional traits.
The gene that causes the spider morph variations is dominant, so the trait is easily combined with any other morph.
Because this is quite common practice, it makes it quite challenging to find a garden variety spider morph.
Unfortunately, this also raises the price of spider ball pythons by a significant margin.
The most common range for multi-trait spider ball pythons is somewhere between $200-$500.
Of course, rarer traits have higher prices, so be prepared to pay double this (or more) for a particularly stunning specimen.
Unique combinations intended for collectors may cost thousands of dollars.
Some of the most common spider crosses you might encounter on the market include:
- Fire spider ball python
- Enchi spider ball python
- Pastel spider ball python
- Albino spider ball python
- Mojave spider ball python
- Banana spider ball python
Though it’s still debated by many keepers, the evidence seems to suggest that the “super spider ball python” (a genotype consisting of two copies of the gene) is lethal.
This would explain why super spider ball pythons are impossible to come by.
Banana Spider Ball Python
The Banana spider ball python is arguably one of the most adorable spider morph combinations.
Before rushing to purchase one, just remember that any combination including the spider gene will still be subject to the “spider wobble”.
Spider Ball Python Buyer’s Guide
If you have considered the pros and cons of the spider ball python and have decided to bring one into your home then there are a few things to consider.
Because of the genetic defect that they carry, you need to be more careful when purchasing spider morphs.
Remember that baby ball pythons can deteriorate with age. So the condition and health of the hatchling may not reflect its future health as an adult.
Because of this, it may be safer to purchase an adult spider ball python than a hatchling.
Especially because many spider morphs do not survive their first few years of life. If not, just try to choose the healthiest hatchling you can!
Some things to look for when buying any snake are:
- Clear, bright eyes (unless in shed)
- A healthy weight (neither too fat nor too thin)
- Healthy skin with no scars, lesions, or discoloration
With a spider ball python, specifically, you should also look at the degree of neurological impairment present.
If you love a particular snake, but it has severe symptoms, you might want to think twice before buying.
If you do purchase a severely impaired ball python, be prepared to offer special care throughout its lifespan.
Remember that ball pythons can easily live for up to 30 years in captivity.
Though they are a popular morph, it is best not to buy these snakes from a pet store.
Instead, your best bet would be looking for ball python breeders online or locally. Look for reputable breeders with reviews.
A reputable breeder should also be willing to answer questions about the spider morph and ball python care in general.
Do you have a spider ball python? Share your images in the comment section below.