is the spider ball python banned?
Snake Health

Spider Ball Python Banned? (Head Wobble and Neurological Issues)

Spider ball pythons are one of the most common ball python morphs. But their wobble syndrome can prevent them from feeding properly, and may decrease their quality of life. That’s why some breeders refuse to breed spider ball pythons.

It’s legal to breed the spider ball python, but organizations like the IHS prevent them from being sold at their events. Many breeders believe they should be banned due to their neurological issues (head wobble syndrome). Others disagree as spiders can still mate, eat, and live like other royal pythons.

We’ve covered everything you need to know about spider ball pythons. That includes basic spider ball python info, how the spider gene works, and the neurological problems they have. Then you can decide for yourself whether you should own and breed them.

What is a Spider Ball Python?

A spider is one of many ball python morphs. A ball python color morph is a particular kind of snake that looks a certain way. Albinos, BELs, bananas, and spiders are all examples of morphs.

These changes are created through genetics. Breeders import snakes that look a certain way in the hope that they have unique genetic changes. If these changes are genetic and get passed to offspring, they are sold as a new morph.

Spider ball pythons have a different pattern to regular ball pythons. Their dark patterning is thinner than usual, and stands out clearly against their background color. Their color is roughly the same as an ordinary ball python.

Leopard spider ball python

Also, their undersides are light, more so than a normal ball python. The spider ball python is frequently bred to other morphs to create new combinations.

However, there are genetic issues with the spider ball python. It has a condition called head wobble syndrome, which makes their head wobble uncontrollably. The wobble gets passed on to any offspring that has spider genes, pure spider or not.

Because of the wobble, some people think it’s cruel to breed spider ball pythons. Others have no issue with the wobble. Some people even think it’s cute.

Is the Spider Ball Python Banned?

You are still allowed to breed spider ball pythons. There’s nothing to stop you doing so, apart from your concerns. There are no state or federal laws that prevent you from breeding them.

There are good reasons why you should consider avoiding breeding them, though. The neurological issues can be severe, which may lead to decreased quality of life. Spider ball pythons are also so common that you won’t get much money from breeding them.

However, you can still breed, sell, buy and own spider ball pythons legally. They’re one of the most common morphs to find in pet stores, across the country.

The only issue is that some breeders and owners might not like that you breed them. If you only own a spider, then that isn’t a problem. But more and more people are turning against them, so breeding them might not be a good idea.

Spider Ball Python IHS Ban

The International Herpetological Society (IHS) is a group that primarily operates in the U.K., and have done since 1969. They also have branches all over the world. The IHS does many things, including:

  • Promotes research into reptiles and amphibians
  • Publishes the journal ‘The Herptile’ four times a year
  • Organizes branch meetings, where enthusiasts and breeders meet to discuss and share information
  • Organizes reptile events, which have talks, and allow the sale of reptiles and amphibians
  • Offer merchandise and reptiles for sale through their site

They’re a reasonably large organization with many members. Plus, because they promote research and publish their own journal, their word has weight. In 2017, the IHS decided to ban the sale or collection of spider ball pythons at any of their events.

Also, they banned jaguar carpet pythons and enigma leopard geckos, which have similar issues. At the same time, the FBH (Federation of British Herpetologists) took the same decision. It took effect in 2018.

They reasoned that they had ‘looked at depth into the concerns that have been brought to our attention concerning the genetic issues of these animals.’ It was this that led to their decision.

The spider ball python’s neurological problems are the only reason why some people don’t like them. The idea is that it’s cruel to breed snakes that have such a severe issue.

But other breeders don’t take issue with spiders because they can eat, poo, shed and breed perfectly fine. Let’s look at the problems that a spider ball python has, and you can make your own decision.

Spider Ball Python Head Wobble Syndrome

According to the Journal of Exotic Pet Medicine, spiders have a condition called ‘wobble syndrome.’ This is where the snake can’t control their head and stop it moving from side to side.

The obvious symptom is the wobble, but they will also experience difficulty striking at prey. When they try to strike at prey, they miss. They will eventually hit the target, but feeding is more difficult.

Some spiders will have an awful wobble, to the point where they can hardly feed. Others will have a barely noticeable wobble that doesn’t cause them any trouble. Some breeders cull spiders that have particularly bad wobbles.

Why Do Spider Ball Pythons Have a Head Wobble?

The problem is a genetic one. Like all snake morphs, spiders have gone through a slight genetic change. Their color and pattern are different from a normal ball python because breeders selectively bred them for specific genes.

However, genes commonly have more than one effect. The genetic change that causes a spider ball python’s color and pattern have other effects too. Among these effects are the head wobble and poor coordination.

It’s not entirely clear why these genes have the effect they do. What is known is that the head wobble is a neurological condition. This means that it affects the brain.

No research has been done on whether the wobble has any other effects. What is clear is that spiders can still eat, breed, explore, and interact with their owners as other snakes can. The gene doesn’t seem to have other neurological effects, either.

Can You Cure Spider Ball Python Head Wobble?

The head wobble is incurable. No medication or food will help you spider ball python stop wobbling. They have been bred for decades, and nobody has yet come up with a cure. It’s unlikely that they will.

Furthermore, the head wobble can’t be bred out. With other genetic abnormalities/changes, they can be selectively bred for. So, for example, say that you’re breeding pied ball pythons.

When you breed pied ball pythons, the offspring will be variable. Their spots will be in different places. They may have more or less white along the side of their bodies. You can pick the ones that have the most white color and only breed those snakes.

wobble syndrome

Over time, keep doing the same thing. Eventually, the offspring of the subsequent generations will be whiter and whiter. This applies to any morph, where breeders continually try to improve their color or pattern.

But this can’t be done with a spider ball python’s wobble. A parent with a slight wobble might have offspring with a terrible wobble. A spider with a terrible wobble can have offspring with almost no wobble at all. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to breeding them.

Can You Breed a Super Spider Ball Python?

Breeding two examples of the same morph together results in what breeders call a ‘super.’ A ‘super’ banana ball python, for instance, is the offspring of two banana ball pythons. A super spider ball python is the offspring of two spider ball pythons.

However, breeding two spider ball pythons together is impossible. To clarify, they will mate—but they won’t produce viable super spider offspring.

It works like this. When two examples of the same morph mate, they produce a variety of offspring. Some will be normal, some will be an example of the morph, and some will be a super version.

When two spiders mate, some of their offspring will be normal, and some will be spiders. But as of yet, no breeder has reported a living super spider. That is for several reasons:

  • Many of the eggs don’t develop, and are empty. These are known as ‘slugs.’
  • If the eggs do have a snake inside, it often won’t viably hatch, i.e., alive.
  • If it can hatch, then it will likely die early on before it feeds.

Many breeders have tried to create a super spider. If they did, and could prove it was a super spider, they could make a lot of money. The fact that nobody has claimed to have bred one despite trying makes it unlikely that it’s possible.

Why Is the Super Spider Ball Python Lethal?

To understand this, look at other morphs with a wobble. All morphs with a wobble have a spider in their ancestry. It’s a problem that so far is unique to spiders and other morphs bred from it.

Take the champagne ball python, for example. Breeding two champagne ball pythons together is lethal, too. A champagne and spider pairing is lethal. The same problem persists.

A sable ball python is another morph that has spider ancestry. When you breed one to a spider, some of the offspring is viable. However, they have a severe wobble which can be deadly.

This suggests that it’s likely increased neurological issues that make the super spider lethal. In a way that we don’t entirely understand, the neurological issues are magnified and made worse.

Some breeders believe that it isn’t lethal, however. Instead, they think that an unidentified issue with their genetics means that the genes can’t be passed on correctly. This is the only morph that this issue is suggested to exist in.

Should You Breed Spider Ball Pythons?

It’s clear that spider ball pythons aren’t as healthy as other snakes. They have a disorder, sometimes severe, that can decrease their quality of life. There are still arguments both for and against owning and breeding them, though.

Reasons For:Reasons Against:
They can mate, defecate and live as well as other snakes.It’s unclear what other neurological effects the wobble has, e.g., whether the snake is in pain.
In severe cases, they may have trouble striking. But this doesn’t stop them from eating.Spider ball pythons are common enough that breeding them doesn’t make as much money as breeding other morphs.
Because they’re so common, that means many other breeders are breeding them too.Any snake that expresses spider genes will have a wobble. It’s incurable. 
You can create lots of interesting morphs with a spider ball python breeding program.Many owners and breeders will judge you for breeding spiders, because of their wobble.

In the end, it’s up to you. There are good health reasons why you should avoid breeding them. But the snakes themselves are usually fine apart from their wobble. The main drawback is that it’s becoming a heated discussion between breeders at the moment.

As for owning one, the experience is the same as owning any pet ball python. The only reason not to own one without breeding is if you think the wobble lowers their quality of life.