hypomelanism

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Elaphe ssp at Queen’s Park

Tucked in a corner of the glasshouses of Queen’s Park, in Glasgow, there’s a room with quite a few vivariums housing a variety of small animals. There are reptiles, fish, amphibians, a couple of land snails, insects and a tarantula. There are also two parrots, and a grey one -Psittacus erithacus- which sadly but funnily sounded like he might have been swearing…

A lot of the creatures were in their hiding spots so I couldn’t take many good pictures, but here above you see two snakes which a sign identified as Elaphe subspecies native to the South Eastern to South Western Unites States. I read they are non-venomous and kill their prey by constriction, aside from looking just beautiful. Obviously they aren’t plants but I thought snake people could know and appreciate them. 

What’s my morph? Normal vs Hypo A

Every forum and every facebook group always ends up with people buying animals from craigslist or pet stores and popping in to ask what the morph of their new baby is. And it’s also a fairly common debate for corn snakes whether a particular animal is a normal or a hypo, or an anery versus a ghost.

So what is “hypo”?

Hypo is shorthand for hypomelanism. To break the word down, ‘hypo’ means reduced, ‘melanin’ means black, and ‘ism’ is the condition of. So hypomelanism is the condition of having reduced black pigment.

How many types of hypo are there?

In the corn snake world, hypo is sometimes thought of as a 4 letter word. There are five…ish non-allelic genes that produce a hypomelanistic effect. However, when most people say ‘hypo’ when identifying a corn snake, they mean Hypo A.

Hypo A/christmas/strawberry:  Of these 3 allelic genes, Hypo A is far and away the most common. The only way we know that these are indeed allelic genes rather than the same gene is very subtle effects on the snake (that I admit, I am NOT good at seeing) and how their melanocytes appear on the skin under significant magnification. It used to be thought that christmas and strawberry increased the amount of red pigment seen on the snake, but a different gene or genes has been shown to be the actual culprit of that, namely Red Factor or Red Coat.

Ultra/ultramel: Ultra is a gene that was introduced via hybridization. Technically any corn snake that has the ultra gene, or any snake descended from a snake with the ultra gene is a hybrid. But at this point they have been bred back to ‘pure’ corns to such a degree that the point is utterly moot. Ultra is also allelic to the amelanism gene. Homozygous ultras are darker than ultramels. Ultra also has an interesting effect of significantly increasing the amount of yellow a snake displays. Most corns develop a yellow wash along the sides of their necks, the sides of their face, and sometimes their nose. Ultra and Ultramels make this go significantly higher up the side of the animal, sometimes going entirely to the top, and up over the entire head. This is most easily seen on ultra and ultramel aneries.

Dilute: This gene makes the snake look like they are permanently in ‘blue’ or about to shed. It’s a pretty interesting effect.

Lava: This gene tends to result in quite intense reds (hence the name) and the black on these snakes turns a very interesting purple-y gray. On a curious note, it is very common for these snakes to have patches of normal black pigment so the saddle edges will look stippled.

Sunkissed:  … kind of. Sunkissed is both a color and pattern modifying gene. Most of the time is does produce a hypomelanistic effect, however there are certain lines where the snakes display normal black pigment.

*cough*likethis*cough*

Also worth noting, motley and stripe also result in a hypo-like effect on snakes so telling a light anery motley or a dark ghost motley can be difficult without breeding trials.

Common Hypo A Mythtakes:

One of the most persistent myths about hypo A, is that it reduces the quanitity of black. People will see a snake with very thin or non-existent borders to their saddle markings and declare it a hypo based on that alone.

This is not true. Hypo reduces the *quality* of the black pigment. Instead of being a true stark black, they will be dark chocolate, brown, tan, gray, or purple-ish. Saddle edge thickness appears to be a polygenic trait, hence why okeetee-phase animals were linebred to create those thick borders. It is most likely that saddle edge thickness is the result of repeats of a particular set of genes, just like nose length is in dogs. For dogs, the more repeats they have, the longer their nose is, and if they have very few repeats, the nose gets shorter. This is why we have dogs with faces like pugs and faces like a sight  hound. So I expect something similar is at work for saddle edges in corns because if you breed an okeetee phase to a normal corn snake, the offspring will have saddle thickness ranging between the two parental extremes.

For picture proof that hypo doesn’t reduce saddle edge thickness:

So how do we tell a normal apart from a hypo?

It’s all in those saddle edges. And the best way to tell is daylight photos that are super up close on those markings.

For example, this is a normal hatchling:

And while this snake is an anery as well, you can still see the true black on the markings really well:

And now, some hypos:

It might be tempting to think the lower snake is a normal, but these are daughter and son of the thick bordered hypo I showed above. Females of many morphs tend to be darker than their male counterparts.

To show they are both indeed hypos:

Here you can see that the markings are actually a chocolate brown, and that even her belly pattern is brown instead of black.

So there you go. That’s how you tell a normal from an animal carrying hypo A (or strawberry or christmas, gods how I hate these alleles).

Orange Ghost is not a ball python morph.

I know, I just unleashed an absurd amount of confusion upon you, but bear with me here because we are going to explore another one of Heather’s Pet Peeves.

Orange Ghost is not a ball python morph. Orange Ghost is actually a LINE of a morph called “hypomelanistic” aka hypo for short.
Hypomelanism is a reduction or absence of melanin- the pigmentation responsible for brown and black coloration. Hypo ball pythons often look very misty and light colored.

Here is an image of a normal ball python next to a hypo morph.

It’s important to know that orange ghost is not the morph itself because there are many lines of hypo. Generally speaking, lines should not be mixed and it’s good practice to only breed animals that have the same line. On the other side of things, not all of these these lines are compatible. By calling every hypo “orange ghost” you are neglecting the possibility that these animals may not derive from the same line and they also may not be able to breed. It’s kind of like saying all axanthics are Markus Jayne, which is silly and untrue.

“But I thought hypo and ghost were the same thing?”
Well, you’re not wrong. “Ghost” is a made up blanket statement that incorporates all hypomelanistic ball pythons and is a basis for much confusion. This means orange ghost, butterscotch, Bell-line, yellow ghost, green ghost, true ghost (which is actually axanthic hypo), extreme hypo, G1, etc can all be called “ghost.”

So, if you are identifying a morph, it is wrong to say it is an orange ghost. The appropriate and correct term is “hypo” as without breeding trials it is impossible to determine just which line of hypo the ball python is.


Sorry this is so random and kind of unimportant, but so many people automatically go to orange ghost when they see a hypo animal and it may not be orange ghost at all. Fight inaccuracies, y'all.