Editors Julie (JM) & Tony (TA) met with Thomas Tremain (TT) at his house in Vancouver, Washington in January 2011 to discuss the true and authentic nature of snake breeding. Tremain handles ball pythons and is developing specialized mutations.
JM: How many snakes do you have?
TT: Altogether about 80, only about 70 of them are mine. I’m snake sitting during breeding season. Joint breeding projects, and such.
JM: They get half the clutch?
JM: How do you clean all these tubs?
TT: I have a girl that comes in cleans all these cages twice a week. It helps me if I fall behind in my spot cleaning.
JM: [indicating a white photo light tent surrounded by lights and a camera ready-angled for shooting studio style shots] You take photos in here?
TT: Yes. If I’m getting ready to post something for sale, or for the website.
JM: It’s nice, the diffuse light in there. It’s pretty slick. And you’re raising … food?
TT: That is a guinea pig. Oscar will probably eat in a few days. Oscar is a 7 foot boa constrictor. I rescued Oscar. Somebody on Craigslist advertised him. I went and looked at him and my first thought was, “Oh my god, this snake is sick. I want nothing to do with it.” But then I thought, “No. I don’t have the heart to leave him here.” So I gave them fifty or sixty bucks, brought him home. The whole idea of getting a larger boa was garbage disposal. I have a freezer full of larger rats that he’ll eventually get to eat.
JM: You keep rats? You’re raising rats?
TT: I get them shipped in. Buy a whole lot too.
JM: Previously frozen and shipped in?
TT: Live, mostly.
JM: You have someone nearby?
TT: Yeah, plus I’ve got a whole bunch in my garage. Somebody else’s inventory in the garage. Way too many rats in that garage.
JM: Can we look at it or is it scary?
JM: So this guinea pig, you raised it?
TT: No, this was actually given to me by the guy whose rats are in the garage. It has a clubbed foot, so.
JM: Just ‘cause it has a clubbed food?
TT: Yeah, pet stores won’t want it. Probably would make someone a great pet.
JM: For the sake of the readers, what is your job description?
TT: I raise and breed ball pythons. Mostly going for “morph” animals, not normal. I breed a normal to a morph and 50% of the offspring will be morph.
JM: Define a morph.
TT: In a human being a morph would be considered albinoism. There are genetic traits, some are recessive and some are dominant. If I was to breed a morph with a dominant trait to a normal, I’d get 50% morph with the dominant trait.
JM: So how many eggs does a snake produce? You breed a male and a female and then you get….
TT: The smallest clutch I got last year was three eggs, the most was ten eggs. I’ve been told average is about six. I’ve only done this one mating season prior to this one.
JM: How did you get into this?
TT: My ex wife got intrigued before I did. I have a business partner who raises corn snakes and my son was interested in one so I brought him back a couple from California. On the way back my ex got attached. It wasn’t too long before she was cruising Craigslist.
JM: Are all your snakes friendly? (TT’s dog, Jasmine, is hanging around. She’s wet from standing out in the rain. TT tells her to go lay down and she does.)
TT: Mine are either friendly or shy. I have some in the quarantine rack that belong to someone else that are….they get a little nippy when it’s feeding time. I probably could get them tamed down, but I don’t know that I want to keep them around that long.
JM: What do you do with a snake that is aggressive?
TT: Stand back. (laughs)
JM: If it’s something that’s a problem and you … do you exterminate it?
TT: One thing I do is I always put them in a (Rubbermaid style) tub when I feed them.
JM: So you train them over time that food comes after there are in the tub.
TT: They learn they have to be handled in order to get food. Most of these I don’t have to do that with. I can pretty much read them. If they are way too hungry they might nip out quick. Most of these aren’t aggressive but they can still get pretty hungry. I’ll back off, get a pair of gloves.
TT: This morph is called a spider, has a webbing pattern across it’s dorsal, high white sides. She’s very nosy. Likes to know what’s going on. I have no problems with this one anywhere near my face, or with kids. There are a few I would never hand to a kid. This is not one of those. This is a spider named MJ. I also have Charlotte that’s a spider. Widow that’s a spider. A couple of hatching named Itsy and Bitsy and they are a couple of spiders.
JM: Aw that’s cute! They’re so sweet.
JM: You talked about the Punnet Square. How does that work. How do you get a spider?
TT: I take a normal and a spider and every egg has 50% chance of being a spider. Next I’ll show you pastel. It’s real bright yellow. A really good example of that would be this girl.
JM: Honey color.
TT: Notice the bright yellows in this pastel. Where it really gets interesting is if I breed a spider to a pastel. Using the Punnet Square I’ll get 25% normal, 25% spider, 25% pastel, 25% will have both traits and they call that a bumble bee. This is a bumble bee – it has both spider and pastel traits. His name is Monty.
JM: What is the breeding age?
TT: For the male, usually their second winter is a good time. I have a couple that are breeding and are less than a year old. For female, their second or third winter. Male you get them to about 500 grams and they are about ready to try. Female you get up to 1200 or 1500 grams. That’s why I keep real close track of their weights. A female can lose about a third of her body weight when she lays eggs. After she laid eggs last year, if she doesn’t put her weight back on I won’t breed her this year because that would be unhealthy.
JM: Is it true that pet stores, say the mall or whatever, get their snakes from Africa?
TT: A lot of them do. A lot of them though get normal babies. When I hatch out I get a lot of normals so I sell them to pet shops.
JM: Should people care?
TT: If they are wild caught, there’s greater chance for them to have ticks, illnesses, they get less handling. Granted not every one of my hatchlings gets lots of handling, they are still pretty young at that time.
JM: So it’s a matter of health and human contact.
TT: Yes. I know the lineages of any of the babies that I have. If somebody I sell one to, I might even be able to offer them the egg it came out of. I do have a few eggs in a tub over there.
JM: Do you have problems with parasites?
TT: I don’t. There is a mite that ball pythons can get. Actually boas get them more easily than balls. Ball pythons have pretty thick scales, but whenever I bring a new snake home it’s treated on the way home. I put a special spray on the inside of a pillow case, reverse the case and carry the snake home in it. Then it spends two months in quarantine before it comes in this room.
JM: That makes sense. It would destroy a lot.
TT: Thousands and thousands of dollars right here.
JM: So there are technical terms there’s the exterior, Exto parasite, and the Endo?
TT: I don’t use those terms. I don’t get a lot of parasites. I do have one that had worms at one point in time.
JM: That must have been gross.
TT: I treated it like a dog that has worms. I had to put the worm medicine into a dead rat and feed it to him.
JM: So you inject the rat?
TT: In this case it was a paste.
JM: You’re like, “Eat this!”
TT: Here’s my biggest girl right now.
TT: Three thousand grams.
JM: What’s that in pounds?
TT: A little over six pounds.
JM: Like a baby. How old is she?
TT: They weren’t quite sure when they sold her to me. They were thinking pro bably about 8 or 9 years old.
JM: Is that common that people have a snake for a number of years and then can’t take it any more?
TT: It’s not like a cat that might only be around for 12 years. A ball python could be around for a long time. I’ve not seen any that are more than 9 years old, but you know they’ve got to be out there.
JM: What do you think people do if they can’t get someone to take it over?
TT: There are rescues. I thought about being one for a while, but I can’t afford the vet bills.
JM: Are there any hazards to being a snake breeder?
TT: Um… I’ve been bit once or twice. (smiles) Doesn’t happen very often, but … I got bit for the first time this year earlier this week.
JM: Is that your finger (indicating a large band aid on his finger)
TT: No. That I cut on a piece of jagged Formica. Earlier today. It’s tender.
JM: So what’s a snake bite like for a python?
TT: It’s not much different from a bee sting without the venom except there are several punctures but no venom.
JM: They have teeth?
TT: They do have teeth. They don’ thave fangs. They have teeth to eat. They clamp down on their prey and then they constrict on them. It helps them hold it. The teeth point back a little bit…
JM: To get that “get down my throat” thing going on?
JM: Do your neighbors know what you do?
TT: Yes. At least, my first neighbor here does. They’ve never been up here but my neighbor there is a veterinarian, semi-retired. He works on hooved animals. I’ve seen some strange things going on in my driveway. People bring in goats to have de-horned. I looked out my living room window one day to see him shoulder deep in a cow. So they have no complaint about what I do.
JM: How many snakes do you have?
TT I have about seventy.
JM: Are you looking to re-home any?
TT: Not right now.
JM: You just started breeding for the year?
TT: Yeah. I’ve already picked which males I want to breed with which females. I’ve got about ten males over here in this rack. It’s a matter of every few days I’ll take several snakes, put them with females, check on them and a few days later put them back.
JM: How does the process work? You put them together, you leave them alone… do you witness them copulating? How do they copulate?
TT: They’ll hang a sock on the door knob to let you know.
JM: I’m sure!
TT: They do this twist around thing. And they do it for several hours at a time.
JM: So odds are you’ll walk in and see.
TT: Yeah. Like this female I’ve seen doing it several times.
JM: You’re pretty sure eggs will come out.
TT: Never sure. Last year I bred 20 groups and I got 11 clutches of eggs, but a lot of those females a few I didn’t get until late January or February – maybe the move was too much or they started ovulating.
JM: When does the season begin?
TT: I change the temperatures around Halloween and about a month later I’ll start breeding them.
TA: So it depends on temperature?
TT: In this part of the country (Oregon) they say that it’s not really reuired, but I still like to do it anyway. It’s part temperature, barometric pressure, triggers them to go into ovulation about late January, early February. Once they’ve ovulated they will go off food for a while. I assume they don’t have room for food to pass when they’re making an egg. The eggs build up inside them using a lot of nutrients. When a woman gives birth, there’s 8 pounds of baby, then there’s … all the other stuff. When a snake lays eggs, it’s just the eggs that’s the weight they lose. I’ll get 600, 700 grams of eggs. Maybe they’ve lost 750 grams of weight.
JM: They’ve not lost a lot of weight.
TT: It’s the eggs. Then those go into an incubator for 2 months, or 56 days. That’s when they stat pipping is about 56- 57 days.
JM: Is the shell hard? Is it like a chicken egg?
TT: No. It’s like a soft tortilla. They’ve got what’s called an egg tooth, it’s on their chin, and they slit the egg with that.
TT: And if I get a clutch that half of them have already pipped then I go ahead and open the other eggs.
JM: Pipped means they sliced open the egg.
TT: Yeah. Usually they stick their head out for about a day or so, as they are getting used to learning how to breath and the last of their sack is being absorbed. You can touch some eggs there.
JM: Are they soft still?
TT: No, they harden. They shrink quite a bit when they dry out.
JM: That’s why they are warped looking. (we do, we touch empty snake eggs, they are not soft) And they have sort of a moon texture.
TT: Before they dry out like that, it’s sort of a soft tortilla texture. I keep them humid during the entire incubation process too.
JM: So they are moist. Are they delicate, like if you put your finger on there and it will recede and you’ll feel a snake in there?
TT: Eventually, yes.
JM: It starts out like a chicken egg where it’s fully liquid?
TT: You can candle them and see the veins.
JM: It’s like Aristotle’s Egg!
TT: Oh, okay. Usually as they are getting close to hatching you can see the snake in there.
JM: You follow the process?
TT: Sometimes. Usually, I keep an eye on them, if the egg turns green then it’s time to throw it away.
TT: You know, a bad egg will mold…
JM: Yeeeah…. (ew)
TT: because of the moisture. Probably was one that wasn’t viable anyway.
JM: Have you ever cracked on open to eat it?
TT: (makes face)
JM: Does that sound disgusting?
TT: Yes it does.
JM: (laughs) Sorry, I had to ask.
TT: Absolutely disgusting.
JM: Never know. I bet there’s a market for that.
TT: Maybe with one that hasn’t been fertilized.
JM: Yeah, but maybe if it’s fresh out of the snake … you know, you’ve seen it, it’s not a snake yet…. You know.
TT: True…. It’s just an egg.
JM: Still gross. (laughs) Plus there goes your profit.
TT: Well, if it wasn’t fertilized then it wouldn’ tmatter.
JM: Would you get an egg if it wasn’t fertilized?
TT: Sometimes. They can drop out an unviable egg. That’s where candling helps.
JM: Okay, so unless a female snake has been bred with a male, she’s not going to lay eggs. If you breed her, she might lay eggs but not all of them may actually have been fertilized.
TT: That’s the rule. Now there are exceptions to every rule. I know a lady who swears up and down that her snake has been laying eggs for seven years and during that time she has never had it with a male. They say a snake can retain sperm for a year, I’ve never heard of seven years.
JM: Interesting. So when you decide you’re going to breed a female to a male, you want it to be the same male every time.
TT: I do. Not everybody does, but I do and it takes the guess work out of “okay, what is this hatchling.”
JM: I imagine, if she has the potential to hold for a year, then you bring a different male in then you would have some of both?
TT: It could happen. Typically, an entire clutch is sired by one father. But there are exceptions to every rule. People have proven, have had clutches where it was obviously mixed from different fathers. Cats – you can have a litter of four to six kittens and have every one of them from a different father. Snakes, ball pythons at least, are typically all one father.
JM: Is there special equipment with breeding? I know you just put them together, that’s not special equipment, but you have heater, fan … what else goes into this?
TT: Incubator, timer, tub (about 5 quart) with perlite on the bottom and grating and water with marked eggs with sheet of glass on top of it as incubator. Near the end of the breeding cycle, the glass will collect condensation. I just flip it over.
JM: Do the eggs smell?
TT: No. The snakes can, if they … um, I try to keep mine pretty well clean. I came in this morning, Steph (TT’s hired hand), and it was smelling pretty good so I spot cleaned about six tubs before anybody got here.
JM: When they have waste, to put it politely, how would you describe it?
TT: Well, their feces can be a dark black, to a brown, or a chalky white, or they can urinate, just …
TT: The main difference is when you get the chalky white. I’ve been told, don’t know for sure, that it’s calcium from the bones.
JM: So they are like trash compactors, just [crunch crunch] squeezing it through their body and it comes out a pulp.
TT: Yeah, kinda like we do, we chew.
JM: Yeah, we have all those acids, too.
TA: You feed them a rat for example, how long does it take to pass?
TT: It takes about 5 to 7 days.
TA: That fast? I’d think it wouldn’t be so soon because it’s a whole animal.
JM: It’s different from an owl pellet because that will have bones in it, but snake poop won’t have bones.
JM: How long will it take to clean these tubs? How many tubs do you have?
TT: 70 tubs, plus 10 additional Oh, she spends about three to four hours up here, then about an hour doing rats.
JM: You pay her hourly?
TT: Yeah. While she’s here, she takes them out and weighs them on this scale and tracks their weight.
TA: Do you do any community stuff? Go to schools or …
TT: I don’t. I don’t have a wide variety of stuff. They’d want a boa, maybe a venomous something, and all I have is entirely ball pythons.
JM: Yes, this one you’re holding has a nice honey color to it.
TT: It’s called a pinstripe.
JM: Who’s Brock Wagner?
TT: He’s one of the larger breeders.
JM: Is that the goal? To be the next Brock Wagner?
TT: To be a distributer, or nerd.
JM: So you have a business plan?
TT: It’s all up here (points to forehead) at the moment. Working on it.
JM: How many traits can you put in one snake?
TT: You can put all sorts of traits in one animal. The trouble is you then have to find a buyer with deep pockets. But I’d rather have a clutch that’s worth $200 than $50.
JM: How much is this pinstripe worth?
TT: This male pinstripe cost me $200 as a hatchling.
JM: So you purchased the hatchling in order to make more.
TT: Yes. I have a female pinstripe. She was a little bit more. I don’t remember how much.
JM: If you choose something that’s like a pinstripe, I mean if it’s a pinstripe, it’s a pinstripe, so you don’t look necessarily for the aesthetics of the pinstripes or do you?
TT: I could. Pinstripes … there’s not a lot of things that …. Well, there are certain morphs that have characteristics that have something better than some other morph. I have a lesser platinum. A cleaner lesser platinum wouldn’t have as many spots up and down the sides. I had a female that had none, a male that had some. My wife and I separated, she threw a few things on craigslist to pay for her apartment, and well … I took a bit of a hit at that point in time. You met her.
JM: Really? She’s gone? That wasn’t very long ago?
TT: I came back from summer camp with my boy scouts and she told me that day she wanted to get her own apartment. I said, “Okay, well do it quickly because I want to get on with my life.” (laughs)
JM: Geeze, I’m sorry! Yikes. Well, you seem to be doing very well.
TT: I’m dating again! (laughs) (pulls out a snake) This is a Mohave. Up until recently she was the most expensive snake I ever purchased.
JM: What do you mean by ‘most expensive’?
TT: $950. She was about half the size at the time. She did not lay any eggs last year, so she took the year off on her own. If I was to breed a Mohave with another Mohave, I would have a white snake with blue eyes. A one in four chance. It would give me this snake last year. (shows us) Instead, I’m breeding her with a Mystic. They are going to give me something called a Mystic Potion. One in four change. Would be nice to get two Mystic Potions out of this clutch. A colleague of mine was selling those this last summer for $5500 a piece. If I could get two out of this one, get one out of this one … I expect those would be worth about $3000 this year.
JM: Has the economy impacted this industry?
TT: I think so. Keep in mind, I haven’t been in this industry for long. A lot of people have been parting with their pets It has made it easy to collect up some normal females. A lot of the reason can be economy is tough, you have to concentrate more on work, pet’s not getting attention, rats are expensive …
JM: $7 a pop in town.
TT: I sell them for $2.50 a piece.
TT: (laughs, then talks to a snake, “Hi girl, how you doing?” and pulls her out of a cage) pythons tend to be head-shy.
JM: You say it’s head-shy, it’s protecting its head because that’s where all the important stuff is, so if its tale is chewed off will it grow back … will it die?
TT: It very well could be. Now, one of the snakes I rescued it was in a bad habitat, I’m guessing it wasn’t cleaned often enough and was sitting in its own urine. Has a real bad scar down two-thirds of her belly. I’m pretty sure she had belly rot. It cleared up by the time I got her, but now and then it gets pink and I put a little medication on it. But they don’t exactly grow back is what I’m trying to say. (He pulls the snake in question out, lifts her up so we can see her belly.)
JM: Oh, that’s so sad! It’s almost like she was opened up and stitched back together.
TT: Yeah. She had belly rot and somehow that’s how it fused back together.
JM: Is she able to breed?
TT: I don’t know. I don’t think it should, her vent looks okay. I think I’ll try her this year. She spent quite a bit of time with my daughter as a dorm snake. She did have a couple of feeding accidents, she just got a little … a little over quick and now my daughter is afraid of her … she’s bit her a couple of times. One time, she was sitting on Rebecca’s shoulders, Rebecca was on her laptop and I think the movement of her hands just triggered that … “tschich” …
JM: Do they have good eye sight?
TT: No they do not. And it’s worse when they shed because their eyes shed as well. I think that’s why a snake in shed will not eat.
JM: So they rely on eyesight as much as smell?
TT: Smell, they smell with their tongues. Plus, ball pythons, boas don’t, but ball pythons have a row of heat pits. They sense heat that way. It’s like smelling heat. It helps them zero in on small rodents and stuff in the dark.
JM: And places to live, presumably.
JM: What’s your most expensive snake?
TT: I would not part with Moe now for less than a couple of grand, now that she’s had a year off and then I bred her with Merlin. She’s going to give me some pretty spendy snakes. As far as I’ve purchased (he pulls a snake out) she doesn’t look like much, but with the Mystics it’s what they can produce.
JM: So how do you know she’s a Mystic?
TT: She’s got the dark black. The tan here is sometimes almost a burnt orange. And I know the guy I got it from, he’d been producing Mystics all year.
JM: The black makes it punch with the color. It’s pretty striking.
TT: When I breed this with that, 25% of the eggs should be a graying purple with pink highlights.
JM: [whispers] what? (laugh)Wow, I want one of those! That sounds cool.
TT: I don’t even want to keep those. I just want to sell them. This little girl cost $1200 and she’s putting on weight since then.
JM: She’s like a year? Six months?
TT: Six months… I have two mystics, Merlin and Morgana. I have two Mystics that I will breed together to get Super Mystic. That will make it easier to make the Mystic Potions later. Breed the Super Mystic to Super Mohave to get 100% Mystic Potions. That’s a few years down the road, but each snake will still be worth maybe $1000 a piece. An entire clutch like that? (a rat peeps in the background. Thomas gets up to check the rat) I was feeding this morning, I thought I heard her take it…
JM: In the price of the snake, does it factor in how many generations go into the breed? Is that how the price comes about?
TT: Pretty much just on how rare it is.
JM: Which to a point is how many generations it takes… it’s patience to get there.
TT: Now, very few people have the Mystics. It’s no more difficult to breed than a Pastel, but few people have them so it’s rarer. (Thomas carries the rat from one bin to another, the rat is dangling around as he looks as tags to see who needs food)
JM: What’s the nastiest part of the job?
TT: The cleaning.
JM: So the feeding is no big deal? You’re fine with that?
TT: Naw. It’s nothing.
JM: Um… (riffle through questions) Can a person breed without heat lamps?
TT: I don’t use lamps at all. Ball pythons are an underground animal, not one that sits on a rock and bastes. Heat lamps will just dry them out. I use undertank heating. See this strip back here? That’s the heat, so they can move on to the heat or away if they want. I need to buy some bigger bowls so they can soak or bathe if they want. (Opens a bin) This guy is always in his water. Always.
JM: Does that mean he’s not good for breeding because he’s always in the water?
TT: Oh, he’d breed with a garden hose if you’d let him.
JM: Can he breathe?
TT: They can hold their breath longer than we can. He’s always in his water.
JM: What are the buyers like?
TT: Some buyers are pet owners, some are other breeders, I ship some across country?
JM: Is that an involved process? Are their wavers and such?
TT: Yeah. There’s a whole process getting approved by Fed Ex to ship reptiles. They have to go overnight. I send them in a box lined with Styrofoam to hold temperatures and then they are in a bag inside that so they don’t escape. For Fed Ex I had to send them a test package. “This is how I’m going to ship the reptile”
JM: Isn’t there an industry standard?
TT: Yes, but…
JM: You had to prove you knew what it was?
JM: People ship chickens in the mail. All kinds of things go through the mail.
TT: (Shows us a shipping box) Any of these females can handle this for 24 hours. I’ll feed them right before shipping … if they regurgitate during the trip, that’d be kind of messy.
JM: That would be an unpleasant package to open.
JM: Sounds like you have a good amount of contact with other sellers.
TT: I do. Most of them are younger than me. I have colleagues that have a couple of racks like this who are in little apartments. Then I have guys who would have them in big warehouse type facilities. Kind of the direction I want to go eventually, get some property and have an outbuilding in the back that I house most of this in.
JM: Yeah, so you don’t have to smell it.
TT: The snakes don’t smell as bad as the rats.
JM: At first I saw the POD outside and thought you were keeping the snakes out there.
TT: I had to bring the POD back here when my wife and I separated. We had to sort through a lot of stuff. Christmas stuff. We have to do the Halloween stuff. There was a livingroom set she wanted. She took the guest bedroom set. She wanted parts of the other set, but I said I was making payments on those. I didn’t remind here that there were only two payments left … (laughs) …
JM: Do you have a formal education?
TT: Some college.
JM: You didn’t train to be a snake breeder?
TT: No. I’m a programmer. Database, web programming. My main source of income is, business partner and I have about 25 internet games. I’ve started building this (snakes) up as a secondary business. Obviously it will be seasonal. Pour money into it all year long and then July, August, September I get to reap a little bit of benefits, but that will increase over time as the value of my animals goes up.
JM: Do you think you’re to the point where you’re making a profit?
TT: Not yet. Maybe… this year I’ve got some really nice projects, but I want to be holding back a lot of those as breeders for future years. So I don’t know how many I want to let go. I’ll be my own best customer. Just to cover their food bill, I need to get about $400 a clutch.
JM: That’s just pet store style? Each egg goes to a pet store? Or for specialty pricing?
TT: Well, that’s just average. This last year I had several clutches that didn’t make that and clutches that far surpassed that. That doesn’t include someone to clean, the electricity, someone to check in, the racks to hold them … that rack alone was $600. I need a couple more. But as I get more females and then more males that have dual qualities to them, dual morphs, the value of the clutches go up each year. Of course, the more common some of these get, the value of specific snakes will go down. Right now, pastel male you’re lucky to get $50 for.
JM: So how is it that the pet store in the mall can charge $75 for a regular ball python?
TT: Because they can. I can’t seem to get that kind of money.
JM: Is that just because people happen to be walking through and don’t know how to access you?
TT: Exactly. They don’t know how to access. (rat is peeping again, the 2nd snake didn’t eat it. TT puts the rat into a 3rd bin.)
JM: How do you get more traffic? If a snake is an impulse purchase for most people…
TT: I don’t have a pet store. I sell norms to a local pet store. Sell a few online. But most of the morphs I sell are through Kingsnake.com which is mostly other breeders. I’ve thought about trying to get some sort of storefront, at some point in time. If nothing else, be available for feeders, and, by the way, we have these high end pets for sale.
JM: So it would actually be a shop
TT: If I had the property, I’d put a shop onsite, hanging off the side of the house with some equipment, impulse items, make it quick to buy if they are coming to get a snake.
JM: That’s the thing with snakes, my impression is that it’s more of an impulse purchase. And as far as purchasing one online, I’m less inclined to purchase online even if it’s a fancy, specialty breed, because I want to see it and be sure it has the perfect pattern, something that draws me in.
TT: Photographs are nice.
JM: Yeah, yeah, but people want to think they have some kind of bond. People want to interface.
TT: If I sell to someone locally, they are welcome to come over here. I know there are security things, but I do have two Rottweiler so maybe that will slow them down. If they want a hatchling, I can show them the hatchlings and here are the spiders.
JM: So if someone comes over and says, “I want that one,” and it’s something you didn’t intend to sell, do you stand firm?
TT: It’s not for sale. Most everything is for sale if they come up with the right price. Most people are not ready to put $600 – $700 on a snake for a pet.
JM: Even though it’s going to last their entire lifetime, maybe longer than their lifetime.
TT: Many people want a bumblebee. I hatched two this year: one male, one female. I sold the male, somebody in Kentucky. My daughter is raising up the female. Everybody who came in here said, “Oh I want that snake.” Well, it’s $600. “Well, I’ll take the spider.”
JM: Yeah, too steep. How do you feel about the saturation? You touched on it at one point. As more people breed, they lose value?
TT: They do. That certainly is going to make it tough for guys like me because, you know, I’m buying animals for 500 that are now less than 300. Of course, I buy them as hatchlings for 500, they do build up value as they get bigger but overall they still depreciate. That’s going to be tough. I’m going to have to try to stay ahead. I have a couple of Mystics now. Next year I’m going to have to figure out what the next greatest thing is going to be and invest a couple grand in something high end.
TA: How do you keep ahead of trends?
TT: There are a few forums, like BallPythons.net is one of them. There’s a pretty active community out there.
TA: Is there a place where people discuss prices they get for animals they’ve sold? How do you determine market value those things?
TT: Kingsnake.com to see what people are trying to sell them for. Usually the market value is a little less than that. If it’s still sitting out there, that means no one is willing to pay that yet.
JM: Are you in a herpetological society?
TT: No. There is one based out of Seattle that I’ve looked into. I haven’t done anything about it yet. I’m still pretty new to this … though it doesn’t look like it. (laughs)
JM: You definitely plunged in with both feet.
TT: Well, I had a little extra income that I could dispose of. Up until a year ago, I put a lot of money in. Now I’m more careful instead of “another one, another one, another one.”
JM: Is that because of the change with your wife or the economy overall?
TT: The game sites aren’t making as much money as they were a year ago, so I don’t have as much disposable income.
JM: What happens when you get to old to do this and your snakes are still in their prime?
TT: You know … if I have someone doing a lot of the cleaning, I can still do a lot of this myself.
JM: Do you have a will to bequeath them to someone?
TT: Not yet. I’ll probably split them up between my kids.
JM: It sounds like the one daughter is really active.
TT: Well, this one belongs to one daughter, my other daughter has the female bumblebee, my son owns a male normal … he’s looking into going to vet tech school … my oldest daughter loves pets too she doesn’t own a ball python yet, but my kids share a love of animals. They’ve always had animals of many kinds around….
JM: You’re not concerned what would happen to your collection if something would happen to you?
TT: It might go to the four winds, you know, cause none of the kids have a place where they can do this. They might … they may go in and start selling and split up the money and whatever.
JM: You’re fine with whatever….
TT: Yeah. I’m sure what will happen is they will each pick a favorite and sell the rest. My son likes this Super Pastel. (the snake is small, a baby relatively speaking) If I breed this to a normal, I’ll get nothing but pastels. I got this for $450. I would like to, he’s just about big enough, put him with a female and see if he’s ready.
JM: With the females being so huge, do you worry about a small snake like that? They don’t aggress against each other?
TT: They’re well fed…
JM: Would a snake eat another snake?
TT: It has been known to happen in cases of overcrowding and lack of food.
JM: So they do cannibalize.
TT: It’s rare. Very rare.
JM: They don’t usually strike each other…
TT: No. Now, two males will strike at each other.
JM: How did you learn about this?
TT: Books, internet, lots of reading, and talking with other breeders…
JM: Are breeders receptive that way?
TT: Some are. There are some great guys out there that are more than happy to help. In turn, if I’m selling a snake, I’m an open book. If I had some special breeding project, I might not share the details, but …
JM: Do you think snakes are smart or dumb or somewhere in the middle?
TT: … I think they’ve got a curiosity about them. They love to explore. I don’t think they are moronic. I think the cat’s dumber than the snake. But they don’t come to their own name either. Of course, they don’t have ears.
JM: But they can hear.
TT: I’m sure they can, via vibrations.
JM: Here’s an advertising plug. Why would someone want to buy from you verses another breeder?
TT: Because I’m knowledgeable and I’m willing to share that knowledge with buyers. If they have trouble, for example they got a snake from me and suddenly it stopped eating, I’m here to help them. I’ve heard stories of people buying a snake from such-and-such pet shop and can’t get it to eat and the shop says it’s the new owner’s problem. Unless I know they are prepared for it, everyone has had pretty much 2 or 3 meals here and I’m here for back-up. If for some reason they can’t keep the snake, I hope they contact me first.
JM: Say someone says, “I want a blah-dee-blah type of snake” say a spider, you would facilitate that for them?
JM: Would you give a discount or is there a flat rate?
TT: It’s a sort of flat rate. If someone wanted a normal, as long as they are willing to learn about them, I’d give them a better rate than I’d give a pet shop. It’s more important for me that animal has a good home.
JM: That’s the trouble of what do you do with the normals you can’t help getting in a clutch.
TT: Usually pet shops. They sell for $20 or $30. I have a couple of pet shops that will buy them for about that.
JM: Do you have a source for inexpensive tanks.
TT: Not now, no.
JM: Do you recommend the bins? People at home like to have them on display.
TT: That’d be nice, but ball pythons would rather hide anyway. If you have proper hides for them, they’ll hardly come out anyway. Tanks are nice, but they’re hard to keep humidity up and temperature constant.
JM: As a breeder, do you feel like you’re playing God?
TT: I guess sometimes just in the “here what I want to breed together, what I’m trying to get.” Less playing God, more playing Scientist. This is a big science project. The results only come out once a year, but it’s … getting increasingly more interesting as the possibilities of what I come up with are becoming more and more infinite. This year I put together a list of all the possible combinations I could come up with this year. There are like 16 or 17 combinations I could get this year. Last year I could get 5 or 6.
JM: That’s the addition of new snakes?
TT: Yeah. Last year I only had one more female that I bred. I only have four or five males that I used. So I was limited to what those four or five males could produce. The bumblebee was a combination morph male and morph female. The better the animals I have to breed the more options.
JM: Where do the names come from? Bubblebee, Mohave?
TT: Pretty much the first to breed comes up with the name.
JM: You could potentially name something someday?
TT: Quite possibly. I have a female, I have to prove her out, this female is something I’ve never seen before. The first step is to prove and see if that’s genetic. Then there are a couple breeds she is similar to, to see if she’s one of those but I didn’t know it. There could be some interesting dollars in that.
JM: If you were going to name her, what would you name her?
TT: I have no idea. Right now I just call her Eleanor.
JM: Right now, a lot of the snakes have names that are something descriptive of how it looks. Is there room to call the new type of snake Eleanor?
TT: As a morph I wouldn’t call it Eleanor. I would try to come up with a better name for it. She reminds me of a Vanilla Pastel, or maybe a fire. When I get a couple of her babies, I will try to prove it.
JM: Is there a board or approval power to submit to?
TT: No, there’s no AKC.
JM: So is snake breeding considered a hobby? Your snakes don’t have papers that go with them…
TT: No papers. If it was an animal with a recessive trait, a lot of people sell snakes with recessive trait. If you’re smart you will buy one with a guarantee … some paper that says, “I guarantee that this is Hep for Albinism”, you’d be dumb not to get something like that otherwise people would be slipping in normals.
JM: What does the guarantee get you?
TT: Some piece of mind, pretty much. If something’s wrong, hopefully the company is still in business and they might replace it.
JM: So what are the game sites you have?
TT: The K of Camelot would be one. There’s also a Facebook and Myspace version of the same game. Browser based role-play games. They can play for free, but if they want extras they can pay for those via Paypal.
JM: Did you develop the plot lines for these?
TT: I build the engines and we have some administrators who develop the world that the players play in, they design items people can buy or sell, design weapons … that’s all in the admins’ hands. I just work the engines for them, make as many options for the admins to play with.
JM: How long have you been doing that?
TT: Three years.
JM: What were you doing before?
TT: I had recently, about six months before, sold my webhosting company. I had sold a company and I was busy trying to invest some of those funds … I didn’t do very well in the stock market. (laughs) My thought was, hey I’m pretty good at math, but I’m too emotional. I get frustrated. “I need to find a good trade for tonight.” If you don’t find a good trade, don’t trade. I’m too emotional. I can’t separate that. So I think I’m not right for the stock method.
JM: How’s that rat doing?
TT: Not getting eaten? This is probably the wrong time of day for this. (Thomas reads some cards to see who will take the rat). Who will take this rat? I want to put this rat out of its misery. I don’t want to look sadistic.
JM: This is part of the job!
TT: Who will eat this? She will. She eats everything. (Drops the rat in a bin and snap goes the snake around the rat, one big bite over its head while the snake’s body curls around and wrings the rat to death.)
JM: How does a person contact you?
More about Thomas: thomastremain.com