Discover the Beautiful Pet Snake That Costs More Than a Purebred Horse

Written by Gail Baker Nelson
Published: August 8, 2022
Image Credit iStock.com/Florian DENIS
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Think You Know Snakes?

Snakes are popular pets — their needs are simple and few. Once you get their habitat set up properly, they’re typically easy to keep with low requirements for attention or training. They’re also one of the more affordable pets, and in most cases, the cost to set up the tank with substrate, light, and decorations will far outstrip the cost of your snake. You only have to set it up once or twice, then keep it clean. Yet, there are a few snakes whose purchase price far outstrips their enclosure and upkeep cost.

How Much Would You Pay for a Pet Snake?

Most snakes that you’d buy either from a breeder or a pet store range between $50 and $3,000. Yes, $3,000 is a lot of money for a snake, or any pet, really. Yet there are some that cost a lot more. For example, there are a few fancy ball python morphs and boa constrictors that can cost up to $15,000. And those fancy reticulated pythons? One of those will set you back $50,000.

These astronomic prices are because the snakes in question are the result of generations of selective breeding, and not all of them are completely healthy. Some, like the spider ball python morph, have neurologic defects that affect their ability to function as normal snakes. The color pattern gene seems connected to the defects. They cannot be bred out, and the only hope is for a high-functioning animal — all spider ball pythons will have varying degrees of problems.

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These prices are insanely high, and because of that they only appeal to a small number of reptile keepers. However, there aren’t many snakes straight out of their native forest that cost as much as a purebred horse.

This is where it gets interesting. There’s something inherently attractive about a rare, but breathtakingly beautiful animal that required no human intervention to become what they are.

Meet the Boelen’s Python…

Closeup of Boelen's Python head
This species has distinctive markings that make it easy to identify.

iStock.com/reptiles4all

This snake has the distinction of being naturally rare — not because of human intervention or damage, but because it reproduces slowly. It lives in the remote mountainous interior of the island of New Guinea. Boelen’s python is a beautiful iridescent black with cream to white markings. Its black scales shine with the colors of the rainbow, and it has black irises in large eyes set into a big, python head. It’s beautiful, and it’s naturally occurring. It didn’t take generations of selective breeding to come up with this snake; nature did it all by itself.

There’s one other thing — it’s illegal to export these from the Papua New Guinea side of the island. So, all of the wild-caught individuals should have been brought from the Indonesian west half of the island. Most of them anyway, because poachers will always be a problem.

What About Breeding Them?

Of course, the long-term goal is to be able to breed them so that those who would like to have Boelen’s python in their collection can have one without resorting to importing a wild-caught specimen. Yet, this snake hasn’t made it easy for breeders.

A few captive-bred snakes sold for $3,000-$4,000 about 5-6 years ago. As it becomes more widely known, it also becomes more sought-after, and more expensive. Yet, any captive-bred clutch is cause for celebration; breeding this snake is still sometimes referred to as the “holy grail” of snake breeding.

It’s not like we have a hundred years of experience with them like we do other species. And even the surprisingly delicate bushmaster was a challenge to keepers for many years. Nearly all wild-caught specimens died within weeks of being brought in — until they realized that the capture methods were the problem.

Besides, Boelen’s python wasn’t even known to western science until the 1950s. You see, explorers had described almost all the snakes around the coasts and lowland forests but hadn’t actually reached the interior of New Guinea. They had described most (if not all) of the pythons near the coasts and in the lowland forests but hadn’t ventured inland very far.

After all, exploring New Guinea isn’t easy. The terrain is nearly impassable except via “roads” — if you can call them that. Many of them are only navigable with the use of a well-equipped four-wheel-drive vehicle. Some roads were nothing more than game trails.

Another important factor is that you absolutely must have a guide. On this island, every scrap of land is owned by someone – be it a tribe or tribal member. They are fiercely protective of their land. If you’re in an area, someone knows you’re there. Even if you don’t see them. Stories of the unfortunate, unattended explorer being tied to a tree and having his manhood threatened with a machete aren’t uncommon.

Why is Boelen’s Python So Hard to Breed?

Like with all our snakes, the original specimens were wild-caught. And many still are, from the Indonesian west half of the island. As was the case with early bushmaster specimens, Boelen’s pythons were caught for export, but handled roughly and either injured in the process or stressed to the point of illness. So, by the time they reached their destination, the snakes were ill, injured, and sometimes nearly dead. Still, some snakes arrived in good health but flatly refused to breed.

The other challenge to breeding these snakes is that they don’t lay many eggs. Unlike some pythons, which can lay upwards of 40 eggs, Boelen’s python only lays 6-14 eggs in a single clutch. That, when factored in that most female snakes only breed every other year or more, makes an uphill battle for breeding.

How Much Does One Cost?

As of this writing, a hatchling that’s feeding well sells for over $10,000. I recently saw a young female offered at $11,500. Remember the price tag on some of the earlier clutches? That was less than 6 years ago. The cost of a captive-bred Boelen’s python has more than doubled in that amount of time.

It’s likely that the cost will continue to rise as their popularity increases.

After the hefty price tags placed on the fancy ball and reticulated pythons, this may seem downright reasonable. Yet few snakes with patterns straight out of nature command this sort of price. Golden lanceheads do, and that’s because of how dangerous they are and the difficulty in procuring, or rather, poaching one.

Who Would Want Such an Expensive Snake?

Well, truthfully — I would. I don’t want every one of my snakes to be expensive, and it’s not the cost I’m actually considering when I say that I want one. I tend towards loving the natural, “wild” patterns of snakes. Even my rescue ball python is a “normal” pattern. They’re beautiful in all forms, but especially as nature made them.

It’s as I said earlier, there is something inherently attractive about something naturally-occurring, and yet so rare and beautiful that all you can do is stare. So, they’re for people like me, but with bigger budgets.

But also, there are people who adore the rare in the world, those who love reptiles and want to see snakes like this live on, regardless of what happens in the wild. Some would keep a pricey snake like this for ego, but the vast majority simply love the snakes and want to educate the public. It’s our hope that education can quell some of the fears that people have regarding snakes.

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About the Author

Gail is a musician, author, and artist with more ideas than time. She loves learning about all things in the natural world. Her upcoming book, Pebble Worms and Fast Walkers is filled with all the random bits that kids love! She lives in North Texas with her husband, twin sons, dogs, cat, two red-eared sliders, and two ball pythons.

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