Snake may yield record-making offspring

Breeder expects eggs to be laid Nov. 18; eggs to hatch about 50 days later

Posted: Sunday, November 11, 2007

The nest box is ready and the incubator is purring.

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The 4-foot-long, pregnant green tree python is roaming about her cage, looking for a dark space to coil.

Owner Rich Culver's next step is to wait and see whether his snake hatches the first maroon albino green tree python bred in captivity.

"It's not only going to reverberate in my house, but it has the potential to reverberate across the country, if not the globe," Culver said.

In March 2004, Culver, a computer technician at Floyd Dryden Middle School, became the first person in Alaska to hatch green tree pythons in captivity.

Now, he's bred two snakes that are possible carriers of the rare "albino" gene. Only two other snake breeders in the world have successfully hatched albino green tree pythons.

"There's this little race within the world to not only get an albino tree python but also the first-ever maroon baby tree python," Culver said.

"It's sort of like a New York Times best-seller: 'The Albino Project,'" he said. "It's an amazing rush."

New Mexico breeder Damon Salceies hatched the first living albino green tree python in January 2002. Trooper Walsh, another American breeder, borrowed Salceies female albino-gene carrier.

Walsh bred it with a male and discovered that it, too, was a carrier of the albino-gene.

Culver bought a pair of snakes from this carrier clutch.

"I just happened to be lucky enough to get the opportunity," Culvert said.

Culver, a Juneau resident since 1993, has about 40 snakes in his house. He's been fascinated by the reptiles since growing up in Southern California.

"Some people like to make model airplanes," Culver said. "I like this."

Culver takes his snakes on presentations throughout the Juneau schools. He did the same thing when he lived in the San Francisco Bay Area.

"It's a hobby, a passion," he said. "I do things at a certain level. It allows me to incorporate my science background, my education background and behavioral biology."

The pregnant female weighs a little less than three pounds.

Female pythons have to wait five to six years before they reach sexual maturity. Males are sexually mature within several years.

Females stop feeding as they develop their follicles. Six to eight weeks after "going off-feed," they enter a 24- to 48-hour ovulation cycle. The snake swells considerably and one can almost see the eggs within her.

"You see these links of small sausage run through her body," Culver said.

About 20 days after the swelling subsides, the snake enters a shed cycle. Culver's snake shed on Nov. 3.

From there, it's 10 to 20 days until the snake lays its eggs. Culver is projecting an egg-laying date of Nov. 18.

Once the eggs are laid, Culver will "candle" them, or examine them with an avian light, to see if they're fertile. From there, it's 49 to 52 days until the eggs hatch. Conditions have to be perfect. Water or fungus will destroy the shell. Culver has four independent safeguards guaranteeing a consistent temperature and pressure inside the snake's case.

• Korry Keeker can bereached at 523-2268 or korry.keeker@juneauempire.com.



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