With more than 3000 known species and more being discovered on a regular basis, there are a lot of snakes out there. Countless captive snakes are bred on a regular basis, and it’s common for multiple snake species to inhabit the same area in the wild. Whether out of curiosity or the desire to have a one-of-a-kind snake, many wonder if any of these species have ever mixed. Can snakes crossbreed, and do snakes crossbreed in the wild?
It is possible for snakes of different species and genera to crossbreed, and hybrids of numerous species have been produced. However, members of distantly related families are unable to crossbreed. The practice of hybridizing is controversial, as crossbreeding in the wild is incredibly rare, so hybrids may be considered unnatural.
In this article, we’ll cover how crossbreeding works in the snake world as well as list some common snake hybrids.
What Is Crossbreeding?
To truly understand when snakes can and cannot crossbreed, there’s a few things we’ll have to cover. Taxonomy is an insanely detailed and confusing field of study, but luckily the basics are pretty straightforward. After that, crossbreeding is easy to understand.
All animals are organized into groups and subgroups based on how closely related and/or similar they are. From broad to specific, these are kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. By definition, all snakes fall under the same kingdom, phylum, class, and order. Therefore, the only thing that distinguishes snakes from one another are their family, genus, and species.
For instance, the ball python species is a member of the python family found within the Python genus. The corn snake species is a member of the colubrid family found within the Pantherophis genus. The rainbow boa species is a member of the boa family found within the Epicrates genus. Each species may also have subspecies, which refers to two or more distinct populations within a species, and many snakes have different appearances, or morphs.
How Crossbreeding and Hybridizing Works
With these definitions in mind, crossbreeding refers to the mating between different morphs and/or hybridization, which is the mixing of two different species at any level, such as genus or family.
The offspring of different subspecies may be referred to as hybrids, but those of different morphs typically aren’t. Crossbreeding and even hybridization can occur in the wild, but it is much more common in captivity.
Can Snakes Crossbreed?
Now that we’ve discussed some basic terminology and figured out the definition of crossbreeding and hybridizing, we can dive into whether or not snakes are able to crossbreed.
Can Snake Morphs or Subspecies Crossbreed?
Breeding between two snakes of the same species, known as intraspecific breeding, is common in the wild and in captivity. Subspecies are typically separated from one another geographically, but as rat snakes demonstrate, readily create hybrids in areas where they overlap. These couplings, known as intergrades, are just as easy to produce in captivity as they are in the wild.
Typically, different morphs can readily mix and can produce some wild and beautiful combinations, and selective breeding for certain traits can create new morphs over time.
Can Snake Species Crossbreed or Hybridize?
In order to crossbreed, snakes have to be closely related. This means that it’s often possible to breed snakes of different species within the same genus, known as interspecific hybridization. Intergeneric hybridization– that is, breeding snakes of different genera within the same family– is possible and has even occurred in the wild, but is much more difficult and uncommon.
Any more distant than that, however, is impossible, so snakes in different families or superfamilies are entirely unable to hybridize under any conditions. For instance, there have not been any hybridizations between venomous and non-venomous species and most scientists do not consider this possible as these snakes are distantly related.
Meanwhile, hybridization with venomous species is possible, resulting in mixed venom as in the case of a study on rattlesnake hybrids.
In other words, while you may find the odd corn snake and rat snake pairing in your local pet store, you certainly won’t find a ball python and corn snake hybrid crawling around your backyard.
Do Snakes Crossbreed in the Wild?
By definition, different snake species do not regularly crossbreed in the wild. This may be due to geographic, behavioral, or genetic differences. As members of the same species, distinct subspecies have been known to hybridize often in areas where populations overlap.
Interspecies hybridization is uncommon, but it’s difficult to classify exactly how rare this phenomena is, due in part to debates over what is considered a different species from a genetic versus naturalistic level. On the one hand, even snakes from the same genus artificially placed in the same environment may have difficulties breeding with one another. On the other hand, there is some evidence to suggest that natural interbreeding between wild venomous snakes may be advantageous.
Crossings of different genera in the wild are known to be incredibly rare, to the extent that only three natural instances of wild hybrids have ever been reported by scientists through DNA testing. Two of these specimens were bullsnake x foxsnake hybrids found in Iowa and Minnesota, and the third known intergeneric crossing was the hybrid of a Crotalus rattle snake and a Sistrurus rattle snake. All three of these snakes are considered very unusual despite the territory of these species overlapping and there being no biological barrier to hybridization.
Finally, while it may not be natural, invasive species breed readily in “the wild.” Artificially introduced invasive species are known to hybridize with natural species they would otherwise never come in contact with, and two invasive species can also hybridize in their introduced area. In Florida, African rock pythons and Burmese pythons have hybridized to produce so-called “supersnakes,” posing a massive threat to local wildlife and certainly not helping with a snake’s already rough reputation.
Should You Crossbreed Snakes?
As we’ve explored, it is very possible to crossbreed snakes of different species, but the more difficult question to answer is if you should. The ethics behind creating hybrids are complicated, to say the least. While some point out that hybrids can be perfectly healthy and viable while maintaining the original species, others note that many hybrids have health issues or are even sterile.
Several species have been crossbred with others successfully on numerous occasions, and there haven’t been any notable studies about whether or not snake hybrids are healthy or unhealthy. Many owners have reported healthy, long-lived hybrids.
That said, it’s common for even specific morphs to have health problems, so playing with genetics is a tricky issue even within a single species. Fertility issues, stargazing, wobbler syndrome, and a variety of other neurological and vestibular disorders have become closely associated with certain morphs to the extent that they may be banned, and it’s unknown if specific hybrid combinations are susceptible to certain health issues.
At the end of the day, hybridizing is a tricky, heated topic, and it is ultimately up to you whether or not you are willing to buy hybrid animals or crossbreed your own animals.
Common Snake Hybrids
Regardless of your stance on crossbreeding snakes, it is increasingly common in the reptile trade, and several hybrids have become staples in herpetoculture. Some of the most common hybrids involve corn snakes and ball pythons, but there’s a wide range of crossbred snakes that are commonly bred.
Corn snake hybrids
- Jungle Corns: California Kingsnake (Lampropeltis californiae) x Corn snake (Pantherophis guttatus)
- Tri-Color Jungle Corns: Ruthven’s king snake (Lampropeltis ruthveni) x Corn snake (Pantherophis guttatus)
- Cornduran: Honduran milk snake (Lampropeltis t. hondurensis) x Corn snake (Pantherophis guttatus)
- Sinacorn: Sinaloan milk snake (Lampropeltis t. sinaloae) x Corn snake (Pantherophis guttatus)
- Pueblacorn: Pueblan milk snake (Lampropeltis t. campbelli) x Corn snake (Pantherophis guttatus)
- Beast Corns: Black rat Snake (Pantherophis obsoletus) x Corn snake (Pantherophis guttatus)
- Creamsicle: Great Plains rat snake (Panterophis g. emoryi) x “Amelanistic” Corn snake (Panterophis guttatus)
- Rootbeer: Great Plains rat snake (Panterophis g. emoryi) x “Normal” Corn snake (Panterophis guttatus)
- Turbocorn: Gopher snake (Pituophis catenifer) x Corn snake (Panterophis guttatus)
Corn snakes are one of the most popular species to hybridize, and for good reason. Compared to other species, corn snake hybrids have been shown to be fertile, specifically with any member of the Pantherophis, Lampropeltis, and Pituophis genera. These hybrids have proven to be hardy for several generations and can produce stunning offspring.
Mutations have been able to be transferred from one species to the other, as in the case of scaleless corn snakes, which are typically hybrids between captive corn snakes and wild-caught scaleless specimens of other species. Due to the number of species within these genera and how viable their mixed offspring tend to be, there are countless popular combinations in addition to the ones listed above.
Ball python hybrids
- Superball: Blood python (Python brongersmai) x Ball python (Python regius)
- Wallball: Woma python (Aspidites ramsayi) x Ball python (Python regius)
- Burmball: Burmese python (Python bivittatus) x Ball python (Python regius)
- Angry Ball: Angolan Python (Python anchietae) x Ball python (Python regius)
- Carpall: Carpet python (Morelia spilota) x Ball python (Python regius)
- Balltic: Reticulated python (Malayopython reticulatus) x Ball python (Python regius)
Seeing as ball pythons are one of the most common pet snakes, it only makes sense that ball python hybrids would be popular. Like corn snakes, ball pythons have countless captive morphs, and to many hybrid breeders, combining this with other species only adds another layer of complexity. Ball pythons are typically bred with slightly larger python species such as blood pythons, but may also be successfully bred with monster-sized snakes like reticulated pythons.
Individual pairings, such as the superball combination mentioned above, have dedicated fanbases with extensive hybrid lineages. Ball python hybrids are often combined with other species, producing beautiful snakes with increasingly confusing names, such as super angry royal pythons, which are a mix of ball pythons, angora pythons, and blood pythons.
- Carpondro: Green tree python (Morelia viridis) x Carpet python (Morelia spilota)
- Borneo Bateaters: Burmese python (Python bivittatus) x Reticulated Python (Malayopython reticulatus)
- Cottonhead: Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus) x Copper head (Agkistrodon contortrix)
- Batwings: Eastern Diamondback (Crotalus adamanteus) x Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus)
- Gabinos: Rhino viper (Bitis nasicornis) x gaboon viper (Bitis gabonica)
- Boaconda: Columbian boa (Boa imperator) x Green Anaconda (Eunectes murinus)
- King snake and milk snake (Lampropeltis) combinations
- Amazon tree boa (Corallus hortulana) x Emerald tree boa (Corallus caninus)
While ball pythons and corn snakes may be the most popular snakes involved in hybrid pairings, there are plenty of outliers. This includes venomous hybrids such as Batwings and Gabinos as well as the increasingly popular Carpondro and Borneo bateaters. Countless combinations can be found between different king snake and milk snake subspecies, with many having their own followings. Plenty of combinations outside of the above can be found, so don’t be surprised if you come across a bizarre pairing at your next reptile expo!
While not every two snakes can produce viable offspring, snakes are able to hybridize and crossbreed successfully in captivity, and some species have even been observed hybridizing in the wild. It is possible for snakes to breed between species and genera, but those in different families or other greater classes are unable to interbreed even in ideal conditions. While the ethics of cross-breeding animals is hotly debated in the reptile community, hybrid snakes are becoming increasingly common in the pet industry.