This article appears in the August edition of 400 Life Magazine
Living in Florida, a land full of slithery and scaly creatures, Jay Erickson, owner of Endless Scales in Cumming, produced his first litter of boas in 2013.
He said the litter was super hypo jungle arabesque 100% het albino.
Now, at first, that seems like a long string of words that may not mean anything to you. But to breeders, each of those modifiers are a category of snake coloring and patterns that are crucial to producing fascinating combinations.
“I started with a genetic powerhouse,” Erickson said. “I had to learn genetics right off the bat.”
Luckily, Erickson had a good friend in Florida, Richard Delbono, that could help him learn the basics of how to identify certain genes just by looking at a snake.
“[Delbono] used to quiz me on different things,” Erickson said. “Whenever he produced a litter [of snakes] or he saw something that was cool, he would send me a photo and ask me what it was. [Whether I got] it wrong or right, he would ask me what I saw, what characteristics I could see, and he’d tell me how to distinguish between different morphs.”
So let’s break it down
According to Embora Pets, a morph is “a genetic mutation that alters the appearance of the snake” while remaining the same breed.
After the litter in 2013, Erickson traded some of his snakes with Delbono to get his first boa with the desert gene.
The first desert boa was made by breeding a snow and hog island boa together, he said. This produced a gene that would have a “nice, creamy color.”
He said the gene had some “bad blood” and was “mismanaged” by breeders, so it quickly lost popularity amongst other breeders.
“Lawyers got involved, and that deaded the project for a while,” Erickson said.
Being a creative, ambitious person by nature, he tackled the challenge of working with the Desert gene and last year was able to produce the first Desert T-Positive Sunglow Jungle Motley in the world, which he said was “a really big step.”
“There are certain genetics where if you say you have the only one … it holds a little bit more weight,” he said.
Erickson said his biggest accomplishment was when he produced what he believes to be the very first Desert Sunglow Blood boa. He said if his genetic typing is correct, he would price the animal around $10,000 because it carries double recessive genes along with a Hypo trait.
Blood and Desert are both recessive traits, and they give snakes a red and a creamy appearance respectively. Hypo, short for hypomelanistic, is a gene that “fights against black and dark pigment,” so it keeps the snake’s coloration light.
“He’s really a beautiful animal,” Erickson said. “Even when he hasn’t shed, he’s still got that neon color.”
Since 2015, Erickson has produced countless Desert boas with different variations, though he’s been keeping a lot of his personal project under wraps.
“It’s about the recognition for a lot of people,” Erickson said. “Some people are a little bit higher on their egos than others, but I stay away from posting on the forums and only post when something is born and when it sheds.”
He said that he will post a few status updates on “the babies and then leaves them alone.” While he doesn’t do a lot of online posts, he still gets “big-name breeders” reaching out to him.
“Recognition is great,” Erickson said. “But I don’t [breed] my boas for that. I do it because I love to see what comes out at the end of the road. It’s like art.”
The science dictates patience
But as much of the breeding process is creating artful works on the snakes’ bodies, Erickson said that there is a lot of science and exact work that goes into producing a successful litter.
Temperature, proper age, proper time of year and food all play a large part in the breeding process, and when one facet does not align, he will have to wait close to a year to try again.
“I can only do so much,” Erickson said. “But with the right stuff, it’s pretty easy. Snake’s gonna do what snake’s gonna do. A carpenter is only as good as his tools, but at the end of the day, everything’s up to Mother Nature and her plan.”
He said that he typically starts to breed his snakes in October and that some females can “drop babies” by January while others take until April.
“It’s like a six-month period where you’re just waiting and checking and making sure the females are doing well,” Erickson said.
Patience and the values of life and family have been major takeaways, Erickson said, from his Desert boa project.
“I really couldn’t have done it without [my mom],” Erickson said. “She’s been a rider this whole time. I mean, when we had our first litters of boas, she was right there, and now she’s here [at the shop].”
His biggest influence
Erickson said that he and his mother, Penny Erickson, have gone to reptile shows together through the years and made so many trips to Tampa for the sake of snakes.
“One time we even went from here to Tampa and back in a day,” Erickson said. “Just to pick up … something. In one day.”
With his mother and other family members and friends by his side, Erickson said that he’s inspired to continue working on his personal project with the Desert gene and running his exotic pet supply store, Endless Scales.
“I don’t really see an end goal,” Erickson said. “I just want to keep going because there’s an endless amount of possibility in this industry.
“I just have a path, and once I get to a certain place on that path, I’ll lay a new one and keep going and going and going.”
In the future, Erickson said he hopes to breed the Aztec pattern gene into his Desert boas because it is one of his favorite patterns with “nice saddle shapes.”
He said that he is planning to release some of his female Desert boas next year.
“As I continue to build the project, I have that much more of a foundation to demand my price on what I feel like they’re worth,” Erickson said. “And the more I have to document and to highlight, the more respect people will have for the versatility of the gene. It’s a great gene.”
Endless Scales is located at 432 Canton Road in Cumming.
For more information about the shop, call 678-807-0481 or visit them on Facebook at Exotic Pets and Supply by Endless Scales.