Many people, mostly people with calicos to sell, say that the two are the same gene. After all they do very similar things and there has yet to be a visually different homozygous form of either. I used to be in this camp, mostly because I had Flora and Fauna line Calicos for sale. Now I believe that the two genes are like Cinnamon and Black Pastel. You would be hard pressed to find anyone these days who believes that those two genes are the same. However for the first few years, many people, perhaps even most people believed that they were the same gene just with different wild origins that expressed themselves a little differently. After several years of working with Black Pastel and Cinnamon, the consensus among most of the ball python community is that Black Pastel and Cinnamon are different, separate genes. I can tell you from producing many of both lines and many combinations of both that there is no doubt in my mind that they are absolutely different. There is a different color and pattern unique to each gene. Although they are very similar and the homozygous is also very similar all the way down to the flaws in the genes.
So, let me back up and tell you how I have arrived at the conclusion that Sugar and Calico are different genes. I have been producing with the Calico gene since almost the beginning. I would have told anyone who asked that, without a doubt, calico and sugar are the same. That all changed for me while walking through a reptile show several years ago. I saw a Pastel Sugar on another vendor’s table that blew me away. I certainly had never produced anything like this animal using the calico gene. I inquired only to find that the animal was not for sale. This started my quest to find a true line of Sugars to work with. I saw a classified advertisement and called the seller to ask about some “sugars” he had for sale. I asked him where his line came from. He seemed a little unsure. After a few minutes of hemming and hawing, he admitted that the person who had sold him his breeding stock had told him they were sugars but that he did not know for sure if they were. This is unfortunately a common practice in the reptile industry, telling people what they want to hear. If a customer calls asking for a calico, they get a calico, if they call asking for a sugar, they get a sugar. After all, they are the same thing anyway, right? Well, this practice has caused many problems in trying to sort this mess out. I think early on some people were sold true sugars as calicos and vice versa. This has deepened the resolve of the “same gene” crowd because the genes have become somewhat convoluted. After several months of searching, I finally tracked down a true Sugar from a reliable source. I was most convinced not only because of the source being trustworthy, but because of the actual breeding stock that I acquired. It was breath taking, simply stunning. In my opinion, a ball python does not get much better looking than a true Pastel Sugar. I immediately started refining this new line by breeding to certain females that would bring out the most desirable characteristics of the sugar gene. These are really reduced, really clean girls. Now I had heard about this technique a few years earlier. I had tried to breed my calico line to these females thinking that I could produce something similar to the sugars I had seen but with less than stellar results. So, now I finally had my own true Sugars.
Now let me explain how I think they are different and why you should care. In 2011, I purchased a Pastel Calico Fire from Dan Wolfe. This was a pretty animal and I really wanted to skip some time and take a little different direction. I also like to have variety so if people ask me for calico combos I will have those as well. I bred the male I received from Dan to several normal female that have the reduced, clean look that has helped me make some really stunning Sugars and Pastel Sugars the year before. I also worked that year to produce my own Pastel Sugar Fires or as I like to call them Sugar Flies. So, I had some real side by side comparisons that first year.
Here is the the original male Pastel Calico Fire that was produced by Dan using the Calico gene.
This is the first Sugar Fly I ever produced, aka Pastel Sugar Fire
After working with both genes here are a few observations. I can never get the really extreme white coming up the sides with the Calico. While Fire helps clean things up, the calico still has a lot of noise in the yellow/white parts. I have replicated these results over and over. So I have both genes, I can sell you anything you want. What do I have to gain by going on this crusade to convince you that the two genes are different? Here’s what. Better looking ball pythons. I have proven, to myself at least, that the calico is inferior to the sugar. Many other people agree and this has been reflected in the price that people are willing to give for both genes. This belief that calico and sugar is the same has become so ingrained in the reptile community that it is making people overlook a really great tool in our breeding arsenal because they think they already have it.
I am not only relying on my own breeding results. I look at what breeders like Karl Buckler have accomplished using this gene in just the last couple of years. These are stunning animals and I believe this gene should be promoted so we can see more of what it is capable of. If you have the calico gene in your collection and you have overlooked the sugar, I think you should reconsider. I am asking you to consider adding this line of Sugar to your collection and giving it a try. I am not saying that you should not get a Calico or that Calico is bad. People have produced some really cool combos using the Calico gene. I am sure that someone can post a really cool example of a Calico or Calico combo that they have produced. I am just advocating for people to work with both lines. I am aiming for consistency here. I don’t want to produce a cool animal here and there. I want to produce mostly cool ones with only the average one here and there. I think the Sugar will help you achieve this goal. Don’t take my word for it, see for yourself. I think you will discover, as I did, that there is a big difference in the animals that you will produce using the Sugar line. Before you go shopping for a Sugar you should be aware of a couple of things. There are people out there selling calicos as sugars. Be careful, ask a lot of questions, but mostly just let your eyes tell you if it is legit. The Sugar line does not produce those really dirty, ugly looking pastel calicos. If someone is trying to sell you a sugar and it does not look like one then it probably isn’t. I have not sold this gene to anyone who has regretted breeding with them. Most genes have become so inexpensive that there is not really much to risk. I think if you try one I am betting you will agree that Sugars are much sweeter than Calicos.
Below is a typical Pastel Calico
Below is a Pastel Sugar from my website. This is not a unique production. We produce animals like this consistently.
What do you think and why do you believe the way you do? I have given my reasons for believing they are different. If you disagree, tell me why?