|What’s in a Name?
Coming up with an appropriate name for this snake was troublesome. Hypomelanistic Durango Mountain Pine Snake is certainly a mouthful. Just contemplating the act of saying it makes one weary. Also, a unique designation is needed to keep from confusing this particular hypo with other potential hypos and, to cover all bases, all future hypos. So, to avoid the embarrassment of some cutesy appellation concocted after one too many gin and tonics, we are going to take the chicken’s way out and call these animals — VR Hypo Deppei, aka, VRHD. If you are really lazy you can just call them VDs . . . though blurting out that you want some VD could raise a few eyebrows.
Enter the VRHD
Our group of deppei originated from the Los Mimbres collecting locality in the state of Durango, Mexico. We were fortunate to have begun our deppei journey with wild and F1 animals. This gave us a broad array of genetic variation from the beginning. The emergence of the VRHD gene(s) came relatively late in the history of our work with the species.
The casual way that the term “hypomelanism” is bantered around when discussing coloration in animals (reptiles in particular) can be confusing. Sometimes the term "hypomelanism" is invoked when pattern elements normally composed of dark pigment are greatly reduced in size or are missing altogether. An example being the severely reduced or missing black rings on certain line bred strains of tri-colored kingsnakes. In other situations, the term hypomelanism is used when the melanin on an otherwise normally colored animal is sill present but in a very watered down or dilute form. The dilution often occurs to such an extent that normal pattern elements appear dramatically lighter and often more colorful as the masking effect of melanin is reduced. Colors on such animals generally appear both substantially brighter and more saturated. To make things a bit more confusing there are actually three types of melanin: eumelanin, pheomelanin and neuromelanin. Neuromelanin is found only in nerve cells and doesn't impact coloration. Recent research indicates that both eumelanin and pheomelanin are responsible for reptile pigmentation. Of the more common eumelanin there are two types—brown eumelanin and black eumelanin. For simplicities' sake we will coral all the various melanins and their machinations under the catchall, "melanin."
Enter the VRHD and both the aforementioned examples of hypomelanism occur at the same time, often on the same animal. The coalescing of the two types of hypomelanism on one animal seems a strange and unusual occurrence and one has to wonder if they are indeed linked genes. On areas of the snake where the dilute melanin scenario is at work the dilution can appear nearly complete, similar to albinism. Normally black or dark pigmented pattern elements such as the primary blotches are often rendered a light, clear, fleshy pinkish lavender. True black on the VRHDs is either missing altogether or is restricted to a fine edging around the dilute saddles - an enchanting filigree of black. This effect alone is stunning. The background area, which serves as a foil for the primary blotches and other pattern elements, is wildly variable in color and saturation but can be divided into three basic color groupings which are summarized as follows:
We coined the term "Summer Phase" to describe all of the VRHD with background coloration composed in large part by various shades of yellow. Indeed, viewing animals from this grouping reminds one of extravagant warmth and bright, clear sunshine. The yellow background on Summer Phase animals varies from a warm, pastel yellow to a blinding lemon yellow. The normal deppei penchant for variation applies here with striking results.
VRHD with the background area composed mainly of various shades of white have been designated as “Winter Phase.” The white background against which the other pattern elements are laid calls to mind stark fields of snow and ice illuminated by a bloodless winter sun. The white background on these animals varies from a clear, luminous ivory to an extraordinarily brilliant snow white. The cool, frosty appearance of these animals seems directly at odds with their Summer Phase brethren.
This color phase seems to occur less frequently than the Winter and Summer phases. The small sample size prevents any meaningful conclusions, however. As the name suggests, the Pallid Phase is pale with a decidedly "washed out" appearance. The melanin is there but on larger specimens there is no real black only a medium brown. Although the production of yellows and reds is greatly impaired on these snakes, muted versions of these colors are still there.You have to really strain to find traces of yellow and red on larger individuals. The product of these color alterations is a soft, stone washed effect with larger specimens being the most dramatic. The whites on these animals are soft in tone, never glaring white as many of the Winter Phase can be. The effect of the soft toned white enhances the over all pale, washed out appearance of these snakes. It is too early to make any substantive claims what genetic machinations are at work here and how they might relate functionally with the other two main color phases. Because of the paucity of data, for the time being, we are purposely avoiding terms such as anerythristic, hypo-erythristic, incomplete dominance, etc.
Summer and Winter Black
As mentioned before, some Summer and Winter phase VRHDs sport some very limited black. It exists as a delicate, filigree or tracery, one scale or less in width around some dorsal pattern elements. This black filigree, when present, is usually restricted to the anterior third of the snake. This is usually a deep, inky black with no dilution on younger animals but on older/larger animals it often appears as a medium to dark purple on its bleeding edges and areas where the dark pigment has been thinly applied. This rather delicate detailing lends a sophisticated polish to an already devastatingly beautiful animal.
As stated earlier, normal Las Mimbres deppei can be quite variable in pattern. The genes responsible for the hypomelanism in the VRHD are evidently linked to genes that control pattern variability as well. This situation is not too unusual as pattern abnormalities are known to sometimes accompany hypomelanism in other reptiles. However, the VRHD take pattern variation to an all-time high. In fact, from what we have seen early on, VRHD seem to possess genetic "sets" or "families" of pattern variation. This project is still very much in its infancy and we are still on a journey of discovery with the pattern types. A few of the more common pattern types are described here with the list being nowhere near complete:
As the name implies, this is the pattern family that the normal pattern variations fall within. Typically, normally patterned VRHD have pattern variations on a theme of pronounced, wide dorsal blotches often with some striping present laterally on the anterior 1/3 of the snake. The background is generally clear of pattern but often contains scales with darker pigmentation along the "ridge" of the scales.
Animals belonging to the striped group have longitudinal, mid-dorsal striping that can occur as a stand-alone pattern or in different combinations with other pattern types. The striping is usually composed of a single line of background color. The stripe is often bordered on each side by darker pigment that is sometimes but not always reflective of what would normally be the blotch color. Black filigree may or may not be present. Striping can be continuous or interrupted with starts and stops. When incomplete, the striping somehow manages to integrate very tastefully with the other pattern types. The width of the striping varies between three to six scales wide.
As the name implies, pattern elements can seem to "disappear" into the background color. Unlike “vanishing” patterned kingsnakes, the pattern elements of the VRHD actually begin to vanish with age and in some areas, disappear all together into the background. There is no set area on the snake where this happens but it seems to generally occur most often on the forward 2/3 of the body.
This is most likely related to the disappearing pattern except that with faded pattern animals the pattern remains intact but appears as a "ghost" of what it would normally be. The fading appears to increase with the age/size of the animal.
A very unexpected pattern type, even for deppei. There seems to be significant variability within this pattern type. The spots are generally round and symmetrical with regard to each other and are placed along the dorsal apex of the spine. They can vary wildly in diameter between specimens exhibiting the trait. The diameter of the spots varies between 3 and 8 scales wide. The spotted pattern type seems to "clear the decks" of other pattern types in the immediate areas where the spots occur. However, blocks of the spotted pattern can be combined with other pattern elements as one moves down the length of the snake.
There has been no line breeding for VHRD color or pattern types at this point. The color and pattern types on tap now have arisen spontaniously. It is hard to imagine what the fruits of line breeding will yield. It does appear that there may be other pattern and/or color variations. There are also signs that super forms of these animals may exist as well. There is already an embarrassment of riches with these fantastic animals as it is so we will draw the line here for the time being.
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