The Story of the Palmetto Corn Snake – South Mountain Reptiles

The Story of the Palmetto Corn Snake – South Mountain Reptiles

Palmetto (no aka)
Most Commonly Used Name: Palmetto

Mode of Genetic Inheritance: Incompletely dominant gene mutation.
Morph Type: Incompletely dominant to wild-type.
Eye Color: Black pupil and dirty white or blue iris, but some have colored flecking in their irises.
Mutation type: A variant of the mutated gene, Leucism

Before having the adult wild-caught male Palmetto shipped to me from South Carolina, I still had just one receptive female (an Amel) at the end of the 2009 breeding season, so I shipped her to SC in the hopes that the Palmetto male was in the mood.  In case something were to go horribly wrong in transit to Texas, rendering me without any vestiges of the gene mutation (we still did not know if this look was reproducible or its mode of inheritance), I hoped to at least have babies sired by him, with which to discover the inheritance of this stunning corn snake.


Some snakes (especially males) are reluctant to breed immediately after being shipped, and some can even arrive at their shipping destination with dead sperm.  If something HAD gone wrong in shipping and/or the Palmetto had refused to breed that season, getting on first base–toward the home run of reproducing this phenotype–may have taken an extra year, had I not sent that female to be bred by the wild-caught male?   

After introducing the male Palmetto to the novel Amel female corn I shipped, and after copulation confirmation, the inseminated female was shipped back to Texas.  After she arrived safely, the male Palmetto was shipped –and the rest–as they say–is now corn snake history...

The picture below of pipping Palmettos is from the pairing of two corns het for Palmetto.  The F1 generation did not, of course, yield any visual palmettos.  palmetto corn snake eggs

Status of the Palmetto in the marketplace: The adult male we had that was captured in the wilds of South Carolina in 2008 was–at that time–the only wild Palmetto known to exist in captivity. Several years later a picture of a young adult was published Online. According to the discoverer, it had ingested a rodent in her garden, just before the in situ photograph had been taken. To my knowledge, after taking that photograph the photographer walked away, leaving the wild Palmetto alive and well?  In 2010 we produced several heterozygotes.  In 2012, we bred several of the hets together, and a few back to the wild-caught adult male patriarch.  Ten homozygotes (aka: visual) Palmettos were sold by us in the U.S. and Europe that year. 

PRICE?  In 2011, the patriarch male was bred to only three het females (normal corns Het for Palmetto), so you can see that I was not on a mission to produce buckets of Palmettos in the coming years, hastening their market devaluation.  Even though Palmettos were pre-listed with the 2011 Hatchlings on our web site, none left SMR until 2012.

palmetto head stamp

In 2012, we pre-sold 2012 Palmetto hatchlings for $4,000.00 USD each, but only females were offered/sold.  We did not sell any males until 2015, and every male in the world remained here at SMR until babies were sold in 2015. It would not have been fair to those who invested in this landmark project for me to sell/trade/gift older males that year, so only hatchling males were sold in 2015. Likewise, no heterozygote males were sold until 2015.  That marketing strategy was wildly successful in slowing the usual result of over-population of these snakes in the hobby. 

john and travis

On July 4, 2015, John Stolz and Travis Whisler (of Travis Whisler Reptiles) bought all of our Palmettos, and are, today, still the largest producer of this amazing mutation in the world.  Many color and pattern mutations of corns have been bred to Palmettos, and some of those are strikingly beautiful, maintaining higher values than the classic Palmettos.

How the Palmetto Corn Snake got its name:

A perfectly natural trend exists in herpetoculture today to sometimes hastily assign hopefully unique names to newly-discovered mutations or morphs, but in the haste that often drives such assignments–usually via desire to be the first to name a new morph or mutation–insufficient consideration is given to the potential that some of the phenotypes of the new morph may not have immediate and parallel association with the new name, once they are mature.

Historically, in our hobby, upon reading the name of a new corn snake morph, one was meant to infer a mental expectation before seeing it, and if that expectation is met, the morph name would usually be successful in the marketplace.  Because of the highly colorful nature of corn snake mutations and their selective variants, namesakes are usually colors, fruits, or candies.

I labored over many names I thought befitted this unusual and stunning snake, but most were already assigned to other corn snake morphs.  Keeping in mind that not all of the descendants of the wild-caught male could have his general phenotype I was dubious about using color, pattern, or any reminiscent moniker as a namesake.  Therefore, I abandoned the visual namesake convention–in favor of a name that did not require a mental or visual association. 

Friends of mine at that time; Daryl Camby and Jim Godfrey suggested PALMETTO since none of them could ever render disappointment from not looking like a trendy/marketable namesake.  Of course, the name Palmetto is associated with the state in which this snake was captured; South Carolina (aka The Palmetto State). 

How can you be sure this is a corn snake, Don?
In the absence of DNA testing, it’s not possible to make a 100% positive scientific classification, but there are enough markers for me to say that I firmly believe it is a pure corn snake.  Most reptile mutants have features that are anomalous to their nominate forms, and such anomalies can be beyond the obvious habitat ranges and color & pattern features that normally distinguish them from other species.  Of course, not unlike the Leucistic Rat Snake that lacks any color or pattern resemblance to its species phenotype, the color and pattern of the Palmetto looks nothing like ANY other snake species.

Other than telling you that this snake was viewed by many corn snake keepers and breeders at one or more reptile shows prior to me acquiring him, and was thoroughly and painstakingly photographed by Bill Love of Blue Chameleon Ventures, I have closely compared the Palmetto’s anatomical features to those of Corn Snakes (Pantherophis guttatus) and to the only U.S. Rat Snakes found where this one was captured – (Black and Yellow Rat Snakes; Pantherophis obsoletus and Pantherophis quadrivittata).

In that those are the only two U.S. Rat Snake species that naturally occur in the vicinity of where the wild-caught male was captured, all Rat Snake references hereafter in the Palmetto morph discussion refer collectively to Black Rats and Yellow Rats–unless otherwise noted.

The Palmetto’s anal plate is divided like both Corn Snake and Rat Snake species, dorsal and lateral scales that are keeled conform more to Corns than Rat Snakes (even though some scale keeling is variable in captive-bred individuals of both species), the larger radius of The Palmetto’s ventral keel is like that of the Corn, vs. the sharper ventral keel of the Rat Snake, facial scales are generally shaped more like a Corn than a Rat Snake (count ranges are essentially the same for both species), and the Palmetto’s 70 subcaudal scale count barely overlaps the 63-90 count of the Black Rat Snake (not rare), but is well below the 75-102 count for Yellow Rat Snakes (P. o. quadrivittata) – thereby largely eliminating the Yellow Rat Snake as a genetic donor.  Hatchlings are nearly half the size/weight of hatchlings of the Ratsnake species in that region.  Adult Palmettos have NEVER even come close to being as long and heavy as most of those Ratsnakes.

Bear in mind that other than average adult size and DNA comparisons from reliable baseline sampling, the primary distinction between Corn Snakes and the SC Rat Snakes is in the realm of appearance (color and pattern schemes), so when a mutation dramatically deviates from a species’ appearance standards, cousin species like Corns and Rat Snakes are sometimes difficult to differentiate. Size distinction is surely the most convincing attribute that points to the Palmetto being a corn snake. 

Since temperament can be respectively anomalous in either of these species (some corns may perpetually bite and some Rat Snakes can be reliably friendly to humans), it is not reliable enough to attempt distinction in this realm, but more than 95% of all Palmettos produced to date have the gentle demeanor and human tolerance we expect from corn snakes (the polar opposite of most U.S. Ratsnake species).  Distinguishing between two species that have similar scalation can sometimes be challenging, since they may overlap each others’ scale-count ranges (as is the case here). I can’t imagine that we will ever see an adult Palmetto that comes even close to the average adult size of U.S. Ratsnakes?

Based on these observations, in my experienced opinion (and that of several other veteran Rat and Corn Snake keepers), the Palmetto is definitely a corn snake.  It is the first Leucistic mutation to be discovered in corns; albeit historically unusual-looking for a leucistic serpent–with its predictably reproducible color flecking, never before demonstrated in North American Rat Snakes.  

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