Wondrous Wildlife
By Vern and Lori Gieger
Wild, Exotic or Domestic?

After a recent educational event we were sitting around chatting with friends, one commented on how beautiful Flamita is. Flamita (little flame) is a corn snake, but not your normal corn snake, her unusual red, orange and cream color is the result of  genetic manipulation; which is responsible for a wide variety of colors and patterns among pet snakes. As the conversation progressed it was asked so is she wild or domestic? This prompted us to do some research. 

These color variations are known as morphs. You won’t find much in the way of physical differences in snakes of the same species when it comes to morphs, only the color. These genetic mutation morphs are a result of selectively breeding the snakes for different color traits; this happens at the DNA level. Almost all animals have been selectively bred by humans at one time or another. Dogs and cats are perfect examples.

They have been bred for thousands of years to obtain hundreds of different looks, temperaments, color patterns etc. Snakes are just like any other living animal—a variety of factors can be affected by genetics however it has only been seriously pursued for the past 20 or 30 years.

Obviously these snakes’ color did not occur naturally and they wouldn’t fair very well in the wild because of their lack of camouflage; so we ruled out wild even though their ancestors are wild, but so is the case with several animals we now consider domestic. 

 Now we come to exotic—an exotic pet is loosely defined as any pet that is not a dog, cat, fish or horse. Others define exotic pets as anything that is wild / not domesticated. However, this is not a precise definition either, since there is not an exact definition of the time when an animal that is tame and /or has been bred in captivity for years crosses the line from wild to domestic, as with horses for example.

It seems the term exotic pet is a convenient catch-all phrase used to describe non-traditional pets. Using this definition, many domestic animals would fall into the category of exotic pets, despite the fact they may have been domesticated for thousands of years, such as ferrets and camels. All camels are now considered domestic. I guess in this sense, exotic simply means a bit unusual. Um, I know a few people who could fall into that category; though I believe the polite expression would be eccentric.

Still in the curious mode and finding the definition of exotic pet complex and open to interpretation. We decided to investigate the definition of a domestic animal and found it quite interesting; domestic animals officially means an animal of a species of vertebrates that has been domesticated by humans so as to live and breed in docile conditions and depend on humans for survival. Such as dogs, cats, other tame animals or birds and which serve some purpose for its owner.

Sitting here admiring Flamita’s immense beauty, and her calm demeanor, as she gently glides across my laptop dusting it off in the process, I say yes, Famita is domestic. She even takes her supper ever so gently from our hand; unlike some of my dogs, after giving them a treat I count my fingers.

Note: We would like to thank the Tingens and Paul Raza for their support for the protection of wildlife.