It looks like ladies don’t need a man, after all. Well, lady snakes, that is. To their surprise, the staff at the Louisville Zoo welcomed 6 new reticulated python babies in 2012 from a mother snake, which actually wasn’t the weird part.
What was more surprising was that the mother snake, aka Thelma, had never come in contact with a male snake during its entire 11-year life–producing the babies via a “virgin birth” or Parthenogenesis. Parthenogenesis is “a form of asexual reproduction in which growth and development of embryos occur without fertilization.”
As explained in a Huffington Post article about another virgin snake birth, “[births without contributions from a male are] caused when cells known as polar bodies, which are produced with an animal’s egg and usually die, behave like sperm and fuse with the egg, triggering cell division.”
To further prove investigate this amazing phenomenon, the staff at the zoo had shed skin from both the babies and the mothers compared on a molecular level and found that 100% of the baby snakes’ DNA was from the mother. As one of the largest snake species in the world, the Louisville Zoo was thrilled to have such unique, “immaculate” snake specimen. (As one of the largest snakes in the world, reticulated pythons can also eat very large dinners…in one case, a whole pig!)
While the reticulate python birth was the first documented instance of Parthenogenesis in that species, “virgin births” have also been known to occur in some species of fish, amphibians, birds, and reptiles, but not in mammals (yet…).