A strange occurrence occurred in the reptile house at the Saint Louis Zoo: a ball python produced eggs despite having had no interaction with a male python for decades. A real powerful, self-sufficient snake.
The Saint Louis Zoo in Missouri reported this week that its zookeepers were taken aback when they discovered their 65-year-old ball python had deposited seven eggs in July. This was odd enough given the snake’s age, but their interest was piqued when they discovered the adult female had not been around a man in at least 15 years.
Ball pythons (Python regius), often known as Royal pythons, are grassland snakes endemic to central and western Africa. The normal ball python in captivity lives up to 30 years, therefore this individual is very ancient, especially for a mother-to-be.
“She’d undoubtedly be the oldest snake we know of in history,” said Mark Wanner, the zoo’s manager of herpetology, in relation to producing eggs.
This strange clutch of eggs is unlikely to be the result of secret lovers at night when the zookeepers are not there. Instead, the zoo claims there are two possibilities.
For starters, ball pythons and other reptiles may store sperm for later conception. This is a method that permits animals to have children when it is most convenient for them.
The python might also have reproduced asexually via a mechanism known as facultative parthenogenesis. Parthenogenesis, which derives from the Greek terms meaning “virgin birth,” is a rather common phenomenon in a variety of insect and plant species. It’s also not unheard of in a few vertebrate species, including certain lizards, snakes, rays, sharks, and even birds. This is a natural kind of asexual reproduction in which an unfertilized egg may grow and generate embryos in the absence of sperm fertilization.
It’s a very handy technique if a female isn’t in contact with a male over an extended length of time, but it’s typically seen as inferior to plain old-fashioned sexual reproduction because it might lead to minimal genetic variety among a population and comes with several hazards.
The zoo doesn’t know which of these situations is correct yet, but they aim to find out through DNA testing after the eggs hatch. If the female produced eggs asexually without the need for a man, this would be plainly demonstrated in their DNA.
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