Giant Snake Has Virgin Birth

Reticulated python had 6 babies, with no male in sight
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 24, 2014 1:42 PM CDT
Giant Snake Has Virgin Birth
This photo provided by Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo shows a male reticulated python on May 10, 2011.   (AP Photo/Woodland Park Zoo, Ryan Hawk)

Sorry, gents, you might be getting phased out of the reproduction loop—at least when it comes to the world's longest snakes. Thelma, a 200-pound, 20-foot-long reticulated python who lives at Kentucky's Louisville Zoo with her female roommate Louise, gave birth in 2012 to six female babies. This wasn't only a happy occasion but a decidedly strange one, because Thelma had never been near a male snake, National Geographic reports. Sure enough, DNA evidence published this summer in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society shows that Thelma is, indeed, the sole parent, which has amazed her keepers. "We didn't know what we were seeing—we had attributed it to stored sperm," says the zoo's curator of cold-blooded animals.

Although this sort of asexual reproduction has been seen in other snakes and reptiles—even in other pythons—it's reportedly a first for the reticulated variety. Scientists don't know exactly why it happens, though some think it has to do with an adaptation a female snake's body makes if she's been kept away from males for too long. The zoo's curator suspects that "ideal living conditions" may have led to the births: "I had fed her a really big meal, 40 pounds of chicken. She was living in an exhibit larger than the typical size. There were heat pads. Everything was optimal." The six offspring are still healthy. (Luckily, the 3-foot-long python this couple found in their couch wasn't pregnant.)

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