In July of 2020, the staff of the Saint Louis Zoo was shocked when they discovered that their python was pregnant. Now, of course, that doesn’t seem too special right? After all, animal pregnancies and births occur all the time.
This one, however, was a little bit more special, and for more reasons than one.
First of all, the mother python who laid the eggs is estimated to be between 62 and 65 years old!
On average, wild Ball pythons usually live about 30 years in captivity before they pass away. The fact that this snake was even still alive in the first place was incredible – let alone still being able to conceive.
“She’d definitely be the oldest snake we know of in history,” Mark Wanner said to AP News, who is the manager of herpetology at the zoo.
The manager also mentioned that the python, who is unnamed, is definitely the oldest snake that has ever resided in a zoo. Female snakes usually lose the ability to conceive children a couple of years before they pass.
Another thing that made this snake pregnancy quite special, is that mom hasn’t come into contact with any male snakes for over 15 years.
“On July 23, something incredible happened at the Charles H. Hoessle Herpetarium at the Saint Louis Zoo — a ball python laid eggs! That might not sound too thrilling to some, but to our Herpetarium staff it definitely was. This particular female snake is over 50 years old (the oldest snake documented in a Zoo) and has not been with a male in over 15 years!” the zoo posted on their Facebook page.
Some people might think that it’s a miracle, given that you usually need a male and a female to conceive children, but there’s actually some science to it.
One possibility is that the snake had stored sperm in the past.
They are able to store it for a long period of time and use it as they see fit for delayed fertilization.
Serpents often decide to go this route so that they can get pregnant at a time that is simply more convenient to them.
However, the zoo staff believes that this snake was able to reproduce asexually, no partner needed.
In scientific terms, the process is called facultative parthenogenesis – a derivate of the Greek words for “virgin birth.” It actually happens quite often to a number of plants and insects.
Even though asexual pregnancies don’t occur very often in the world of vertebrates, it’s definitely not impossible either.
Sharks, birds, lizards, and snakes, they can all have babies without needing to have a partner. Females can grow unfertilized eggs on their own without the help of a male.
“Ball pythons, native to central and western Africa, are known to reproduce sexually and asexually, which is called facultative parthenogenesis. Snakes are also known to store sperm for delayed fertilization. Now the question is, which of the two explanations is the reason for the eggs? Without genetic testing, Zoo staff won’t know if this ball python reproduced sexually or asexually, but they intend to find out. As the keepers continue to incubate the eggs, they will be sending off samples for genetic testing,” the zoo staff added.
Even though it’s most definitely possible, it’s not exactly preferable.
Sure enough, it does come in handy if there are no male mating partners around, but the ‘normal’ way of mating with both a male and a female is the better option for the greater good.
Having too many asexual pregnancies can lead to a severe decrease in genetic variation amongst a group of snakes or species.
The mommy python delivered seven eggs in total.
Unfortunately, two of the seven eggs did not survive birth.
Two of the five others are going to get a DNA to find out how the python actually got pregnant, and three others are currently residing in an incubator. It takes about a month before the baby snakes will hatch.
Nature can definitely be incredible sometimes!
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On July 23, something incredible happened at the Charles H. Hoessle Herpetarium at the Saint Louis Zoo — a ball python…