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Missouri Snake’s ‘Virgin Birth’ is Species’ First

posted: 09/21/15
by: Danny Clemens
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After going nearly a decade without any male contact, a female yellow-bellied watersnake in Missouri has given birth to offspring two summers in a row, officials say.

While none of this year's offspring survived, two of the snakes born last summer are healthy and now serving as educational reptiles.

"There is always a high proportion of infertile eggs due to chromosome combination, but a few can be successful and hatch if the mother has a dissimilar sex chromosome," herpetologist Jeff Briggler explains in a news release.

Yellow-bellied watersnake
Photo by Candice Davis, courtesy Missouri Department of Conservation

Scientifically known as "parthenogenesis," the so-called 'virgin births' were originally thought to be the product of sperm stored within the female's body for long periods of time. Experts say, however, that this female snake's eight-year dry spell is likely too long for viable sperm to have survived.

While this is the first instance of a yellow-bellied watersnake reproducing asexually, parthenogenesis has previously been observed in other species both in the wild and in captivity. The practice is relatively common in lizards and insects, and has also been noted in some species of sharks and snakes.

Mammals are not known to reproduce via parthenogenesis.

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