In a bizarre mash-up of biblical narratives, a female serpent in southeast Missouri gave ‘virgin birth’ to live offspring, all without any interaction from a member of the opposite sex.
The yellow-bellied water-snake at Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Centre has been alone and devoid of male companionship for around eight years. Nevertheless this is the second consecutive year the animal has reproduced on her own.
Jordi Brostoski from the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) said that whilst virgin birthing, or parthenogenesis, is common among insects, it has only infrequently been observed in snakes species before.
For many years, it was believed that such births were the result of the female snake storing a male’s sperm for later use. However, advances in genetic research and testing has started to contradict this once-established view and besides—in this specific case—the Missouri snake had been away from male snakes too long for her to store sperm anyhow.
Brostoski speculated that the female snake might be going through virgin births because she hadn’t been around males for so long.
‘She’s at that age where she’s completely able to reproduce… It seems like a reproductive survival technique,’ Brostoski said. ‘Without a male, she wants to go ahead and produce offspring. That’s what she’s driven to do.’
This year’s offspring sadly didn’t survive, but the two born last year are currently on display at the nature centre, about 100 miles south of St Louis.