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Lady snake gives birth after being alone for eight years, doesn’t need men

The yellow-bellied water snake at the Cape Girardeau, Mo., Conservation Nature Center gave birth, sans male snake. (Candice Davis/Missouri Department of Conservation via AP)

See this here yellow-bellied watersnake? Can she have it all?


This snake at the Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Center in Missouri has not had contact with a male snake for at least eight years. And, for the second year in a row, she has managed to give birth.

Missouri Department of Conservation researchers believe the snake may be the first of her species to experience "virgin births," something more commonly seen in insects, said naturalist Jordi Brostoski. "It doesn't happen in snakes all that often," Brostoski said.

The snake's virgin birth, in more scientific terms, is a process of asexual reproduction called parthenogenesis, in which females produce babies without any genetic contribution from males. A polar body functions almost like sperm and fertilizes an egg.

[On the verge of extinction, female sawfish resort to ‘virgin births’ to survive]

These watersnakes give birth to live snakes. This summer, an intern at the Missouri conservation center discovered a bunch of membranes in the watersnake's cage.

"I thought, ‘what joker put tomatoes in here for the snake’,” intern Kyle Morton said in a release.

Two babies the watersnake gave birth to last year are still living and in good health, Brostoski said. None of the offspring from this year survived.

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This kind of reproduction is most common in certain insects, birds and reptiles. Rare occurrences have been documented in other kinds of snakes, including copperheads, cottonmouths and Burmese pythons, according to MDC herpetologist Jeff Briggler.

“For many years, it was believed that such birth in captivity was due to sperm storage,” Briggler said in a news release. “However, genetics is proving a different story.”

Plus, the Missouri snake has been away from male snakes for too long for her to store sperm.

Brostoski said this watersnake might be going through virgin births because she hasn't had a male snake around for awhile. Parthenogenesis has also been documented in wild snakes of other species.

"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."

Go on ahead, lady snake, and live your life.


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