A reticulate python living at the Louisville Zoo has become the first ever recorded member of her species that gave birth without the assistance of a male. As part of a study conducted by the University of Tulsa and the Louisville Zoo found six offspring were produced without a male being present.
‘Thelma’ a 20 foot python who weighs 200lb lives at the zoo with only another female for company. She had lived for 4 years without a male before giving birth in the summer of 2012.
At this point she gave birth to 61 eggs that were covered over and left for the female to care for, for 2 weeks. After this time zoo staff took them so they could look them over. All was not as it seemed explained the zoos curator of Ectotherms, Bill McMahan, “It is not uncommon for a snake to lay infertile eggs, so the staff was surprised when the eggs appeared to be full and healthy instead of shrunken and discolored shells (typical of infertile reptile eggs.”
Keepers wanted to know if they were actually fertile so decided to incubate them. It was on September 12, 2012 that six healthy pythons first emerged from their eggs.
Once the snakes had shed their skins they sent those as well as the mothers to the University of Tulsa’s Department of Biological Sciences to be examined in their molecular ecology lab. It took them a few months but they finally discovered that all six of the offspring belonged to only the mother.
Through a process known as pathogenesis this python was able to reproduce alone. This is commonly carried out by animals such as insects but is rarer in reptiles. The cells division is triggered not by a sperm but by polar bodies behaving like sperm. This process is known as terminal fusion automixis.
Now the research has been accepted into the prestigious Biological Journal which is published by the Linnean Society. McMahan said, “It is a very exciting thing to be able to witness something like that first hand, especially something that has never been documented before in this species.”
This snake has been named as the world’s largest following centuries of study where many were captured that exceeded 25 feet and weighed over 300 pounds. They are found throughout Asia when living in the wild.
Thelma on the other hand can be seen at the zoo. It is not known when the six offspring will be on exhibit but it is likely all of them won’t stay at the zoo due to exhibit space.
Photo Credit: Mariluna [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons