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'Virgin' Yellow-Bellied Watersnake Gives Birth For Second Time

Sep 21, 2015 12:41 PM EDT
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A yellow-bellied watersnake living at the Missouri Department of Conservation's (MDC) Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Center has once again given birth without the benfit of male contact.

MDC herpetologist Jeff Briggler provided an explanation for this 'virgin birth,' or more scientifically speaking, parthenogenesis. This is a type of asexual reproduction where the offspring develops from unfertilized eggs. While it does not happen often it has occurred in species ranging from insects fish, amphibians, birds and reptiles.

"There are many types of parthenogenesis," Briggler said. "In layman's terms, parthenogenesis is a mode of asexual reproduction in which the offspring (babies) are produced by females without genetic contribution of a male."

Brostoski noted that this watersnake might be reproducing asexually because she hasn't had a male snake around for a while.  

"For many years, it was believed that such birth in captivity was due to sperm storage," Briggler added. "However, genetics is proving a different story."

The babies the female gave birth to last summer are healthy and doing well. However, this year's offspring didn't survive, which researchers believe is the result of an incorrect combination of chromosomes.

An intern working at the center, Kyle Morton, tends to the snakes and was taken by surprise when he found the freshly laid eggs in the mother's cage. He even initially mistook them for tomatoes, according to a news release.

When Morton shared his discovery, Jordi Brostoski, one of the center's naturalists, explained that this happened last summer as well and that he was equally as surprised.

"At first I thought the snake had regurgitated something until I looked at it closer," Brostoski explained. "That's when I realized what had happened and then the hatchling snakes surprised me by slithering under the bedding in the cage."

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

-Follow Samantha on Twitter @Sam_Ashley13

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