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The Blessed Virgin SNAKE?! Isolated Virgin Python Gives Birth

Oct 24, 2014 12:48 PM EDT

In a stunning turn of events, it has been scientifically confirmed that the offspring of a virgin captive snake named Thelma are hers and hers alone, boasting no genetic information from a male parent. This is a remarkably rare example of a "virgin birth," a natural phenomenon that still leaves experts scratching their heads.

The scaly virgin mother, named Thelma, is an 11-year-old, 20-foot-long reticulated python holed up at the Louisville Zoo in Kentucky. Her sole companion is another female python named Louise, and Thelma has never been with a male snake. And yet, in June 2012, Thelma gave birth to six healthy female offspring.

Still, before you go toting your bibles, holy water, and crucifixes down to Kentucky thinking we have either a miracle or the snakes of the antichrist on our hands, it's important to note that this is not the first virgin birth in a reptile ever recorded.

According to Warren Booth, a biologist at the University of Tulsa who conducted the DNA analysis of Thelma's children, virgin births have been seen to happen in the wild, even when males are readily available for mating.

This fatherless form of reproduction in an animal that normally copulates with the opposite sex to reproduce is called parthenogenesis, and it occurs when a mysterious process inside the female reptile causes temporary cells to stick around - behaving like sperm and fusing with an egg.

The result is an incredibly inbred group of "half-clone" offspring that traditionally don't last long in the wild. In captivity, however, Thelma's miraculous children might just make it.

Zoo curator Bill McMahan added in an interview with National Geographic that he thinks that ideal living conditions could have triggered the virgin birth.

"It takes a lot out of [pythons] to reproduce, and she had everything she needed. I had fed her a really big meal, 40 pounds of chicken. She was living in an exhibit larger than the typical size. There were heat pads. Everything was optimal," he said.

The results of the DNA analysis and Booth's insights on reptile parthenogenesis can be found published in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society.

[Credit: Louisville Zoo]

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