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‘Virgin’ Snake Gives Birth to Fatherless Babies Twice

This yellow-bellied water snake at the Conservation Nature Center gave birth eight years late. 
(Image: Candice Davis/Missouri Department of Conservation)
This yellow-bellied water snake at the Conservation Nature Center gave birth eight years late. (Image: Candice Davis/Missouri Department of Conservation)

A yellow-bellied water snake has recently given birth, which seems like a normal thing, until you find out that it has not been in contact with a male snake for eight years.

The snake, who is nicknamed “Yellow Belly,” is from the Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Center in Missouri, and believed to be the first of her species to experience “virgin birth.” Unfortunately, her offspring did not survive, but is not the first time she has performed her miracle. Last year, she gave birth to two snakes, both of which have managed to survive.

An intern who cares for the snake found the freshly laid membranes in July 2015. Authorities say there are no known cases of parthenogenesis by a yellow-bellied water snake.

Captive snake with no male companion gives birth for the second time:

Researchers now believe, because the snake is at her prime breeding age, and the lack of access to a male, her body has now reacted as part of a reproductive survival technique. This means her body has changed, which now allows her to reproduce on her own.

From the stand point of evolution, virgin births are not good as the babies that are born are near clones of their mothers.

Evolution works by the increasing of genetic diversity, so virgin births are highly inefficient.

Jeff Briggler the Conservation Department herpetologist said that virgin births can occur, but are rare among snakes. The process is called parthenogenesis, and occurs in species like some insects, amphibians, fish reptiles, and birds which includes some snakes, but does not occur in mammals.

Parthenogenesis is a type of a-sexual reproduction, where the offspring can develop from unfertilized eggs, which means that there is no contribution by a male. This is caused when cells known as polar bodies, which are produced with the animal’s egg, and normally dies but instead they behave like sperm, and fuse with the egg — which triggers cell division.

It is possible, but very unlikely the snake had simply stored the sperm. Michelle Randecker, who is a naturalist at the center, said that eight years is too long to store sperm. Powell had agreed, saying that a female snake can usually only store sperm for no longer than a year, although there are accounts of successful storage as long as three years, according to The Market Business.

“Long-term storage is unusual. When you run into situations like this, you always wonder, ‘Is that a possibility?’” Powell said.

“If nothing else, it’s an interesting phenomenon. Whether this is long-term storage or parthenogenesis, it’s cool — just another sign that nature works in mysterious ways.”

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