A giant anaconda brought some babies into the world in a very religious fashion as she exhibited a ‘virgin birth’ without having any contact with males.
You could say she’s the Virgin Mary of the snake world.
The snake, who is actually called Anna, lives alongside her fellow female anacondas in an Amazon exhibit at the New England Aquarium, where there’s no boys allowed.
Well, male anacondas aren’t so much banned as they are simply not part of the collection. But that’s why it was all the more surprising when staff at the aquarium found the newborn snakes in the rainforest exhibit earlier this year.
According to the New England Aquarium, biologists discovered the 8-year-old, 10-foot-long anaconda in the process of delivering her young, most of which were stillborn. Initially three of the babies survived, but one died of within a couple of days.
Since then, however, the other two youngsters have thrived.
To determine how the reptile got pregnant, veterinarians at the aquarium double checked the gender of the other anacondas and ruled out the possibility of a delayed embryo implantation from previous contact with males.
Once they’d dismissed those possibilities the only other explanation was parthenogenesis, an extremely rare reproductive strategy which, when translated from its Greek word origins, means ‘virgin birth’.
The nonsexual reproductive process allows a female organism, in this case Anna, to replicate itself without fertilisation from a male. Parthenogenesis is extremely rare among vertebrate species, though it is more common in the plant and insect worlds.
DNA testing was the only way to confirm if the babies had been the product of a virgin birth, so aquarium veterinarians sent off tissue samples for analysis. A few weeks later, the results confirmed Anna didn’t need a man to bring her newborns into the world.
There can be different kinds of parthenogenesis, and in many cases the young are not exact DNA copies of their mother.
However, the limited genetic sequencing done for the two young snakes showed complete matches on all the sites tested, suggesting New England Aquarium’s new members are genetic copies, or clones, of Anna.
The youngsters are not yet on display to the public, but staff make sure to hold them everyday to help the snakes get used to being handled.
Despite being clones of their mother, the babies have developed their own personality traits. One has been described as ‘laid back’, while the other is more keen to explore.
The process is certainly baffling, but it’s awesome that Anna took matters into her own hands (or whatever snakes have) when it came to having kids!
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Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.