A yellow-bellied water snake has laid eggs for the second time- even though she has been totally isolated from male snakes for over eight years.
Researchers at the Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Center in Missouri were shocked to discover a second virgin birth from this female snake.
Some believe she is the first of her species to exhibit asexual reproduction- a process scientifically called parthenogenesis. In short, it means that a female is able to fertilizer her eggs with polar body functions. She has no need for a male to provide sperm or any genetic information.
Scientists believe a species can revert to asexual reproduction after intentional efforts to reproduce or because of a disease or infection.
“It seems like a reproductive survival technique. Without a male, she wants to go ahead and produce offspring. That’s what she’s driven to do,” said Jordi Brostoski, a naturalist at the Missouri Department of Conservation.
“In some snakes—like copperheads—new research suggests immaculate conception may confer an evolutionary advantage passed down through fertile male offspring.”
Typically, water snakes give birth to live snakes. However, this virgin yellow-bellied snake laid several eggs.
Two of the snakes from the virgin birth last year by the same snake are still alive and healthy though researchers do not yet know if they are capable of asexual reproduction like their mother.
“She’s at that age where she’s completely able to reproduce… It seems like a reproductive survival technique,” said Brostoski. “Without a male, she wants to go ahead and produce offspring. That’s what she’s driven to do.”