The New England Aquarium were setting up for after hour events near the Amazon Rainforest exhibit when they discovered something rather remarkable.
Anna is a 30 pound anaconda and at 8 years of age, she measures 3 meters and has given birth to a litter of baby snakes, 3 of which were alive, 12 which were sadly stillborn.
Now that’s not unusual, well, a snake giving birth that is, but what astonished staff was the fact that Anna’s roommates were all female.
Green anacondas are known to breed very healthily in aquarium settings, and this is the precise reason why they are kept apart. Imagine how quickly things could get out of hand!
Many were left guessing how a snake had divine intervention, magic or maybe a late night reptile adventure, but biologists already had the answer and it lies in science.
Parthenogenesis is the rare reproductive strategy where a female organism can self-impregnate.
The direct Greek translation means “virgin birth”.
More commonly found in insects and plants, some species of lizards, sharks, birds and snake species have been documented with a zoo in the UK having reported a case with a green anaconda in 2014.
“Genetically, it’s a vulnerable process,” aquarium spokesman Tony LaCasse said.
“It’s among that tagline, life will find a way. It’s a completely unique and amazing reproductive strategy, but it has a low viability compared to sexual reproduction.”
Unrelated to captive circumstances alone, parthenogenesis has been documented in the wild, usually occurring when there is a lack of male presence for an extended period of time.
Before Anna’s conception was announced to the public, zoo staff had to rule out her roommates being responsible, so they were all closely re-examined. Staff could also rule out “delayed embryo implantation,” due to her documented history.
“Aquarium veterinarians sent off tissue samples for analysis,” the news release said. “Many weeks later, the results acknowledged what most Aquarium staff had suspected.”
The only DNA found was of course Anna’s, with 2 of the 3 surviving babies making it past 48 hours being identical copies of her.
“There can be different kinds of parthenogenesis, many of which do not yield exact DNA copies of their mother,” the aquarium explained in the news release.
“However, the limited genetic sequencing done for these two young snakes shows complete matches on all the sites tested.”
The aquarium will be presenting the two surviving copies to the world on Thursday, with staff holding the babies to condition them for future and regular handling by humans.
The aquarium has further announced that the thinner of the tow is rather laid back, while the thicker is more of an adventurer.
“It’s a little bit of excitement in terms of the birth,” LaCasse told the Boston Globe. “But also one of success because the mystery was solved.”
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