A bizarre birth mystery at the St. Louis Zoo, Missouri where a 62-year-old ball python laid eggs without having any sexual contact with a male python for over 15 years has left zoo officials scratching their heads.
The serpent, who does not have a name and is identified only with the number 361003 is also the oldest of species to have ever been housed at the zoo. "This particular female snake is over 50 years old (the oldest snake documented in a Zoo) and has not been with a male in over 15 years!" the zoo stated in a statement.
The sexagenarian snake laid seven this summer on 23 July. Mark Wanner, a zoological manager of herpetology at the zoo, said, "She'd definitely be the oldest snake we know of in history (to lay eggs)." He also added that she is "the oldest snake ever documented" at a zoo.
An Unusual Birth
It is not unheard of for certain species of reptiles to reproduce asexually. For example, some species of snakes such as rattlesnakes, and lizards such as Komodo dragons are known to reproduce without sexual involvement.
The process through which reptiles reproduce asexually is known as "facultative parthenogenesis". Certain species of snakes employ a process known as "delayed fertilization" where they use sperm stored from older sexual encounters. Ball pythons, that are native to western and central Africa, can reproduce both sexually and asexually.
What is interesting is that 361003 has not had a partner in over 15 years. The only other python lodged at the herpetarium of the zoo is a 31-year-old male known simply by the number 389054, and has not had any contact with the female python, the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported. "Without genetic testing, Zoo staff won't know if this ball python reproduced sexually or asexually, but they intend to find out," the statement added
Not Her First Clutch of Eggs
Of the seven eggs, three are in an incubator. Two eggs failed to survive. Two of the eggs were culled for the purpose of genetic sampling. "As the keepers continue to incubate the eggs, they will be sending off samples for genetic testing," the statement said.
The St. Louis Post Dispatch reported that this not No. 361003's first clutch of eggs. She laid one in 2009. However, none of the eggs survived. She had also laid another clutch of eggs in 1990. At the time, the zookeepers had not separated the snakes when the cages were cleaned. It is likely that the python may have mated with a snake in 1990. No. 361003 arrived at St. Louis Zoo in 1961 and had been with a private owner. She is believed to have been around 3-years-old at the time.