MAY 26, 2019 7:09 AM PDT

Captive Anaconda Exhibits Rare 'Virgin Birth'

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

Animal caretakers at the New England Aquarium were in for quite the surprise this past Winter after discovering that an eight-year-old female anaconda named Anna from their Amazon rainforest exhibit had given birth to a pair of younglings despite having no contact with male snakes.

Image Credit: New England Museum

While it might seem impossible at first glance, there’s a logical explanation regarding why this happened. In a statement issued by the New England Aquarium, we learn that Anna had exhibited a particularly rare reproductive process known as parthenogenesis, which is when replication transpires in a female organism without any intervention from a male.

Parthenogenesis quite literally translates to ‘virgin birth,’ and it happens somewhat frequently in insects and plants. On the other hand, parthenogenesis is mind-bogglingly rare in vertebrates; in fact, this is only the second known instance of a female anaconda displaying this method of reproduction.

Related: A snake that became another snake's lunch turned out to be an entirely new species

The minds of wary folk are probably racing with alternative explanations for the unexpected birth, such as the notion that a male might’ve slithered into Anna’s cage while no one was looking or that Anna was carrying some sort of delayed embryo before being taken captive, but you can rest assured, as neither circumstance was the case.

Not only is the New England Aquarium’s rainforest exhibit a female-only exhibit, but DNA testing on the newborns has confirmed that there was no male involvement in their conception and that they’re clones of the mother. The findings put all conspiracy theories to rest and validate that this was indeed a genuine instance of parthenogenesis in an anaconda.

Anacondas don’t lay eggs like most snakes; instead, they give birth to live young. When Anna conceived her babies, many were stillborn. Three of those survived the delivery, but one later died, resulting in the two that still exist today. Notably, anaconda mothers often snack on stillbirths such that their nutrients don’t go to waste.

Although parthenogenesis is somewhat rare in vertebrates, scientists have documented the process in other vertebrates besides anacondas before, such as birds, lizards, and sharks. But as you might come to expect, the process is equally as rare in those species as it is in anacondas.

Related: Blue coral snake venom is unlike the venom from any other snake

Anna’s clones are not yet on display to the public, but the staff interacts with them frequently to help get them used to being around people. After the team gets confident with the newborns, aquarium visitors will be able to see them on display.

Source: New England Aquarium

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
MAY 04, 2020
Plants & Animals
A Capuchin Monkey's Curiosity Can Sometimes Cloud its Judgement
MAY 04, 2020
A Capuchin Monkey's Curiosity Can Sometimes Cloud its Judgement
Capuchin monkeys are highly intelligent animals, but they’re also rather curious. They’ve adapted to communi ...
MAY 07, 2020
Health & Medicine
Mosquito Feeding Time Shift Impacts Malaria Prevention Methods
MAY 07, 2020
Mosquito Feeding Time Shift Impacts Malaria Prevention Methods
Thanks to the success of insecticide-treated bed nets, mosquitos seem to have shifted their feeding times away from the ...
MAY 19, 2020
Earth & The Environment
Three-fourths of migratory birds in the Pacific threatened by overhunting
MAY 19, 2020
Three-fourths of migratory birds in the Pacific threatened by overhunting
Overhunting of migratory shorebirds in the Asia-Pacific region has reached an all-time high - and conservationists are c ...
MAY 28, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
Pitcher Plants Inspire Kidney Stone Diagnostic
MAY 28, 2020
Pitcher Plants Inspire Kidney Stone Diagnostic
  Urine contains an abundance of dissolved salts and minerals such as calcium and uric acid. These can form crystal ...
JUN 28, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
Low-Level Chemical Exposure Causes Heritable Changes in Fish
JUN 28, 2020
Low-Level Chemical Exposure Causes Heritable Changes in Fish
Scientists used a fish called the inland silverside, Menidia beryllina, to show that even small amounts of chemicals tha ...
JUL 30, 2020
Drug Discovery & Development
Cats Successfully Treated with Gene Therapy
JUL 30, 2020
Cats Successfully Treated with Gene Therapy
While gene therapy is a promising treatment for multiple diseases caused by a genetic mutation, getting gene therapy age ...
Loading Comments...