Missouri – A female water snake at Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Center has managed to give birth for the second year after being in captivity for eight years and having no contact with males of her species.

The snake’s virgin birth is a process of asexual reproduction called parthenogenesis, in which females produce babies without any genetic contribution from males.  In parthenogenesis, the mature egg is fertilized by a sister cell, known as a polar body, that contains an identical set of chromosomes. A polar body functions almost like sperm and fertilizes an egg.

This snake might be the first in her species to experience this “virgin birth” which is usually found in insects but not so often found in snakes, according to naturalist Jordi Brostoski in a statement to The Washington Post.

Credit: Dreamatico

The water snake gave birth to two babies last year and are still living and in good health, Brostoski said. None of the offspring from this year survived. Virgin births are often a mechanism developed by certain species to survive extinction however for many years was believed it was due to sperm storage, MDC herpetologist Jeff Briggler also told The Washington Post.

 “However, genetics is proving a different story. The Missouri snake has been away from male snakes for too long for her to store sperm” Briggler continued.

Virgin Sawfish

Last June, it was reported that the Smalltooth sawfish species was walking along the verge of extinction, and some scientists discovered that some of the fish have also resorted to “virgin births” in the wild in an effort to survive.

The study was reported by the journal Current Biology and this discovery now along with the one related to water snakes has the potential to prompt a rethinking of what we’ve long believed to be true about reproduction in vertebrates.

“We were conducting routine DNA fingerprinting of the sawfish found in this area in order to see if relatives were often reproducing with relatives because of their small population size […] What the DNA fingerprints told us was altogether more surprising; female sawfish are sometimes reproducing without even mating” Andrew Fields, the study’s lead author, said in the study.

In this video you can find out more about how parthenogenesis works.

Source: The Washington Post