People employed at various zoos and aquariums around the world have long noticed a rather peculiar phenomenon: some of the female snakes being looked after in captivity manage to reproduce without ever interacting with a male belonging to the same species.
Up until now, it was presumed that such virgin births only occurred in captivity, and that their underlying cause was the fact that females found themselves compelled to see to the survival of the species without having any male available to mate with them.
However, recent news on this topic informs us that, according to a study published in the journal Biology Letters, female snakes living in their natural habitats are also quite capable of procreating without having to previously mate.
The two species found to behave in this oddly manner every once in a while are the copperheads and the cottonmouths.
Apparently, the scientists making this statement based it on the fact that some snake caught in the wild and brought back to the laboratory eventually gave birth, and DNA studies carried out later on proved that no male was involved in the females' getting pregnant.
The journal Nature
quotes Warren Booth, presently employed as a molecular ecologist at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma, who admitted that, “When I got the results of the DNA sequencer, I was floored.”
As he went on to argue, said laboratory tests proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the chances for a male to have made its contribution to the birthing of these young snakes were pretty much “infinitesimally small.”
For the time being, it still remains unclear why the female snakes found to have birthed offspring without male contribution “chose” to do so, seeing how they were living in the wild and were therefore not isolated from others of its kind.
“We still lack data to understand when and why facultative parthenogenesis happens in the wild,” said geneticist Phill Watts.