BY: SINEAD MULHERN
Thelma the snake’s mysterious pregnancy is prompting scientists to dig deeper into yet another of Mother Nature’s well kept secrets.
The Kentucky reticulated python gave birth to six baby snakes without ever mating with a male, says a new report by National Geographic.
Fatherless reproduction is called parthenogenesis – where a female gamete (or egg) develops into an embryo without fertilization. While this has been known to happen among some reptiles (including other snakes like garters), birds and sharks, this is the first ever-recorded instance of this happening among reticulated pythons. Thelma is one-of-a-kind.
Thelma, who lives in Kentucky’s Louisville Zoo, actually gave birth in 2012. Back then, it was suspected that she had stored a male’s sperm for later use. But now, DNA evidence has come to light that Thelma is the only genetic parent of her offspring.
For some species, this method of reproduction is the norm. Wasps, bees and ants all have no sex chromosomes and repopulate by asexual reproduction.
But snakes like Thelma don’t typically produce via parthenogenesis. This birth is somewhat of a miracle and as of now, it’s a complete mystery as to why some species are capable of reproducing without a partner. Some suspect it happens when the female is geographically isolated. This theory would explain why it would happen to a zoo animal living in captivity.
Conditions inside this sexless snake’s lair at the zoo were in her favour. This 200-pound and 20-foot long snake lives in a spacious, well-heated area and has been known to consume up to 40 pounds of chicken in one meal.
Some are hoping this case will help scientists glean more information about parthenogenesis.
In the meantime, amidst single mother parenthood, Thelma is a strong, independent snake woman, who don’t need no man.