Female snake has babies without a dad

Nov. 4, 2010 at 7:26 PM
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RALEIGH, N.C., Nov. 4 (UPI) -- U.S. researchers say they discovered female boa constrictors can have babies without mating, with the offspring having attributes thought to be impossible.

Researchers at North Carolina State University say large litters of all-female babies produced by one "super mom" boa constrictor show absolutely no male influence and no genetic evidence a male was involved in the reproductive process, ScienceDaily reports.

This is the first time asexual reproduction, known scientifically as parthenogenesis, has been attributed to boa constrictors, Warren Booth, an NC State postdoctoral researcher in entomology, says.

Snake sex chromosomes differ from those in mammals: Male snakes have two Z chromosomes, while female snakes have a Z and a W chromosome.

But all the female babies produced by asexual reproduction had WW chromosomes, a phenomenon not seen before and thought to be impossible, Booth says.

Within two years, the same boa mother produced not one but two different snake broods of asexually produced, all-female, WW-chromosome babies.

The versatile super-mom previously had babies the "old-fashioned way" by mating with a male well before her two asexual reproduction experiences, Booth said.

Booth says asexual reproduction in snakes could be more common than people think.

"Reproducing both ways could be an evolutionary 'get-out-of-jail-free card' for snakes," Booth says. "If suitable males are absent, why waste those expensive eggs when you have the potential to put out some half-clones of yourself? Then, when a suitable mate is available, revert back to sexual reproduction."

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