In an incredible act of animal adaptation, a female snake at the New England Aquarium has given birth to two babies — without the contribution of a mate.
The 30-pound green anaconda, named Anna, lives in an all-female exhibit at the Massachusetts aquarium. She has never been exposed to a male either, the aquarium said.
But in January, staff members discovered some newborn snakes in the exhibit, and the 10-foot-long Anna was still in the process of delivering more babies. So the team set out to confirm what exactly was going on.
Staff closely checked the other snakes in the exhibit to reconfirm that they are, in fact, female and not male. When workers determined they indeed had an all-female exhibit, they tested the young ones' DNA. The results indicated that the babies appear to be complete genetic copies, or clones, of the mother. So workers knew Anna had experienced parthenogenesis.
Parthenogenesis, derived from the Greek word for "virgin birth," is a form of asexual reproduction in animals, when the embryo grows without fertilization. But it's extremely rare in vertebrate animals and this is only the second documented case in a green anaconda.
Most of Anna's offspring were stillborn, as is common in parthenogenesis. Three babies initially survived birth, but one died shortly after.
The remaining two are not on exhibit yet, and workers have been looking after them very closely so they can get used to being handled by people. That will make it easier to give them checkups later on. The aquarium said the little youngsters have very different personalities. The smaller one is laid back, while the bigger one likes to explore its surroundings and sniff things out with its tongue.