Lots of Wriggling Virgin Births

Via Nature:

Warren Booth, a molecular ecologist at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma, now reports the first known case of wild facultative parthenogenesis, publishing the study today in Biology Letters1.

In work conducted while he was at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, Booth and his colleagues captured pregnant wild copperheads and cottonmouths, which gave birth in the lab. The researchers suspected that some of the snakes had reproduced without male input: in comparison with those born from sexual unions, says Booth, asexually reproduced snake litters typically have a large number of failures in development such as stillborn babies, and few viable males. When he saw that some of the snakes had delivered broods with these characteristics, “these litters were at the top of my agenda to genotype”, says Booth. [...]

“When I got the results of the DNA sequencer, I was floored,” he says. The genotyping compared the genetic make-up of the offspring with the populations from which the snakes were collected; the results indicated that the chance of a male contribution was “infinitesimally small”. Researchers had always believed that facultative parthenogenesis took place in the wild, Booth notes, but he and his colleagues were “stunned” at finally finding the evidence.

So we’ve seem positive evidence of parthenogenesis in sharks and poisonous snakes … is somebody trying to tell us something?

  • busterggi

    Yig is never given enough respect.

  • vasaroti

    Herpetariums have been around for decades. Hasn’t any other data on this topic been collected?

    My SWAG (scientific wild-assed guess) is that population density plays a big role in parthenogenesis. Too many adults of the species in the area, and birth rates often decline. Too few, and parthenogenesis may become a option. Interesting that you name two types of animal whose numbers have steeply declined in recent years.

    But let’s get another opinion.. I’ll bet there’s some pastor in OK who’s got insight into virgin births in snakes.

    • Mogg

      If you read a little more carefully you will see that this is the first observed case of WILD asexual reproduction. The reason they were looking for it in wild snakes is because it has been seen in captive snakes.

      • vasaroti

        And where do the critters in herpetariums come from? Captured from the wild, just like the virgin-birthers in Raleigh, yes?

        • Mogg

          Yes. But this particular phenomenon has not been verified before in snakes which were already pregnant when caught. It may have happened, but those who caught the snakes were not looking for it and so presumably any pregnant snake previously caught was assumed to have become pregnant via normal mating.

  • Gordon

    Could it be that Jesus is being reborn as a snake?

  • Sue Blue

    I find it absolutely hilarious that the animal “cursed” by god in the bible and reviled by fundamentalists as the incarnation of Satan actually CAN give birth the way they claim a human woman gave birth to Christ. Could there be any more deliciously ironic refutation of the bible story?

  • pagansister

    Was Mary a snake in a previous life? That could explain the virgin birth thing.

  • Beau Quilter

    RE: “is somebody trying to tell us something?”

    But what is “he” saying? Our Lord and Savior had a virgin birth or Lesbians deserve a the procreative right to marry?

    • Mogg

      I was thinking more along the lines of the deadliest, scariest animals can still multiply and get us even if we reduce the population down to one female, but sure, you can go all homophobic on us if you like.

      • Artor

        To quote Jeff Goldblum, “Life will find a way.”

      • Beau Quilter

        Homophobic? Did you actually read the comment?

      • Beau Quilter

        My comment can hardly be taken as homophobic (homofilic, perhaps); but you, on the other hand, seem to be Ophidiophobic.