Cape Girardeau nature center snake gives virgin births

Snake at Cape Girardeau nature center gives virgin births
Published: Sep. 16, 2015 at 1:39 AM CDT|Updated: Sep. 16, 2015 at 1:50 AM CDT
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CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KFVS) - It was alone in a cage but a snake at the Cape Girardeau Conservation Center, still managed to give birth without ever mating.

The Missouri Department of Conservation's Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Center reports a resident female Yellow-bellied watersnake at the center is likely reproducing without contribution from a male.

She's on display at the SEMO District fair where you can get an up close look at the special snake.

Naturalists say she's exhibiting parthenogenesis - a type of asexual reproduction in which offspring develops from unfertilized eggs.

"I wouldn't say that's it's common in reptiles, it can happen in reptiles," MDC naturalist Michelle Randecker said. "It's more common insects."

It occurs in many insect orders, most commonly with bees, wasps and stick insects and is also found in some species of fish, amphibians, birds and reptiles, but not in mammals.

Researchers say the snake is about 8 years old and has given a virgin birth twice.

"This Yellow-bellied watersnake is the first that we know of, of Yellow-bellied watersnakes reproducing by parthenogenesis. There's no other record of a yellow-bellied doing this," Randecker said.

The Yellow-bellied watersnake's offspring didn't survive this year, possibly due to the combination of chromosomes. However, last year's two young ones are thriving and serving as educational reptiles for the Cape Nature Center.

The Missouri native Yellow-bellied watersnake is not venomous although it does closely resemble the venomous cottonmouth snake.

Learn about the yellow-bellied snake's virgin birth, here.

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