The St. Louis Zoo may soon be host to the oldest female snake – a ball python – to ever hatch fertilized eggs. The female has just laid a clutch of seven. The catch? She hasn’t been near a male python in over twenty years.
How old is this “old lady”? She’s a 62-year-old ball python, Despite having no name, the elderly snake has become somewhat of a celebrity at the St. Louis Zoo after having laid clutches in her later years before. Reportedly, the snake previously laid a clutch of eggs in 2009 that did not survive, and another almost 30 years ago in 1990.
Three of her latest eggs remain in an incubator. Two of the unhatched were used for genetic sampling. The surviving eggs, however, will need about another month to hatch – if they do.
Public is Eager to see Elderly Python and her Eggs
While visitors to the St. Louiz are eager to see the 62-year-old reptilian mother and her “miracle” eggs, it still isn’t a possibility. The St. Louis Zoo remains at a low-capacity threshold during the COVID-19 pandemic. What’s more, the python – known only as number 361,003 – lives in the herpatarium but is not on view to the public. The female has been on and off exhibit since arriving from a private owner all the way back in 1961. She was estimated to be only]3 years old at the time of her surrender.
How Does a 62-Year-Old Python Lay Eggs Without a Male?
When an organism reproduces spontaneously without a partner of the opposite sex, it is referred to as asexual reproduction. The manager of the Zoo’s herpetarium, Mark Wanner, says it is unusual – but not rare – for ball pythons to reproduce asexually. He also notes that snakes will sometimes store sperm for delayed fertilization. How long can this delay be? In this amazing serpentine lady’s case – apparently two decades.
Many egg-laying animals will produce eggs without sexual reproduction – but these are typically unfertilized. Think of the eggs you buy in the grocery store. Each one is a chicken egg, yes – but it was never fertilized. Therefore, it was never capable of becoming a baby chick. It was simply the result of a mother hen going through her natural life cycles.
What’s more, Wanner went on to comment on the remarkable nature of this – particularly this elderly snake’s fertilized eggs:
“She’d definitely be the oldest snake we know of in history to lay eggs… the oldest snake ever documented in a zoo. [It would be] pretty incredible if the eggs hatched.”Mark Wanner, St. Louis Zoo
Incredible, indeed. Here’s to hoping this remarkable python gets to meet her offspring, and the public thereafter.
[H/T FOX News]