An 8-year-old anaconda housed at the New England Aquarium in Boston gave birth this January, but these are no ordinary babies. The mother lives in an exhibit with only adult female snakes — making the young products of nonsexual reproduction, according to the aquarium.
DNA testing confirmed the now 2-feet long green anaconda babies were reproduced through the “extremely rare reproductive strategy” called parthenogenesis, the aquarium wrote in a blog post Thursday. Parthenogenesis, translated from its Greek word origins, means virgin birth.
The process — which is more common in the plant and insect worlds — allows a female organism to replicate itself without fertilization from a male. The instance is only the second known confirmed case of parthenogenesis in green anaconda, with three born at a United Kingdom zoo in 2014, according to the post. Parthenogenesis also occurs in the wild.
The newborn snakes were found by staff last winter in the aquarium’s rainforest exhibit, and it was discovered that the 10-foot mother snake, named Anna, was still delivering more babies. Most of them were stillborn, which the aquarium states is common in the process among vertebrate species, but three babies initially survived the birth. One later died within a few days, according to the post.
The two snakes have since “thrived,” according to the aquarium, but are not yet on display. The babies eat about once a week and have been held every day of their lives so far, as the staff wants the snakes to be accustomed to people and handling to make checkups or procedures easier as they grow bigger.
The youngsters also appear to be genetic copies or clones of Anna, according to the aquarium. While many different kinds of parthenogenesis do not produce babies that are DNA copies of their mother, the “limited genetic sequencing done for these two young snakes shows complete matches on all the sites tested,” writes the aquarium.
While they may be clones of their mom, they do have different personalities. The “thinner” snake is described as “laid back,” while the “heavier” one is a bit more adventurous and explores its surroundings, the aquarium noted.