Zookeepers at Saint Louis Zoo in the US state of Missouri were surprised to find that their oldest snake, a 62-year-old ball python, had laid seven eggs two months ago despite not being around a male python in over a decade.
The python was found wrapped around seven eggs on July 23, Mark Wanner, the zoo’s Manager of Herpetology, told CNN. Of the eggs, two did not survive, two were sent for genetic sampling and the remaining three remained in an incubator. The surviving eggs are expected to hatch in the next two to three weeks, Wanner added.
The manager said it is not uncommon for ball pythons to reproduce asexually through a process known as facultative parthenogenesis. Females are also known to store sperms in their bodies for many years to carry out delayed fertilisation.
The snake had last laid eggs in 2009 but none of them had hatched. Then too, there were no records of the ball python having been around a male of her species in years. “We’re saying 15 plus years, but I mean, it’s probably easily closer to 30 years since she’s been physically with a male,” Wanner explained.
The two eggs that were sent for genetic testing will confirm whether the eggs were produced sexually or asexually. “We can’t wait for the samples to be tested to actually get that information because that will end any of the hearsay or whatever we might think could or couldn’t be,” the Herpetology expert said.
It is very unusual for a ball python in her 60s to lay eggs, Wanner pointed out. “We’ve got our fingers crossed that one of these animals will hatch, but we don’t know for sure.”