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Virgin Birth in the Anaconda Exhibit at the New England Aquarium

Virgin Birth in the Anaconda Exhibit at the New England Aquarium

Boston, MA– There are many famous stories in the history of this world, but perhaps no story is more well-known than the one of a virgin who mysteriously became pregnant. Oldest story in the book, right? The only one I can think of that might be more popular in the re-telling is the story of how Spider-Man got his superpowers. But just as the story of Spider-Man is perpetually rebooted and told over and over again, so is the story of a virgin pregnancy. And we have the latest example of this "miracle" at our own New England Aquarium.

In case you're saying, wait a second: a snake gave birth? Don't snakes lay eggs? I wondered. I googled. It turns out that as members of the boa family, anacondas are viviparous, meaning they give birth to live young.

Back in January, Anna, a female anaconda at the New England Aquarium, gave birth to a litter of 18 baby snakes. Caretakers who worked with the anacondas were absolutely flummoxed about how Anna could have possibly given birth, considering there were no male anacondas paired with her and she had never shared an enclosure with a male.

Only two of the babies survived; 15 were stillborn, and one died shortly after brith. Stillborn births are common in cases of asexual reproduction. The DNA analysis took a few months, but it was recently confirmed after analysis of Anna and her surviving two-foot-long green anaconda younglings that they are actually identical clones. It was determined to be a true case of a "virgin birth", or parthenogenesis. This is an extremely rare biological phenomenon referring to nonsexual reproduction, more common in invertebrates, but also previously documented in birds, snakes, and sharks. (No scientific evidence suggests that it has ever occurred in a human.)

Many have pointed to the famous quote from Jurassic Park, per Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm: “Life finds a way.”

Image via Wikimedia Commons / Daniel10ortegaven