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Fatherless Snakes

November 24, 2010

Boa constrictors are the latest addition to the list of vertebrate species in which parthenogensis, or asexual reproduction, has been documented.


Reptile virgin births…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Females of some shark and lizard species can reproduce without fertilization by a male. Now the phenomenon, called parthenogenesis, has been documented in boa constrictors, according to evolutionary geneticist Warren Booth of North Carolina State University. He says a reptile breeder’s female boa produced babies with a recessive color trait that should only have been possible if one of the male boas living with her also had that trait, but none of them did. Testing revealed that the offspring’s DNA came entirely from the mother.

WARREN BOOTH (North Carolina State University):
The genetic material that they get is a single set of chromosomes from the mother that is then doubled, so it’s basically creating two copies of the chromosome.

He says asexual reproduction decreases genetic diversity, so it’s not surprising that it’s uncommon. Nonetheless, he has evidence that parthenogenesis may be occurring in other snake species as well. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.