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'Virgin birth': A captive anaconda became pregnant by herself and gave birth to two babies

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 5/27/2019 Joel Shannon
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A female anaconda living in an all-female exhibit gave birth to two babies without sexually reproducing with a male snake, a Massachusetts aquarium announced. 

The 10-foot-long, 30-pound mother – named Anna – gave birth to two babies that appear to be genetically identical to their mother, the New England Aquarium said, citing DNA testing. Anna has never been exposed to an adult male snake, the aquarium said.

"DNA testing has confirmed that the 2-foot-long, green anaconda youngsters are the product of nonsexual reproduction," a news release from the Boston aquarium said Thursday. "The extremely rare reproductive strategy is called parthenogenesis, which translated from its Greek word origins means virgin birth."

Anna also gave birth to a number of stillborn babies, which is common when parthenogenesis occurs among creatures that are not insects or plants, the aquarium said. Three snakes were initially born alive, but one died soon after birth.

Though the births were discovered in January, it took extensive investigation to confirm the snakes had been born via nonsexual reproduction. 

The baby snakes are not exhibited but get daily human interaction, the aquarium said. Although they are probably genetically identical, they have distinct personalities – one being more "laid back" and the other being "more apt to explore and check out its surroundings by sniffing out items with its tongue," the aquarium said.

a close up of a reptile © Provided by USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Satellite Information Network, Inc.

Similar cases of nonsexual reproduction have been documented in lizards, sharks, birds and snakes, the aquarium said. In 2014, a United Kingdom zoo reported parthenogenesis in a green anaconda.

Not all cases of parthenogenesis result in exact genetic clones of the mother.

Parthenogenesis can occur in the wild, according to the aquarium. Reproducing in this manner is genetically "vulnerable," aquarium spokesman Tony LaCasse told The Washington Post.

“It’s among that tagline, life will find a way," LaCasse said. "It’s a completely unique and amazing reproductive strategy, but it has a low viability compared to sexual reproduction.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Virgin birth': A captive anaconda became pregnant by herself and gave birth to two babies

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