Mystery as 60 years old python lays seven eggs without male help

KEY POINTS 

  • Pythons usually stop laying eggs long before they reach their 60s.
  • It is unusual but not rare for ball pythons to reproduce asexually.
  • Snakes also sometimes store sperm for delayed fertilisation.

Experts at the St Louis Zoo are trying to figure out how a 62-year-old ball python laid seven eggs despite not being near a male python for at least two decades.

Mark Wanner, manager of herpetology at the zoo, said it unusual but not rare for ball pythons to reproduce asexually. The snakes also sometimes store sperm for delayed fertilisation.

The birth also is unusual because ball pythons usually stop laying eggs long before they reach their 60s, Wanner said.

“She’d definitely be the oldest snake we know of in history,” to lay eggs, Wanner said, noting the she is the oldest snake ever documented in a zoo.

The 62-year-old ball python curls up around her eggs in at the St Louis Zoo.

The python, which has not been given a name, laid the eggs July 23. Three of the eggs remain in an incubator, two were used for genetic sampling and snakes in the other two eggs did not survive, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. The eggs that survive should hatch in about a month.

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The genetic sampling will show whether the eggs were reproduced sexually or asexually, called facultative parthenogenesis.

The only other ball python in the zoo’s herpetarium is a male that’s about 31. The snakes aren’t on public view.

The private owner gave the female to the zoo in 1961. She laid a clutch of eggs in 2009 that didn’t survive. Another clutch was born in 1990 but those eggs might have been conceived with the male because at the time, the snakes were put in buckets together while keepers cleaned their cages.

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