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An unexpected surprise: baby snake born at Phoenix Zoo, likely through asexual reproduction

Baby Brazilian Rainbow Boa
Posted at 11:43 AM, Sep 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-01 20:23:45-04

PHOENIX — Keepers at the Phoenix Zoo recently found an unexpected s-s-s-surprise inside one of its snake enclosures -- a baby Brazilian Rainbow Boa.

It's a surprise because the snake's mother has been at the zoo for a decade and has not had any male companions to breed with during that time.

So, keepers believe that the snake was born via parthenogenesis, a type of asexual reproduction where an egg becomes fertilized without male sperm.

Bradley Lawrence, a keeper that oversees some of the reptile habitats, boas are "live-bearers," which means their offspring are born alive as little slithering snakes -- called neonates -- rather than inside a visible egg that would then hatch.

Because the snake was born via parthenogenesis, it is "a copy of mom," he said, and like mom, also a female snake.

"It does happen in reptiles periodically -- it is rare though," he told ABC15 on Wednesday.

So far, that it is believed to be only the second documented case of parthenogenesis in Brazilian Rainbow Boas, the zoo said. The first reportedly occurred in 2018 at the Sacramento Zoo, according to Linda Hardwick, spokeswoman for the zoo.

Lawrence said another staff member found the little snake during their regular morning cleaning.

Once born, most snakes do not parent their offspring.

Currently, the baby snake is on display in the reptile “nursery” area on the Children’s Trail. The mom can be found on the Forest of Uco Trail in the Boa Hut.

Editor's note: Story has been updated with additional details from a zoo keeper at the Phoenix Zoo.