Speed Reads

the miracle of life

Giant python has species' first ever 'virgin birth'

Ready your myrrh, folks: A reticulated python named Thelma has given birth to six little miracles of science.

Staff at the Louisville Zoo in Kentucky suspected something was amiss, reports National Geographic, when the 200-pound, 20-foot-long snake produced six female offspring in June 2012, despite not having been in contact with a male counterpart. Now DNA evidence published in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society confirms that there wasn't another parent in the mix: it was all Thelma.

Virgin births — known scientifically as parthenogenesis — have occurred in other reptiles, though this is the first instance ever recorded in a reticulated python, the world's longest snake. Explains National Geographic:

This phenomenon occurs when polar bodies, or cells produced with an animal's egg that normally die or disappear, behave like sperm and fuse with the egg. [National Geographic]

Scientists can't tell what catalyzes parthenogenesis, but they think loneliness might have something to do with it. "I guess sometimes truth is stranger than fiction," said Bill McMahan, the zoo's curator of cold-blooded animals.