The New England Aquarium welcomed a litter of baby anacondas last winter. As wonderful as that may be, it isn't the main point of the news. What makes this discovery so special is the fact that these dozen baby snakes were procreated without any male involvement.
That's correct; no male anaconda took part in any of the action.
Anna, the aptly named green anaconda, measuring a whopping 10 feet and weighing a sizeable 30 pounds managed to give birth to a dozen babies all on her own.
If left to their own devices, green anacondas from the Amazon can naturally have a dozen babies at a time. For this precise reason, the staffers at the New England Aquarium in Boston decided to separate the male and female species in different tanks.
How does an anaconda have babies without any male contact?
So how did Anna's litter come about?
A touch of the divine intervention? A mysterious moonlight snake convention, perhaps? How did Anna fall pregnant, and give birth to so many little ones?
Nature and science can surprise us at times, and teach us a thing or two.
What Anna went through was not a miraculous touch of the divine; instead, it is a rare reproduction strategy known as parthenogenesis.
Translated from Greek, parthenogenesis means virgin birth.
On a more scientific level, it means that a female organism can self-impregnate, without any male contact.
Typically more common in plants and insects, it can also be seen in bird, shark, lizard and snake species. This phenomenon does not only occur in captivity. It has been known to occur in the wild as well, usually when female species undergo long stretches of time before being in contact with a male.
Staff at the New England Aquarium did not want to leave any stone unturned, however. Before sharing their unexpected news, the team double-checked that Anna's 'housemates' were indeed all female, as they had been intended to be. After this came back positive, her past information was also checked.
Ruling out 'delayed embryo implantation' was a relatively easy feat, as Anna has been monitored most of her life and brought to the Aquarium at a very young age, before ever having any male exposure.
Lastly, her DNA was re-checked, as well as that of her babies. With complete genetic matches, it was impossible to say these were not Anna's baby snakes.
Anna had indeed self-impregnated.
Only two out of her dozen-strong litter survived and are doing well.
Until they are big and strong enough, they will be kept behind closed doors and away from the public for the time being.