Animals can have babies without a mate – just ask Ronaldo the snake

Animals can have babies without a mate – just ask Ronaldo the snake

A boa constrictor in the UK has given birth to 14 babies — without a mate.

The snake, a 6-foot, 13-year-old Brazilian Rainbow Boa named Ronaldo, gave birth last week after having no contact with any other snakes for at least nine years, according to the City of Portsmouth College, which kept the snake.

Pete Quinlan, an animal care technician at the college, believed Ronaldo was male until she gave birth.

Is it a miracle? The result of a secret rendezvous? Probably not. Females of species have the ability to reproduce asexually, without sperm from a male. The process is called parthenogenesis, from the Greek words for “virgin” and “birth.”

Some plants and insects can do it, as well as some amphibians, reptiles, birds and fish. A stingray named Charlotte that was thought to have become pregnant by this method died this week at an aquarium in North Carolina, though she never delivered and it is unclear if she was ever pregnant.

Flora the Komodo dragon walks around her enclosure at Chester Zoo in Chester, England (AP2006)

Some wasps, crustaceans and lizards reproduce only through parthenogenesis. But in other species it’s rare and usually only observed in captivity. Scientists have a good idea how it happens, though they aren’t clear why it happens, according to Kady Lyons, a research scientist at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta.

A female’s egg fuses with another cell, often a cell leftover from a process that allows the female to create the egg. That cell, known as a polar body, gives the egg the genetic information it would normally get from sperm. The cell starts dividing and that leads to the creation of an embryo.

Earlier this week a stingray that got pregnant despite not having shared a tank with a male of her species for many years died. North Carolina aquarium announced the news.

Charlotte, a round stingray, became pregnant

The Aquarium and Shark Lab in Hendersonville said on Facebook late Sunday that the stingray, Charlotte, died after getting a rare reproductive disease. It didn’t go into further detail.

Charlotte went viral at the start of the year after her pregnancy was deemed “a once-in-a-lifetime science mystery”, by the aquarium.

The aquarium, which is in the Blue Ridge Mountains, announced in February that Charlotte had gotten pregnant despite not having shared a tank with a male stingray in at least eight years.