The oldest ball python in Saint Louis Zoo at 62 years old just laid 7 eggs after not having been near a male in over 15 years according to this New York Times article. Ball pythons can reproduce asexually through facultative parthenogenesis or can store sperm for delayed fertilization, though delayed fertilization has only been documented as lasting for a max of 7 years. The eggs that have not died are currently being incubated and tested to see if it was asexual or sexual reproduction and are expected to hatch in a few weeks if they survive. If they survive, they are living proof of the flexibility of the ball python reproductive system whether they were produced sexually or asexually.
This is actually really interesting due to past experience with ball pythons and breeding them personally. I think asexual reproduction may be a step too far, but with regards to breeding, to be successful the snake needs to enter an essential hibernation period with a gradual temperature drop over time. At that point the snake will ovulate and have the eggs ready for fertilization, but with that being said, every time the snake breeds it does not automatically fertilize all of the eggs. Its actually really cool because if you use two fathers with different genes on a specific female you can end up with egg clutches with snakes from two different fathers. But also this is the other point, based on the activity and the behavior of the snakes in the wild they have adapted to store the male sperm for long periods of times because their behavior is relatively secluded. What ends up happening is that these females will carry the sperm for months if not years, and when bred again to a male of different genes the possibility of the female using the previous male donors sperm does happen. It is actually very common in for people who do mass breeding of snakes and it is honestly really interesting that a male bred to a specific female months or years prior still produce viable eggs alongside of a male that has been bred relatively recently. Also another side note, if the female goes through the hibernation cycle, she will produce the eggs, just infertile, and the snakes themselves will still lay the eggs and behave in a manor that is the same as if they were fertile (actually very common). But based on the snakes it would be impossible to reproduce asexually, because the eggs would not be viable. Another side note, i do not know if you are actually interested in the subject, but artificially pipping the eggs is also really interesting to see and do in person. Where you wait until a certain point of incubation until the egg has a leathery texture and you can physically cut the eggs open and move the snake around with your hand to see which genes it has (ball python genetics is really simple in terms of Mendelian genetics, just simple dominant recessive and co-dominant genes) there is definitely a lot of youtube videos on it if you are interested.ReplyDelete