A python in a Kentucky zoo has given birth, despite having no male contact for at least four years.
The 11-year-old, 20-foot-long reticulated python — given the deceptively innocuous name “Thelma” by well-meaning humans — laid 61 eggs in the summer of 2012 alone, National Geographic reports.
A study published by the Biological Journal of the Linnaean Society in July after six months of testing on the shed skins of the brood’s mother and her daughters revealed that Thelma had not been fertilized by male sperm. This is the first recorded example of virgin birth in the species.
The idea that the snake could have “stored sperm” was refuted by the tests, causing Bill McMahon, Curator of Ectotherms at Louisville Zoo, to tell National Geographic: “I guess sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.”
Perhaps McMahon is unaware of the completely fictional Echidna of Greek mythology, a huge snake that gave birth to a three-headed hell hound, a dragon with a hundred heads, a dragon with one head, and a fire-breathing goat-snake-lion.
The study discovered that the writhing offspring were the result of a terrifying process known as terminal fusion automixis, whereby polar bodies fuse with the egg cells to initiate cell division, removing the need for male sperm.
McMahon, apparently unconcerned about the implications of 20 foot-long constrictors able to replicate themselves potentially infinitely, added: “It is a very exciting thing to be able to witness something like that first hand, especially something that has never been documented before in this species.”