When an elderly ball python at the Saint Louis Zoo popped out seven big, beautiful eggs amid July’s sweltering heat, zookeepers were stunned. Not only is it rare for sexagenarian ball pythons to lay clutches of eggs, but this particular one — a 62-year-old broad who has rudely not been named — has gone at least two decades without having to endure contact with male snakes.
How did this separatist queen do it? According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, two explanations have arisen. First, she may have reproduced the eggs asexually through a process called facultative parthenogenesis, which a stunning female Komodo dragon named Charlie pulled off earlier this year at the Chattanooga Zoo. Though this type of reproduction is unusual for ball pythons, according to the Saint Louis Zoo’s manager of herpetology, Mark Wanner, it’s not unheard of.
Or, it’s possible she has been storing decades-old sperm inside her for, well, a long-ass time. While she’s been living a celibate lifestyle for the past 20-plus years, it is believed that back in the 1980s, she got a little freaky with a male snake in a bucket while zookeepers cleaned their respective cages. She’s also laid clutches of eggs before, in 1990 and 2009. (She’s been living at the zoo since 1961 when her former owner gave her away.)
Now, zookeepers await the results of genetic sampling from two eggs, which will illuminate how this queen conceived them, and the fate of three eggs that have been placed in an incubator. (Unfortunately, two eggs did not survive.) It would be “pretty incredible” if these eggs end up hatching, which is expected to happen sometime in the next month, Wanner told the Post-Dispatch. And indeed! Though I think what she’s done here already is pretty remarkable.