For the first time, animal mothers, specifically pit vipers, have been discovered spawning fatherless offspring in the wild. More to the point, the snakes did so even when perfectly good males were around.
Until now it’s been considered an evolutionary novelty, albeit one that made a sort of senseâ€”a way for a bloodline to continue in the absence of suitable fathers.
For the study behind the find, published in this week’s issue of the journal Biology Letters, a team led by biologist Warren Booth of the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma captured pregnant copperhead and cottonmouth (see picture) females from fields where males were present. When the snakes gave birth, the researchers documented the physical and genetic characteristics of the litters.