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Posted by serpentcity on May 13, 2003 at 03:11:49:
Hello Ball Python lovers:
This is my first-ever-in-life posting to the BP forum and it's about 1:25 a.m. (some old habits do die hard!) so please bare with me. A recent article in REPTILES mag (Female Burmese Python Clones Itself, June '03, p. 11) has compelled me to share my experience with forum readers....
I received my first BP on 07/31/1969 when I was 11 years old. This was a well-started hatchling for which my dad paid $25.
The snake thrived...survived my high school years...college years...(I'm lapsing into Ralph Davis speak...). In fact I got permission from the dean of housing to keep this and 2 other snakes in my dorm room my freshman year at the Univ of New Mexico. So anyways...
It's now 1983, my BP is approx 14 years old and I'm a first year vet student at the Univ of Illinois. Another student has an adult BP of what we think is the opposite sex (based on spur-size; remember this is 1983. The only person I knew breeding BP's at the time was Dick Goergen [anyone remember those orange-sided beauties?]. So we put our 2 snakes together and.............nothing happened. Never saw any action whatsoever. We were pretty pre-occupied with school so we let it go at that.
Now it's 1988, and my BP is approx 19 years old, going strong. Going for 20 years, thriving on neglect. No hot spots in the cage, just natural seasonal cycling. During several months of cooler weather the snake would just fast. Fine, one less mouth to feed. The snake would disappear into its hide box for weeks and weeks....
Then one day in late winter 1988 I caught him out of his hide box cruising around and he had this huge symmetrical swelling in the rear portion of his body. I'm thinking he's got a big-ass renal (kidney) tumor. I mean a serious solid-tissue carcinoma! I pick him up but he's not behaving sick, ie he's not weak, he's not uremic or gouty. So I'm thinking in a few days he'll start to crash, nothing to be done therapeutically, he's lived a good life. So back in the cage he goes and several days later he's out cruising again and this time he's quite a great deal thinner in the rear....and I'm thinking lots of thoughts (chief among them were that he shat a tumor, afterall he is a male BASED ON SPURS). I just knew I was going to find some surprise under his hide box! Don't we all love those surprises?!
So I lift his box and there lie 5 infertile slugs. I had an epiphony moment! My boy laid eggs! It was this moment that I learned one CANNOT sex a BP by its spurs. And it may partially explain why we got nothing, including no combat, back in '83.
Now it's 1992, I've moved up to the Chicago area, I've got
my basement full of snake cages, got flexwatt all over the place, Helix thermostats, etc. I've got my lady set up with a hot spot, about 20% of her floor heated. It's 4 years since she laid those spuds, and she decides to do it again. This time I'm ready. About 30 days after shedding she lays again but this time
I decide to let her do the maternal thing. She stays with them, doesn't come out searching for food like in '88. About 10 days later I catch her thermo-regulating on the hot spot, which is right next to her hide box. I think this is a good time to end the experiment and chuck the slugs in the trash. So I lift the box and there lie 4 GOOD eggs. Very caved in, one quite a bit more so than the others, but I knew a good python egg when I saw one (I'd bred Indian and Burmese pythons several times by this point). The humidity was very low, I wasn't doing anything to increase it, why bother? So I carefully removed the eggs, candled them and they were vascularized!!!Even the very caved-in one! Talk about an adrenalin rush! So I set them up in the incubator....and 3 hatched about 58 days later! The very caved-in one contained a full-term dead embryo. All including the dead probed out female, and all appeared normal in every way.
All along I knew 2 possibilities existed: parthenogenesis or sperm storage of 9 years' duration. I should add that this female was never exposed to another BP since 1983. Nada. Yeah sure some people will think I'm still smoking that wackyweed but folks I gave that up some time ago. I looked into DNA analysis but it was still quite expensive and I was just starting Serpent City and couldn't justify the expense at the time. The mother died of undetermined causes in 1994 (25 years old) and into the freezer she went. I figured I could eventually do the DNA work. But of course I had a power outage, things got kind of ripe, and the whole mess got discarded. One of the offspring got stolen, one was given to a friend (no longer accessible), and one is still accounted for.
A couple of additional comments:
1) Fertile BP eggs seem to be able to tolerate very low humidity at least during the first 10 days of incubation, given good maternal care.
2) Gravid BP don't ALWAYS require male contact to sustain follicular development, at least in my case.
3) If this was NOT parthenogenesis then this WAS sperm storage of 9 years' duration, probably a record in herpetoculture.
I would be happy to answer any questions I failed to address should there be any. Thanks for taking the time to read this....Scott J. Michaels DVM/Serpent City