I purchased my Royal python Brian around April 1991 from a small pet shop in SE London (the pet shop no longer exists). Since then I have had many other pets; spider, scorpion, fish, cat, dogs, rats, duck, rabbits (not all at once mind) but no other snakes. I was originally told that Brian was male (hence the name) and that he was only a few months old, I recall trying to sex Brian myself once but I think my nerves may have got the better of me and a mistake was made.
Throughout her life she hasn’t had many problems other than going off her food once for a period of several months (I was reassured at the time that this was ok and just put vitamin drops in her water, this seemed to work and she eventually got her appetite back). Other than that she’s been fine.
In the early years I used to occasionally take her out on my neck but the novelty soon wore off. The only other time she has ever left the house was to a show-and-tell at one of my children’s school. During all this time she has NEVER had any other contact with any other snakes.
Early this year (2010) she went off her food again but I wasn’t concerned as she was still drinking her water (to which I added vitamin drops).
On the 23/05/10 I came downstairs to find my apparently male snake sitting on a clutch of eggs!!!!!!
I was so shocked that I forgot to take any pictures before she closed up on the eggs obscuring them again from view. At first I thought of removing the eggs to stop any smells and disease, but as I thought that Brian was getting on a bit (I was told that they only live for approximately 20 years. Again I was miss-informed!) I assumed that it wouldn’t do any harm to indulge her and let her brood for a while (at least until there was any sign that they had gone bad). And anyway to move them I guessed might only cause her undue stress.
A few days later when she went to her water she started to uncoil and move off the eggs giving me a perfect opportunity to see them and get some pictures. She appeared to be sitting on 5 eggs; 1 totally solid yellow and hard and the other 4 all of which I naturally assumed would be infertile due to her isolation over the last 19 years.
21/07/10 - Day 1
After speaking to family members I’d decided that I’d left her with the eggs long enough and as she wasn’t presently sitting on them, now was the best time to clean them out. As I opened her tank I saw something poking out of one of the eggs. Stunned I called my 21 year old son to come in and see this! The thing turned out to be a tiny snake head, but at the time I was so shocked that I assumed that it was dead. To confirm my suspicions I got a chopstick and gently attempted to touch the head (whilst keeping a watchful eye on an angry looking mum!). I’m not sure if I actually made contact with the head or not but it flopped back into the egg looking lifeless. Still unconfirmed I gently pushed open the torn egg to witness the body of the snake twitch/contract. This totally threw me and in shock I decided to leave it alone and let nature take its course (I didn’t think that it would survive!). When I later went to have another look Brian had resumed her brooding and none of the eggs could be seen.
22/07/10 – Day 2
On investigation I have discovered a tiny baby snake (approximately 40cm in length) lying alongside its mum!!!
Not knowing what to do I called my son in so we could brainstorm. In conclusion we decided to prepare to move the baby to another tank. Luckily in my shed I still had a tank from my dead scorpion so we got that out and cleaned it thoroughly. My son volunteered to cycle to a pet store to purchase a heat mat and other bit-and-pieces (baby mice, bark for the tank etc) and on his return told me that the staff at the store had advised separating mum from baby. This we duly did.
Totally in shock I contacted a friend who breeds snakes but he was unable to shed any light on this occurrence and said that he would contact another friend who works in a zoo and would update me of any news.
23/07/10 - Day 3
I’ve been trawling the web to find out more about this, no luck so far!
My nephew sent some interesting reading regarding a Rattle Snake http://www.thefreelibrary.com/SOME+SNAKES+CAN+REPRODUCE+WITHOUT+SPERM,+RESEARCHERS+SAY-a064882733
This is all I’ve seen so far but there must be more!
24/07/10 – Day 4
Nothing new today, the baby is moving about as normal.
25/07/10 – Day 5
With the need to find out more, I trawled web for Royal Python specific content and discovered ‘The Royal Python Forum’ ( www.theroyalpython.co.uk ). I have registered with forum, maybe they will have the answers.
26/07/10 - Day 6
I was called to baby snake by my young daughter who claimed that; ‘there is something pink in the baby’s tank and the snake looks flat!’. On rushing to the tank I am confronted by a disgusting looking ‘thing’ in the tank. The thing is approximately 9-10cm long and about 1 cm across. My first thought was to consol my daughter as I thought that the snake had somehow ejected its stomach and would surely die. However, the baby snake was moving seemingly unharmed around its solitary tank. Still feeling a disaster on the horizon I decided to freeze the ‘thing’ and seek advice.
Having had my membership accepted on the ‘The Royal Python Forum’ I posted my original plea for info on the miraculous birth along with the latest find of the ‘thing’.
27/07/10 Day 7
With posts flying back and forth and nobody able to shed any light on all this (other than the possibility of it being an undeveloped foetus actually inside the baby snake) I heeded the forum users’ advice, documenting everything by writing this diary and attempting to contact the experts suggested by the forum users.
Nothing to report on the baby today, I’m deliberately avoiding handling it to avoid stressing it.
28/07/10 Day 8
We have a possible answer ‘parthenogenesis’, thanks to the guys on the RP (Royal Python) forum. I will have to look into it this evening. But it looks promising!
Baby is still active and looking ok :)
29/07/10 Day 9
It does appear that that 'Parthenogenesis' is the answer. I haven't had much time to look into it at the moment but all evidence seems to be pointing in that direction.
The following is an email from Steve Slater (Senior Keeper, Discovery Trail - Reptiles & Invertebrates - West Midland Safari & Leisure Park). Thanks for the peeps at ‘The RP forum’ putting him touch with me:
Dear Mr Alexis,
A colleague of mine took your call yesterday and I received your e mail this morning.
Royal pythons have been recorded living to over 47years and occasional parthenogenetic births to females which have not been in contact with any males have occurred in rattlesnakes, Komodo dragons and other reptiles - it is probably a survival technique for species with low numbers of males available
I am not sure what the "thing" is and of course there could be problems getting the baby snake to start feeding, it may need assist feeding the first few times.
I hope this is of help to you.
As of this morning the mother and baby appear fine.