It may take two to tango but a group of female pit viper snakes have proved they don't need a man to make a baby.
Researchers found a group of female snakes that have reproduced without the help of a male, indicating that virgin births in the wild might be more common than we think.
The BBC reports that an unfertilized egg developing to maturity, a phenomenon called facultative parthenogenesis, has previously been found only in captive species and was thought to be extremely rare among vertabrates.
The journal Nature reports that researchers captured pregnant wild snakes, which gave birth in the lab. The scientists suspected the snakes might have been the product of a virgin birth because the litters had a large number of stillborn babies and few viable males.
"When I got the results of the DNA sequencer, I was floored,” researcher Warren Booth told Nature. An analysis of the baby snake's DNA showed that the chance of a male contribution was “infinitesimally small”.
Booth told Nature that while researchers have long suspected asexual reproduction took place in the wild, he and his colleagues were “stunned” at finally finding the evidence.
Livescience reports that there have been other recent examples of animal virgin births including the Komodo dragon, at least two cases of sharks, birds such as chickens and turkeys; and in snakes such as pit vipers and boa constrictors.
On the big question of whether humans are capable of reproducing without a mate - Booth says it's likely impossible. In mammals, there is process where a specific set of genes are provided by the mother and a second set from the father.
"These genes of different parental origin must interact in a process called genomic imprinting in order for the development of an embryo," he said.