A 62-year-old ball python at the St. Louis Zoo laid seven eggs this summer, and keepers have questions.
First of all, she hasn’t been with a male ball python in at least two decades. And second, ball pythons typically begin laying eggs at around 4 to 6 years old, and they stop long before their 60s.
“She’d definitely be the oldest snake we know of in history,” to lay eggs, said Mark Wanner, a zoological manager of herpetology at the zoo. In fact, she’s the oldest snake ever documented in a zoo.
The python laid the eggs July 23.
Three of the eggs remain in an incubator, in a different area of the Charles H. Hoessle Herpetarium from the snake. Two of the eggs were culled for genetic sampling, and snakes inside two other eggs did not survive.
The genetic sampling will show whether they were reproduced sexually or asexually, called facultative parthenogenesis. The snakes are also known to store sperm for delayed fertilization.
It’s unusual but not rare for ball pythons to reproduce asexually. Komodo dragons do so, and so do several species of rattlesnakes, said Wanner.
The female snake doesn’t have a name, but she does have a number: 361003. She’s one of two ball pythons at the zoo’s herpetarium, and the other is a male (number 389054) who is about 31 years old.
The snakes live in the herpetarium but aren’t on view to the public. Number 361003 came to the zoo in 1961 from a private owner and was estimated to be about 3 years old at the time.
This isn’t 361003’s first reproductive rodeo. She laid a clutch of eggs in 2009, but they didn’t survive. She also laid another clutch of eggs in 1990, but at that time, the keepers didn’t separate the snakes when they cleaned cages, so she could have hooked up with a male snake in a bucket.
If these eggs survive, they’d hatch in about a month. “That would be pretty incredible,” said Wanner.