Ronaldo the Rainbow Boa

Staff and students were stunned to discover that our six-foot Brazilian Rainbow Boa snake Ronaldo had given birth to 14 babies.

Not only was the 13-year-old snake believed to be male, it also hadn’t been in contact with any other snakes for at least nine years!

The miracle birth was due to the extremely rare phenomenon of parthenogenesis, a natural form of asexual reproduction in which embryos develop without fertilisation.

It’s known to take place in plants and some animals but this is believed to be only the third occurrence to be documented in a captive Brazilian Rainbow Boa anywhere in the world.

“One of the students discovered them during a routine vivarium check. At first we thought she must have been mistaken. We couldn’t believe our eyes!” said Animal Care Technician Amanda McLeod.

Our reptile specialist Pete Quinlan was immediately called in. He admitted he was shocked by the discovery.

“I’ve been breeding snakes for 50 years and I’ve never known this happen before,” he said. “Effectively the babies are clones of their mother although their markings are all slightly different.

“Ronaldo had been looking slightly fatter than usual, like he’d eaten a big meal, but we never thought for a moment that he, or should we say she, was pregnant.”

Pete has been taking care of Ronaldo for the past nine years, after the snake was rehomed by the RSPCA. The boa, who had been declared male by a vet, has been a popular resident here for the last two years.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity for the students to learn about the development of baby snakes,” Pete added.

He’s now busy working out what sex the baby snakes are and setting up 14 new vivaria. Once the snakes have matured sufficiently they will be going to new homes.

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