The 62-year-old ball python curled up around her eggs. AP
The oldest living snake in captivity has left experts perplexed by laying eggs without the help of a male.
The 62-year-old ball python produced seven eggs at St. Louis Zoo in Missouri, US, despite having not been around a mate for at least two decades.
Mark Wanner, manager of herpetology at the zoo, said it was unusual but not rare for ball pythons to reproduce without a mate.
The snakes also sometimes store sperm for delayed fertilisation.
What makes the birth more unusual is the fact that ball pythons usually stop laying eggs long before they reach their 60s, Wanner said.
“She’d definitely be the oldest snake we know of in history,” to lay eggs, Wanner said, noting the she is the oldest snake ever documented in a zoo.
The python, which has not been given a name, laid the eggs July 23.
Three of the eggs remain in an incubator, two were used for genetic sampling and snakes in the other two eggs did not survive, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
The eggs that survive should hatch in about a month.
The genetic sampling will show whether the eggs were reproduced with or without a partner, called facultative parthenogenesis.
The only other ball python in the zoo’s herpetarium is a male that’s about 31. The snakes aren’t on public view.
A private owner gave the female to the zoo in 1961. She laid a clutch of eggs in 2009 that didn’t survive.
Another clutch was born in 1990 but those eggs might have been conceived with the male because at the time, the snakes were put in buckets together while keepers cleaned their cages.