Snakes That Give Virgin Birth
|Phylogenetic pattern of parthenogenesis in snakes|
Molecular tree on left, morphological tree on right
From Booth & Schuett 2016
Most intriguing is the hypothesis laid out for explaining this dichotomy: that boas and pythons (and possibly other basal alethinophidian snakes) might have an XY sex determination system rather than a ZW one like most snakes. Changes from ZW to XY or vice versa (and between genetic and temperature-dependent sex determination) have been documented in geckos and turtles, and could have been overlooked in boas and pythons due to their similar-looking sex chromosomes (tests are currently underway to falsify or verify this hypothesis). If true, this would explain the production of all-female offspring by facultative parthenogenesis; instead of WW, those females would be XX, just like humans!
|True-color representation of the fossil snake|
(MNCN 66503) in McNamara et al. 2016.
The dentition looks too solenoglyphous for a
colubrid, although the 10-million year old specimen,
which is missing its head, has not and
probably can not be identified to species.
|Photo and diagram of courtship behavior of Chrysopelea paradisi|
Taken at the Sepilok Jungle Resort in Sabah, Malaysia
Female shown in gray, males in blue, green, and orange
From Kaiser et al. 2016
1 In a few places, the authors use "alethinophidian" to refer to boas, pythons, and their relatives but not caenophidians, when instead they should have either used "henophidian" or "basal alethinophidian" (they mostly use the latter term throughout). Many people don't like the term "henophidian" because it is a paraphyletic group, but it is a convenient way to refer to non-scolecophidian, non-caenophidian snakes. In my mind it's essentially synonymous with "basal/stem alethinophidian". Alethinophidians are all snakes except for blindsnakes (scolecophidians), and Caenophidia is a subset of Alethinophidia. There are also at least three references to "Caenophidia + Colubroidea", which is confusing because Colubroidea is a subgroup of Caenophidia, and Caenophidia = Colubroidea + Acrochordus, which is perhaps what they meant.↩
Gamble, T., J. Coryell, T. Ezaz, J. Lynch, D. Scantlebury, and D. Zarkower. 2015. Restriction site-associated DNA sequencing (RAD-seq) reveals an extraordinary number of transitions among gecko sex-determining systems. Molecular Biology and Evolution 32:1296-1309 <link>
Kaiser H, Lim J, Worth H, O’Shea M (2016) Tangled skeins: a first report of non-captive mating behavior in the Southeast Asian Paradise Flying Snake (Reptilia: Squamata: Colubridae: Chrysopelea paradisi). Journal of Threatened Taxa 8:8488–8494 <link>
Kuriyama, T., K. Miyaji, M. Sugimoto, and M. Hasegawa. 2006. Ultrastructure of the Dermal Chromatophores in a Lizard (Scincidae: Plestiodon latiscutatus) with Conspicuous Body and Tail Coloration. Zoological Science 23:793-799 <link>
Li, Q., K. Q. Gao, J. Vinther, M. D. Shawkey, J. A. Clarke, L. D’Alba, Q. Meng, D. E. G. Briggs, and R. O. Prum. 2010. Plumage color patterns of an extinct dinosaur. Science 327:1369 <link>
McNamara, Maria E., Patrick J. Orr, Stuart L. Kearns, L. Alcalá, P. Anadón, and E. Peñalver. 2016. Reconstructing Carotenoid-Based and Structural Coloration in Fossil Skin. Current Biology <link>
McNamara, M. E., D. E. G. Briggs, P. J. Orr, D. J. Field, and Z. Wang. 2013. Experimental maturation of feathers: implications for reconstructions of fossil feather colour. Biology Letters 9 <link>