Some snakes don't need a man to be a good mom -- they may not even need a man to make a baby, period. A study of copperhead and cottonmouth snakes suggests that males of the species may be less necessary than previously thought. Published this week in the journal Biological Letters
, the study marks the first time virgin births have been seen in animals in the wild that normally breed sexually.
Virgin births, in which the female supplies all of the genetic material for a child, have been seen in snakes in captivity before, so it's not surprising that it happens in the wild. What is surprising is the rate at which they occurred -- 1 in 22 births for copperheads, and 1 in 37 for cottonmouths. Those rates suggest that parthenogenesis
-- the technical term for giving birth without having sex -- may be much more common in nature than predicted.