Ronaldo, a 13-year-old Brazilian Rainbow Boa, immaculately conceived 14 miracle babies. Credit: City of Portsmouth College

After Nearly a Decade Alone, A Snake Has 14 Miracle Babies

A snake having miracle babies is either an extremely confusing religious story or a rare but straightforward natural process. 

Depending on how you look at it, this is either an extremely confusing religious story or a rare but straightforward natural process. England's City of Portsmouth College reported this week that its 13-year-old snake Ronaldo gave birth to 14 babies. The surprising thing, though, is that Ronaldo hadn't been in contact with another snake for nine years. What's more, researchers at the school thought it was male.

How Ronaldo had its miracle baby snakes

Ronaldo's miracle babies

Ronaldo's miracle babies. Credit: City of Portsmouth College/Facebook

Pete Quinlan, a reptile specialist at Portsmouth College, explained Ronaldo experienced an extremely rare process called parthenogenesis. He described it as a natural form of asexual reproduction in which embryos develop without fertilization. At first, he thought Ronaldo just looked fat, like he had eaten a big meal. "But we never thought for a moment that he, or should we say she, was pregnant," he added. Then, a student conducting a routine check discovered the babies.

Quinlan explained that parthenogenesis is known to happen in plants and some animals. However, he believes this to be the third documented occurrence of a captive Brazilian Rainbow Boa. "I've been breeding snakes for 50 years and I've never known this happen before," Quinlan said. "Effectively the babies are clones of their mother although their markings are all slightly different."

Quinlan, who has been taking care of Ronaldo, who was declared a male by a vet, for the past nine years, said they are working out the sex of the baby snakes. He's also setting them up in vivariums of their own. Once the babies have matured, they'll go to new homes.

The Brazilian Rainbow Boa

According to the Smithsonian's National Zoo, Brazilian Rainbow Boa were frequently exported as exotic pets in the 1980s and 90s, but aren't as much anymore. They average four to six feet in size, which means Ronaldo's is a larger boa. And they live for approximately 20 years under human care.

As for their reproducing, they reach sexual maturity once they reach about four feet in length. Additionally, females often grow larger than males. Gestation lasts about five months, and a typical litter consists of about 12 to 25.