Virgin birth has been discovered in pit vipersS

Chalk another one up to Jeff Goldblum — researchers say that female pit vipers, like the copperhead snake pictured up top, have joined the growing ranks of animals known to be capable of reproducing asexually, i.e. without mating with a member of the opposite sex.

Back in 2009, a female copperhead gave birth to a litter of four normal-looking offspring, but DNA analyses revealed no indication that they possessed any genetic information from a father.

What makes this find especially interesting is that it occurred in an animal with a backbone; the ability to reproduce asexually is relatively common among invertebrates, but the list of vertebrates that can reproduce asexually is significantly shorter.

When it does occur in vertebrate females, this particular mode of asexual reproduction is known as facultative parthenogenesis—which, you'll recall, is exactly what happened in Jurassic Park. And while this isn't the first time scientists have found evidence of parthenogenesis in non-avian reptiles (see here for our coverage of its discovery in boa constrictors), only four parthenogenic snake species have been described in the last 14 years. But more species could be out there.

"With the availability of DNA fingerprinting technologies, we are now becoming aware that the process of parthenogenesis is in fact more common than we ever imagined," said geneticist Warren Booth, co-author of the research paper documenting the discovery, published in the October 10th issue of the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society.

"Instead of wasting eggs, which are costly to produce and a finite resource, parthenogenesis may represent an alternate means of reproduction to overcome this."

Biological Journal of the Linnean Society (doi: 10.1111/j.1095-8312.2011.01782.x) via LiveScience
Top image via LiveScience