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Boston Children’s Museum Surprising Discovery About Its Ball Python

August 4, 2021
For 12 Years Ollie the Snake was Thought to be Male
Something astonishing happened earlier this summer. Boston Children’s Museum science educator, Alissa Daniels, made a surprising discovery about her houseguest. She found Oliver, the Ball Python, coiled around a clutch of nine eggs. She was shocked to find the snake with eggs after presuming for the past 12 years that he was a male. Daniels was baffled about how Oliver (now Ollie) the male Ball Python laid nine eggs. There was some serious sleuthing that needed to happen.

Normally at home in the Museum, Ollie has been living at Daniels home for the past 16 months with no mate. She is typically friendly and curious about the world around her. A few weeks ago, Daniels noticed some changes in the snake. She thought he was hiding as he does when it is time to shed his skin. However, it was too soon for that to happen. She recently marched into the room where Ollie has been staying and was astounded to find him with eggs.

“My first reaction was Ollie is a girl and secondly, she had eggs? I was completely flabbergasted,” said Daniels, Science Program Manager. “What an exciting little chapter in Ollie’s story.”

Many invertebrates, such as insects, can produce offspring without ever mating. They can do this by replicating themselves and producing genetically identical offspring. It is a rare phenomenon, called Parthenogenesis (“virgin births”), to happen with a vertebrate.

Ollie was examined by a veterinarian who confirmed that Ollie is a healthy female. It can be difficult to determine the gender of a snake. The eggs were candled (held up to bright light) and ascertained that the eggs were not viable (slugs) and have been disposed. There is no record of her being with another snake, and she is presumed to be about 14 years old.

She came to live at Boston Children’s Museum through Rainforest Reptiles Shows who rescues animals, takes them from people who can no longer care for them, and educates the public all while keeping in mind the welfare of animals. Ball pythons are native to western and central Africa and get their name from its habit of curling into a ball when it feels threatened.

Ollie’s role at the Museum is to help people learn about snakes! Often, when visitors learn about Ollie during a Creature Feature program, they come away feeling much less nervous or afraid. They have a new appreciation for how cool snakes are. This chapter in Ollie’s story is another valuable teaching lesson and quite an unexpected surprise for the Museum.

Ollie is resting comfortably at Daniels’ house and has a healthy appetite. She looks forward to returning to Boston Children’s Museum soon.

For additional information about Ollie’s story, click on the following link:

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