All hail the baby Jesus…snake

Posted on November 3, 2010

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18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”.

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

(Matthew 1:18-25)

Scientists are scratching their heads, those with a religious belief (should probably be) hailing the rebirth of the Messiah. We’ve had an immaculate conception, but not as most people would have imagined it.

It’s not in humans, as it says in the Bible, but it is in a boa constrictor. She’s produced two full litters – 22 baby snakes – that don’t have the genetic makeup of their father.

While humans have XX and XY chromosomes, which pair together to make a baby, snakes have a similar (but annoyingly slightly differing) chromosomatic markup: they use Z’s and W’s. Just as two XX chromosomes in humans would create a female child, and an X and a Y create a male, normally for snakes ZZ creates a male and ZW a female.

The Z chromosome comes from the father. What’s really weird about these 22 snakes is that they don’t have a Z chromosome: all their pairs are WW’s. This tickles me and amazes me in equal measure. If you’re confused and intrigued like I was, the full detail (beyond that outlined in the BBC article linked to above) can be found in the original journal, Biology Letters.

Any ideas for names for the 22 (beyond Jesus)? Let me know below.

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