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Faculty Sponsor

Dr. Mark Jordan

Department/Program

Department of Biology

University Affiliation

Indiana University – Purdue University Fort Wayne

Abstract

In general, vertebrates reproduce sexually, thereby promoting genetic variation that could lead to increased fitness and a reduction in the accumulation of harmful mutations in the species' genome. Although sexual reproduction is most common, some species reproduce asexually using parthenogenesis and may do so facultatively. The Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix) is one such species. To date, this alternative reproductive strategy has only been observed in one population, and the widespread use of this tactic is not known. In this study, we explore a possible instance of parthenogenesis in a snake from southern Indiana. In 2010, after eight years in captivity, a female copperhead produced a litter containing four infertile ova and one near-term stillborn neonate. To test the hypothesis that the neonate was produced asexually, we developed a panel of microsatellite loci for use in DNA fingerprinting and utilized this method to genotype the mother and her offspring, as well as wild-caught individuals in the maternal population. Based on previous research, we expected heterozygous maternal loci to be homozygous in the offspring, indicating terminal fusion automixis. Four loci displayed this pattern and, using allele frequencies in the female's population of origin, we were also able to show that the probability of paternity for this offspring is low. Together, these results further confirm that Copperheads are facultatively parthenogenic and extend the geographic range of this reproductive mode in the species.

Disciplines

Biology | Life Sciences

An Independent Observation of Facultative Parthenogenesis in the Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix)

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