The ability of animals to adapt to their environments is a beautiful thing that causes people to stop and marvel at the complexity of biological life. In a recent study published Wednesday, one such occasion was put on full display.
According to a study on a female crocodile that has been held alone in captivity since 2002 revealed that the croc has given birth to an offspring that is a 99.9% genetic match to the mother. In other words, a crocodile reportedly reproduced asexually for the first time in recorded science. The study’s abstract called this instance “the first evidence of FP (facultative parthenogenesis) in a crocodilian, the American crocodile, Crocodylus acutus.”
According to the research, this finding poses a new problem for zoo keepers. Often, a female croc that is left alone in a confined space for a while will lay eggs that have previously been believed to be non-viable. Now, the researchers suggest, those eggs may be thought to contain a viable fetus. They said, “It is not uncommon for captive reptiles to lay clutches of eggs, given the period of isolation from mates, these would normally be considered non-viable and discarded. These findings therefore suggest that eggs should be assessed for potential viability when males are absent.”
The study also suggests that while this phenomenon may not be common, it is likely a mechanism used to allow endangered populations to repopulate. The study claims, “Moreover, it has been hypothesized that FP may be more common in low-density populations, such as those on the verge of extinction.”
One Twitter member who claimed to have some knowledge of the subject enlightened users to the fact that these “virgin births” are not completely uncommon in the animal kingdom, saying, “Parthenogenesis. A common and successful type of female-only reproduction. Every order except for mammals has at least one parthenogenetic member.”
This jarring finding will for sure spark the imagination of many fans of the popular movie series “Jurassic Park”, as the idea that animals are naturally cloning themselves harkens back to the fantasy of reviving once dominant species of dinosaurs.
As if on queue, the study noted that this wowing virgin birth opens the door to such possibilities, writing, “This new evidence offers tantalizing insights into the possible reproductive capabilities of extinct archosaurian relatives of crocodilians, notably the Pterosauria and Dinosauria.”
Lastly, the creators of the study made sure to inform readers that the samples used to determine DNA from both the mother and offspring were obtained ethically. The study read, “This study used skin shed from the mother and tissue extracted from the stillborn fetus. As such, as no animals were harmed no institutional IACUC approval was required.”
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