Tuesday, 2 June 2015

'Virgin-born' sawfish are a first in the wild

By Jonathan WebbScience reporter, BBC News

1 June 2015 

Seven sawfish in Florida have become the first virgin-born animals ever found in the wild from a sexually reproducing species.

The discovery suggests that such births may be a natural response to dwindling numbers, rather than a freak occurrence largely seen in captivity.

It was made by ecologists studying genetic diversity in a critically endangered species of ray.

They say that births of this kind may be more common than previously thought.

The findings appear in the journal Current Biology.

Surprisingly common?
There are many species, particularly invertebrates, that naturally reproduce alone; some types of whiptail lizard, meanwhile, are bizarrely all-female.

But for an animal that normally reproduces by mating, a virgin birth is an oddity.

And yet a number of captive animals have produced virgin births. This roster of surprise arrivals includes sharks, snakes, Komodo dragons and turkeys - all species that normally use sexual reproduction.

And in 2012 a US research group reported two pregnant pit vipers, caught in the wild, each gestating baby snakes (inside eggs) that appeared to be fatherless.

But the smalltooth sawfish, a strange-looking beast that grows up to four metres long, is the first sexually reproducing species whose virgin-born babies have been found roaming free and healthy in their native habitat.

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