By: Wilson Gao
Scientists have documented a virgin birth of a crocodile for the first time. When humans hear about this concept they might say it is bizarre, but in the animal kingdom, it is totally normal.
Crocodiles are ancient creatures that have existed for millions of years and belong to the order Crocodylia. They are known for their fierce predatory behavior and have evolved over time to become apex predators in aquatic environments around the world. These reptiles reproduce sexually, with males fertilizing eggs produced by females during mating season.
The virgin birth, or parthenogenesis, is a form of reproduction where an egg develops into an embryo without being fertilized by sperm from a male partner. It is relatively rare among vertebrates but has been observed in some species such as birds, fish, lizards, and snakes.
In 2019, scientists conducted a study examining captive female crocodiles at various locations within the United Kingdom's Everglades National Park. The researchers’ goal was to search for signs of parthenogenesis using DNA sequencing techniques in hatchlings that did not appear to be genetically related to nearby males.
The evidence suggested that one female reticulated python had reproduced through randomly occurring parthenogenesis. A second pregnant python failed to produce viable offspring via this method.
Due to the limited number of experimental samples, scientists believe it is still too early to draw a concrete conclusion.
Another group of scientists discovered that two hatchlings born from an adult female Morelet's crocodile held at Alligator Adventure Zoo were genetic clones, meaning they shared no genetic material with identified males and instead formed when a single egg split in two.
The fact that the mechanism of parthenogenesis is the same in so many different species suggests that it is a very ancient trait that has been inherited through the ages.