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  #1    
Old September 11th, 2012, 10:13 PM
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Virgin births have been reported in wild vertebrates for the first time.

Researchers in the US caught pregnant females from two snake species and genetically analysed the litters.

That proved the North American pit-vipers reproduced without a male, a phenomenon called facultative parthenogenesis that has previously been found only in captive species.

Scientists say the findings could change our understanding of animal reproduction and vertebrate evolution.

It was thought to be extremely rare for a normally sexual species to reproduce asexually.

First identified in domestic chickens, such "virgin births" have been reported in recent years in a few snake, shark, lizard and bird species.

Crucially though, all such virgin births have occurred in captivity, to females kept away from males.

Virgin births in vertebrates in general have been viewed as "evolutionary novelties", said Warren Booth, from the University of Tulsa, Oklahoma, US.

Professor Booth is lead author of a paper published in the Royal Society's Biological Letters that challenges this label.

He and his collaborators investigated virgin births in wild populations of two geographically separated and long-studied species of snake.

"The frequency is what really shocked us”

-Dr Warren Booth University of Tulsa

They captured pregnant copperhead and cottonmouth female pit-vipers from the field, where males were present.

The snakes gave birth, allowing the scientists to study the physical and genetic characteristics of the litters.

Of the 22 copperheads, the scientists found one female that must have had a virgin birth.

Another single virgin birth occurred within the 37 cottonmouth litters.

"I think the frequency is what really shocked us," said Prof Booth.

"That's between 2.5 and 5% of litters produced in these populations may be resulting from parthenogenesis.

"That's quite remarkable for something that has been considered an evolutionary novelty," he said.


A virgin birth, or parthenogenesis, is when an egg grows and develops without being fertilised by sperm.

It results in offspring that only have their mother's genetic material; no fatherly contribution is required.

This is not uncommon in invertebrates such as aphids, bees and ants.

It also happens in a few all-female species of lizard; geckos and whiptails for example. But here it occurs across a generation; all female reproduce asexually via a process called obligate parthenogenesis.

But asexual reproduction by a normally sexual vertebrate species is still rare, having been reported in under 0.1% of species.

It was only in the mid-1990s that virgin births began to be documented in captive snakes, followed by a captive giant lizard in 2006 and a captive shark in 2007.
A whiptail lizard (c) Rolf Nussbaumer / NPL Some all female species, such as some whiptail lizards, reproduce asexually

To date this now includes around 10 species of snakes including a couple of boas, and a python, four species of shark, and several monitor lizards, including the endangered Komodo dragon.

Recently the zebra finch and Chinese painted quail were added to the list. All were kept in isolation in unnatural conditions and away from any males.

So to find asexual reproduction in two species of snake in the wild on their first attempt was "astounding", according to Prof Booth and his collaborators.

Virgin births should no longer be viewed as "some rare curiosity outside the mainstream of evolution," he said.
Evolutionary dead-end?

It remains unclear whether the female snakes actively select to reproduce this way, or whether the virgin births are triggered by some other factor, such as a virus or bacterial infection.

"Any answer is pure speculation at this point," says Prof Booth.

In captivity, two sharks, and three snakes, have been shown to have had multiple virgin births, producing more than one litter via facultative parthenogenesis.

As yet, it also remains unclear whether the offspring of these wild virgin births can themselves go on to have normal, or virgin births of their own.

In captive snakes studied so far, offspring have so far not been proved viable, that is capable of surviving and reproducing.
A cottonmouth pit-viper (c) Tom Spink / Flickr Cottonmouth pit-vipers are capable of virgin births in the wild

However, earlier this year Prof Booth and colleagues reported that a checkered gartersnake that has had consecutive virgin births, appears to have produced viable male offspring.

Parthenogenicly born copperheads and cottonmouths are also currently being raised and "in the next two to three years we will know if they are indeed viable," said Prof Booth.

"If they cannot survive and reproduce, then this is a reproductive dead-end.

"However, if they are healthy and can reproduce, that opens an entirely new avenue for research," he said.

Being able to switch from sexual to asexual reproduction could be advantageous; in the absence of males a female could still give birth and start a new, albeit inbred, population.

Her genes could still be passed on via her fertile male offspring.

Scientists believe that facultative parthenogenesis is more common in some lineages such as reptiles and sharks.

However it is unlikely that similar virgin births will be found among placental mammals, which include all the mammals aside from the platypus and echidnas.

That is because mammals require a process called genomic imprinting to reproduce, where a set of genes from one parent dominates over the other. The interaction between the two sets of parental genes is required for embryos to develop normally.
Pretty wild stuff. Imagine if it could be proven that it's possible in humans?
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Old September 11th, 2012, 10:36 PM
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If it's proven to be possible in humans, a lot of religious folks will claim it's a gift from their God, but on-topic: I think it's actually pretty cool that evolution has done something like this, if it were possible to replicate this for animals(if evolution won't allow this to happen for a long time), we wouldn't have to worry about running short on meat at all(and it will be especially helpful for 3rd world countries since they're more closer to food shortages than 1st world countries). But on the downside, it just makes Australia even more deadlier :V
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Old September 12th, 2012, 06:49 AM
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Also if this could be found to be possible in other animals perhaps we could replicate it in Endangered species so they don't go extinct.
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Old September 12th, 2012, 10:37 AM
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I had no idea there were so many cases of this happening in such different branches of animals.

If I remember my biology class though, doesn't asexual reproduction leave a species vulnerable to disease? All the offspring would share the same natural defenses / vulnerabilities and so one (un)lucky infection could wipe out a whole population.

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if it were possible to replicate this for animals(if evolution won't allow this to happen for a long time), we wouldn't have to worry about running short on meat at all(and it will be especially helpful for 3rd world countries since they're more closer to food shortages than 1st world countries).
I don't follow you on this. How would this make it easier to get meat? Animals (by which I assume you mean mammals like cows, etc.) would still need to be fed, pastured, etc.
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Old September 12th, 2012, 05:21 PM
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I don't follow you on this. How would this make it easier to get meat? Animals (by which I assume you mean mammals like cows, etc.) would still need to be fed, pastured, etc.
well of course, they wouldn't be fed magically. And it makes it easier so you won't have to wait for a bull to get it's romp going on.
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Old September 13th, 2012, 09:59 AM
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Virgin births have been reported in wild vertebrates for the first time.
Pretty sure this article is out of date.

Parthenogenesis has been known in reptiles, mostly smaller lizards and snakes for some time now. Whiptail Lizards (in the link) have long be known to have a female-only population though so these snakes certainly aren't the only 'wild' examples.

Edit:// Wait, the thing then contradicts itself and says it's known in loads of species. Neverminddd!

@Scarf - Yes, asexual reproduction leads to very genetically similar populations. If a new disease comes along/the environment changes suddenly then those populations reproducing by parthenogenesis will be unlikely to have the diversity to survive.

Just a note, although they are asexual offspring there will be slight genetic differences due to random mutations.
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Old September 13th, 2012, 08:28 PM
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Originally Posted by SwiftSign View Post
Pretty sure this article is out of date.

Parthenogenesis has been known in reptiles, mostly smaller lizards and snakes for some time now. Whiptail Lizards (in the link) have long be known to have a female-only population though so these snakes certainly aren't the only 'wild' examples.

Edit:// Wait, the thing then contradicts itself and says it's known in loads of species. Neverminddd!

@Scarf - Yes, asexual reproduction leads to very genetically similar populations. If a new disease comes along/the environment changes suddenly then those populations reproducing by parthenogenesis will be unlikely to have the diversity to survive.

Just a note, although they are asexual offspring there will be slight genetic differences due to random mutations.

I believe the difference is that it was observed in captive animals before it was documented in the wild.
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Old September 14th, 2012, 07:09 PM
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Old September 14th, 2012, 07:29 PM
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Originally Posted by SwiftSign View Post
Pretty sure this article is out of date.

Parthenogenesis has been known in reptiles, mostly smaller lizards and snakes for some time now. Whiptail Lizards (in the link) have long be known to have a female-only population though so these snakes certainly aren't the only 'wild' examples.

Edit:// Wait, the thing then contradicts itself and says it's known in loads of species. Neverminddd!

@Scarf - Yes, asexual reproduction leads to very genetically similar populations. If a new disease comes along/the environment changes suddenly then those populations reproducing by parthenogenesis will be unlikely to have the diversity to survive.

Just a note, although they are asexual offspring there will be slight genetic differences due to random mutations.
What Live didn't add is that the amount found in captivity happened because a female was held captive alone with no males to breed with her. This is important because there were males in the wild environment, and the female was still reproducing asexually. Considering this asexual reproduction has created weak, sickly babies a lot of the time, it raises the question of why, when there's a higher chance of getting viable offspring from sexual reproduction, why asexual reproduction would occur at all. It makes sense in the captive animals that had no males to reproduce with, but it happening in the wild like this is pretty mind-blowing.
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Old September 15th, 2012, 01:47 AM
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Originally Posted by Toujours View Post
What Live didn't add is that the amount found in captivity happened because a female was held captive alone with no males to breed with her. This is important because there were males in the wild environment, and the female was still reproducing asexually. Considering this asexual reproduction has created weak, sickly babies a lot of the time, it raises the question of why, when there's a higher chance of getting viable offspring from sexual reproduction, why asexual reproduction would occur at all. It makes sense in the captive animals that had no males to reproduce with, but it happening in the wild like this is pretty mind-blowing.
Ah right, I see.

Still the species I linked above have entire wild populations of females with absolutely no males present - which is certainly interesting. Studies also show that females 'mate' with each other, possibly as a way to kickstart the asexual reproduction.

Which I guess technically makes them lesbian lizards .
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Old September 15th, 2012, 03:19 AM
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I ripped this post off from some random guy on smogon
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