The idea of virgin birth is not only the cornerstone of Christianity, but also a scientific fact observed in several animal species. Although scientists have determined that mammalian species are not capable of passing on genetic material through virgin birth or parthenogenesis, they have observed that some snake and shark species are able to reproduce in the absence of a mate.
The latest virgin birth witnessed by the scientists was observed at the Reef HQ Aquarium in Queensland. Leonie, a zebra shark, raised in captivity, ‘gave birth’ to three healthy zebra shark pups, after spending more than three years in a tank alone and without a male shark.
The scientists studying Leonie declared that it’s not uncommon for zebra sharks to lay eggs without copulation, but they remain unfertilized much like chicken eggs. However, as the scientists noted, in some instances, the egg laid by a female zebra shark can hatch, the result being perfectly normal and healthy shark pups.
The researchers working at the aquarium said that this is the first case of shark parthenogenesis ( the scientific term for virgin birth) ever to be recorded at the Queensland-based. Although the process through which sharks give birth to offspring without male fertilizations has been thoroughly documented, the researchers cannot say for sure what triggers this type of reproductive behavior.
In Leonie’s case, the need to pass on the genes was dire, considering the fact that the female shark has not copulated with a male shark in three years. At first, the scientists were skeptical about Leoni’s virgin birth, since many sharks have the capacity of storing sperm, should they find themselves isolated from male sharks.
However, the ‘paternity’ test performed on Leoni’s pups confirmed that they had inherited only their mother’s genes. So, Queensland Aquarium now has three more shark mouths to feed, and researchers have tons of data that needs to be studied.
Leoni’s caretakers declared that it’s understandable why the female shark opted for a virgin birth, considering the circumstances, but do keep in mind that Leoni was born and raised in captivity.
As for the female shark’s distant relative, the researchers have hypothesized that some female sharks who are isolated or have trouble finding a suitable mate, choose this method of reproduction, in order to pass on the genes.
The same type of behavior has been observed in spotted eagle rays, Columbian Rainbow boas, and reticulated pythons.
Image source: Wikipedia