A zoo in Costa Rica has reported the first instance of a self-fertilizing crocodile. The female crocodile is believed to have impregnated herself.
She gave birth to a developing fetus that shared 99.9% of its genetic makeup with her own.
The occurrence of what is known as "virgin birth" has been observed in various types of animals such as birds, fish, and reptiles, however, it has not been seen in crocodiles until now.
According to the researchers, the characteristic could have been passed down from a common ancestor through evolution, which means that dinosaurs could have had the ability to reproduce on their own.
In January 2018, a female American crocodile who was 18 years old laid an egg in Parque Reptilania. Although the fetus inside the egg was fully developed, it was not able to hatch and was stillborn.
The park acquired a crocodile that laid an egg. This crocodile was isolated from other crocodiles for its entire life and was acquired at the age of two. As a result of this, the scientific team at the park reached out to a team from Virginia Polytechnic in the United States, which specialized in parthenogenesis or virgin births.
After analyzing the foetus, it was discovered that it shared over 99.9% of its genetic makeup with its mother, proving that it was not fathered by any male.
In the Biology Letters of the Royal Society, scientists suggest that virgin births might occur more frequently in crocodiles than previously thought. This has been overlooked until now because there has not been enough attention paid to discovering such occurrences.
According to a research paper, it is quite common for captive reptiles to lay eggs even when they are isolated from their mates. Normally, these eggs are considered non-viable and are thrown away. However, the researchers suggest that these eggs should be tested for viability when males are not present.
In addition, it is possible for virgin births to happen even when there are male partners present, and these occurrences may go undetected when females live with males during reproduction.
The reason for the occurrence of parthenogenesis in different species is not fully understood, but there have been more reports of it in scientific literature lately, which could be due to increased research efforts in this area. A possible explanation is that parthenogenesis is triggered in species that are capable of it when their population decreases and they are at risk of extinction.
According to the scientists, the recently discovered evidence provides a fascinating glimpse into the potential reproductive abilities of prehistoric creatures related to crocodiles, including dinosaurs.
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