A female crocodile at a zoo in Costa Rica has become the first known case of a crocodile to have self-fertilized and become pregnant.
She gave birth to a developing human organism that shared 99.9% of its genetic makeup with her own.
The occurrence of "virgin birth" has been observed in various animals such as birds, fish, and reptiles, but it has never been reported in crocodiles before.
According to scientists, the ability to reproduce asexually may have been passed down from a common ancestor through evolution. This means that dinosaurs may have also possessed the capability of self-reproduction.
In January 2018, a female American crocodile who was 18 years old laid an egg at Parque Reptilania. Unfortunately, the fully formed fetus inside the egg was stillborn and did not come out of the shell.
The park’s scientific team acquired a two-year-old crocodile that was kept isolated from other crocodiles for its entire life. Due to this unique circumstance, they reached out to a US team from Virginia Polytechnic who are experts in parthenogenesis, also known as virgin births.
Upon analysis of the foetus, it was discovered that it shared a genetic similarity of over 99.9% with its mother, validating that it was fatherless.
According to a publication in the Biology Letters of the Royal Society, scientists believe that virgin births could be widespread among crocodiles, but have been overlooked due to lack of investigation.
According to a research paper by scientists, it is common for captive reptiles to lay eggs even without a mate due to their isolation period. Although these eggs are usually considered non-viable and thrown away, the scientists recommend assessing them for potential viability when males are not present.
Moreover, it is possible for virgin births to happen even when there are potential mates present, but these occurrences may go unnoticed if the female is living with a male during reproduction.
The reason behind the occurrence of parthenogenesis in various species is not yet fully understood. However, there has been an increase in its recognition in scientific literature, which could be attributed to researchers‘ heightened interest in the subject. Some scientists speculate that parthenogenesis occurs in species that have the ability to reproduce asexually when their population is decreasing and they are in danger of becoming extinct.
According to the researchers, the recent evidence provides alluring information about the potential reproductive abilities of prehistoric relatives of crocodiles, particularly the dinosaurs.
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