Lizards Prove Virgin Birth is Possible

11/12/2010

You might be surprised to learn that virgin births are found in nature, not just religious tradition and mythology.   That said, virgin birth is something not normally seen in vertebrates (animals with backbones).  Some insects and other invertebrates commonly reproduce by the cloning process called parthenogenesis.  Vertebrates, on the other hand, reproduce sexually, with a male contributing genetic material to the female during the mating process, which combines to form offspring.  At least usually.

Lizard All Female A newly described lizard species from Vietnam demonstrates that it's possible for vertebrate animals to reproduce asexually, with females giving birth to offspring without mating with a male.

Named Leiolepis ngovantrii, it is a kind of butterfly lizard.  The first odd thing about it is the story of its recent discovery by scientists.  It is fairly common in the Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province in Vietnam and is well-known to the locals, who have made it a regular part of their diet and commonly serve it in rural restaurants.  In fact, a restaurant is where the lizard first piqued the interest of a scientist who saw it on the menu. He took photos of several of the lizards that were in a holding tank at the diner and sent them to his colleagues at La Sierra University in California, who quickly made plans to travel to Vietnam to investigate.  Unfortunately, by the time they were able to reach that particular restaurant to get specimens of the lizard for study, the owner had cooked and served them all.  Luckily, with the help of local kids and other restaurants, they were able to collect several dozen specimens on their own.

Upon investigation, the scientists made a bizarre discovery: all of these lizards are female. Even odder, they suspect that the lizards are actually hybrids of two other species and, rather than being sterile like most hybrids, evolved the ability to develop offspring without requiring fertilzation from males.

VIDEO: Hear the odd tale of discovery of this species.

 

 

Photo from La Sierra University via Daily Mail UK.


David Mizejewski is a naturalist with the National Wildlife Federation. His goal is to inspire others to appreciate the wonders of nature. Meet David >
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