Weird Science: Virgin Birth

Less than 0.1% of vertebrate species can produce offspring asexually. Happens all the time among the lesser species–insects, amoeba, etc. But us backbone types? No.

It can happen, though, according to BBC’s Earth News. A kimodo dragon here, a hammerhead shark there. Eggs can develop without having been fertilized by sperm. It can happen and its called parthenogenesis. Parthenogenesis probably occurs when it’s time for a baby, but there are no males handy.

Oddly, sometimes males are around, and a female still produces offspring parthenogenetically. Stranger still, sometimes parthenogenesis occurs, even after mating. They’ve discovered the phenomenon in certain boa constrictors. A male and female boa mate, but the sperm for some reason are not used. The babies carry only the mother’s genes.

How about this weird story: A sexually immature female diamondback was captured and kept isolated from males for five years. She then gave birth to 19 healthy babies, created non-parthenogenetically. In other words the babies had genetic material from a father as well as the mother. How can that be? Apparently she’d mated before being captured and the sperm were stored for years until the cells were mature enough to produce healthy offspring.

Not quite virgin birth, but still lovingly weird.

Sue Lange

Sue Lange’s latest ebook, Tritcheon Hash, is full of lapses of logic and weird science. “It’s a wild, good read.” Get your copy right here at good ol’ BVC.

This essay was first posted on December 12, 2011 at the Singularity Watch blog.

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