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Scientists hail Komodo dragon's virgin birth

Breaking Animal Behavior News: England
Photo: A zoo keeper holds one of the five newly hatched Komodo dragons at Chester Zoo.(Dave Thompson/Associated Press)

Jan 25, 2007
A British zoo on Wednesday announced the virgin birth of five Komodo dragons, giving scientists new hope for the captive breeding of the endangered species. In an evolutionary twist, the newborns' eight-year-old mother, Flora, shocked staff at the Chester Zoo in northern England when she became pregnant without ever having a male partner or even being exposed to the opposite sex. Other reptile species reproduce asexually in a process known as parthenogenesis. But Flora's virginal conception, and that of another Komodo dragon in April at the London Zoo, are the first documented in a Komodo dragon. DNA paternity tests confirmed the lack of male input, although the brood are not exact clones of Flora. The evolutionary breakthrough could have far-reaching consequences for endangered species. Scientists are unsure whether female Komodo dragons have always had the ability to reproduce asexually or if this is a new evolutionary development. The reptiles, renowned for their intelligence, have no natural predators — making them on par with sharks and lions at the pinnacle of the animal kingdom.

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