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Virgin birth found in wild vertebrates
First time "evolutionary novelty" found in wild animals

Researchers in the US have found a form of virgin birth in wild vertebrates for the first time, after genetically analysing pregnant females from two snake species.

They found that North American pit vipers reproduced without a male in a phenomenon called facultative parthenogenesis, previously only found in captive species, and scientists say the findings could change our understanding of animal reproduction and vertebrate evolution.

Thought to be extremely rare for normally sexual species, asexual reproduction was first identified in domestic chickens and, in recent years, reported in a few snake, shark, lizard and bird species.

However, all such "virgin births" have occurred in captivity to females kept away from males, and have in general been considered "evolutionary novelties."

Professor Warren Booth, from the University of Tulsa, Oklahoma, worked with a team to investigate virgin births in copperhead and cottonmouth female pit-vipers, where males were present.

Professor Booth, lead author of the paper published in the Royal Society's Biological Letters, said of the: "I think the frequency is what really shocked us. That's between 2.5 and 5% of litters produced in these populations may be resulting from parthenogenesis."

He added: "That's quite remarkable for something that has been considered an evolutionary novelty."

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Thousands take part in annual bee count

News Story 1
 Over 280,000 bees have been recorded so far in this year’s Great British Bee Count, with more than 15,000 people taking part. One nature lover in Surrey even spotted and photographed a rare long-horned bee, which is a UK priority species for conservation. Verified sightings will be shared with academic researchers and ecologists.

To take part, download the app from: https://www.foe.co.uk/bee-count

Photo © Chris Brown  

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Pet oxygen masks now carried by all East Sussex fire engines

Two charities have teamed up to ensure all fire engines in East Sussex carry a specialist pet oxygen mask as part of their standard practice. Smokey Paws raises money for the kits via public donations, company sponsorships and fundraisers, but has now joined forces with the RSPCA to help roll the scheme out across the UK.