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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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New approach to newt conservation in Woking

News Story 1
 Habitats for great crested newts will be enhanced or created by Woking Borough Council prior to any development taking place. This will join up existing populations, making them healthier and more resilient.

A new organisational licence for the council will allow it to authorise operations that may affect great crested newts on development of sites. For more information see Natural England's website

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Rainer Theuer  

News Shorts
New DNA testing scheme for Welsh terriers approved

A new DNA test for Primary Lens Luxation in the Welsh Terrier has been approved by the Kennel Club following consultation with breed clubs.

Caroline Kisko, Kennel Club secretary, said: "Primary Lens Luxation is an inherited eye condition which can be painful and lead to blindness, so we are pleased to be announcing this new DNA test for Welsh terriers.

"This will help breeders make informed decisions when it comes to breeding, enable potential puppy buyers to be aware of issues which could affect their chosen breed, and ultimately protect and maintain the health of the breed."