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Virgin birth found in wild vertebrates
Snake
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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News Shorts
BEVA Trust to launch vet volunteer pilot projects

Following a review of its activities and an assessment of BEVA members views, the BEVA Trust is set to launch a series of vet volunteer pilot projects. The projects will help to decide whether BEVA members' willingness to donate their own time can be used in ventures to improve equine health and welfare.

The review was undertook by experts from veterinary, equine, charity and commercial sectors. They considered the evolution of the Trust and gathered the views of BEVA members, to assess what charitable activities were needed and achievable. It was strongly agreed that BEVA should have a philanthropic arm and a significant majority expressed that they would be willing to donate their time in support of the trust.

In response to the review, the Trust now plans to make use of the expertise and significant intellectual capital within BEVA and put it to a charitable purpose through pilot partnerships with existing NGOs. An initial series of projects will involve collaboration with UK and international organisations, including the British Horse Society, to put equine veterinary volunteers on the ground to provide clinical skills and education.