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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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Zoo celebrates arrival of four dwarf crocs

News Story 1
 Whipsnade Zoo are celebrating the arrival of Four West African dwarf crocodiles - the first to hatch in 18 years!

Zookeepers say the reptiles, which measure just eight inches long, are already exploring their tropical enclosure and pool within the Zoo's Butterfly House.

Classified as vulnerable by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the crocs will be added to the European Studbook (ESB) for West African dwarf crocodiles.  

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Endurance horses tests positive for banned substance

The FEI has provisionally suspended athlete Nayef Al Fayez for two months following the discovery of a banned substance in his horse.

Samples taken from endurance horse Obama Al Aswad returned positive for the anabolic steroid Boldenone, as well as three other controlled medications.

The horse, who finished second place at a race in May, has also been provisionally suspended for a two-month period.