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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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New European accreditation body for veterinary education

Veterinary Continuing Education in Europe has been set up with the aim of setting European standards for post graduate professional development programmes for the improvement of veterinary care.

The Federation of Veterinarians of Europe, the European Board for Veterinary Specialisation, the European Association of Establishments for Veterinary Education and the Union of European Veterinary Practitioners, set up the new VetCEE accreditation body.

Christophe Buhot, president of the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE), commented: "It is expected that VetCEE will raise the quality and transparency of post graduate training programmes, to the ultimate benefit of animals and their owners."