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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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Workshop to take place on how animals learn

Central College of Animal Studies, based at Elmswell in Suffolk, is the venue for a workshop about how animals learn and why they behave the way they do on Friday, October 3.

The day, from 9am to 5pm, will feature presentations from Loni Loftus MSc BSc (Hons) veterinary behaviour programme manager and Karen Wild BA (Hons) DipAppPsy covering topics including canine evolution, the latest theory on canine origin and domestication and jargon busting and interactive sessions around animal behaviour, learning and training.

Tickets for the animal instincts companion animal behaviour course are priced at £155 but a 50 per cent discount is available to training practices that use Central College of Animal Studies - please indicate this when making your booking or if you would like to find out more about becoming a training practice please get in touch.

For more information and to book your place please call 01359 243405 or email enquiries@ccoas.org.uk.