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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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Less than a month to sign hedgehog petition

News Story 1
 Over 43,000 people have signed an online petition to make hedgehogs a protected species. Oliver Colvile MP, who launched the petition, has also received more than 3,000 paper signatures. But the petition closes in less than a month and it needs 100,000 signatures to be debated in parliament.

Hedgehog numbers have fallen by a third in urban areas and 50 per cent in rural areas since 2000. Mr Colvile said: "Their numbers are in serious decline and it is our responsibility and duty to help reverse that in any way we can." To sign the petition, visit: petition.parliament.uk/petitions/121264  

News Shorts
MS sufferer researches impact of assistance dogs

A Multiple Sclerosis sufferer has begun the UK's first known research into the impact of assistance dogs on the lives of people living with the disease.

Working with four UK assistance dog charities, Grainne O' Connor is currently interviewing the charities' clients about their experiences of having an assistance dog.

Grainne hopes her research will help inform national government social policy - with assistance dogs being recognised as an effective solution to meet some social care needs.