By David Laycock •
Published: 10 Jun 2023 • 23:55
Image of a crocodile.
Credit: Leigh Bedford
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0
A crocodile in Costa Rica has become pregnant without any access to a mate, a remarkable first known case of a virgin birth in this particular type of reptile.
The crocodile, who is named Coquita, has lived alone at Parque Reptilianda Zoo in the West of Costa Rica for over 16 years, with no access to males. Amazingly, vets found a fully-formed foetus inside one of her eggs, with genetic analysis revealing that the foetus shared 99.9% of its genetic material with the mother.
Parthenogenesis, the scientific name for these types of birth, has been seen in a number of animal types, but this is the first documented case in crocodiles.
The 18-year-old croc had her eggs analysed and it was discovered that seven of these were suitable for incubation. When they failed to hatch they were opened and a stillborn foetus was discovered.
Dr Warren Booth, a researcher at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and highly respected in the field of reptilian parthenogenesis, was sent a scale from the stillborn foetus.
Speaking to the BBC he said the discovery was unsurprising saying: ”We see it in in sharks, birds, snakes and lizards and it is remarkably common and widespread”. He said the low incident rate of such births in crocodiles was likely because nobody was really looking.
The phenomena of parthenogenesis has been seen in creatures on the verge of extinction, where it seems to be triggered to protect the species. It also appears that in circumstances where females lack access to a mate the same mechanism can be brought on.
It may even be possible that instances of parthenogenesis happen when mating is freely available, but without closer studies, it is hard to say.
With crocodiles or their ancestors co-existing with dinosaurs, the recent phenomena seen in Coquita the virgin croc means scientists can speculate further on the reproductive possibilities available to long-extinct creatures.
This instance of a virgin birth in a crocodile challenges our understanding of reproduction and gives insights into the natural world. Highlighting diversity and adaptability in nature and expanding the discourse on ancient reptiles.
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Dave Laycock has always written. Poems, songs, essays, academic papers as well as newspaper articles; the written word has always held a great fascination for him and he is never happier than when being creative. From a musical background, Dave has travelled the world performing and also examining for a British music exam board. He also writes, produces and performs and records music. All this aside, he is currently fully focussed on his journalism and can’t wait to share more stories from around the world and beyond.
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