Endangered Sawfish Species Experiences Virgin Births

Scientists have recently recorded evidence of “virgin births” in a giant Floridian species of endangered fish, which boasts a sawlike snout. The animal, which normally reproduces sexually, could have utilized this method of asexual reproduction as a “last-ditch-evolutionary” strategy in order to avoid extinction.

Evidence of Virgin Births in Sawfish Species

DNA tests were conducted on seven endangered rays, known as smalltooth sawfish. The results revealed that the animals can conceive asexually through a process called parthenogenesis. According to Andrew Fields, a doctoral student at Stony Brook University, his team had been focused on studying the sawfish in order to determine whether or not various population pressures had forced the creatures to mate with relatives. Instead, what the researchers found was even more astonishing: the female sawfish were able to reproduce without ever having the opportunity to mate.

Incidences of Virgin Births: Is It Common?

Parthenogenesis has been noted in some species of birds, snakes and sharks held in captivity. The world’s largest lizard, the Komodo dragon, for example, has given birth in this manner. The process, however, is rare in animals with backbones; vertebrate parthenogenesis, however, is believed to occur after an unfertilized egg absorbs a genetically identical sister cell. The “virgin-born” offspring are known as parthenogens. Although they often die, in this instance, the seven rays seem to all be in perfect health.

Even so, researchers note that the evolutionary strategy will probably not be enough to save the endangered species. In the meantime, scientists are now interested in studying the topic more thoroughly. According to Fields, they are particularly focused on whether or not this particular sawfish species possesses some unique characteristic or feature that makes it better adapted for virgin births in general.

The latest discovery can be found in journal of Current Biology, reported on by Demian Chapman of Stony Brook University and his colleagues from the Pritzker Laboratory at the Field Museum of Chicago and Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.

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