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California condors may have ‘virgin births’: study

 |  Today Headlines

California condors may have ‘virgin births’: study

| Today Headlines | Usa news

SAN DIEGO (AP) – Endangered California condors may have “virgin births,” according to a study released Thursday.

Researchers at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance said genetic testing confirmed that two male chicks hatched in 2001 and 2009 from unfertilized eggs were linked to their mothers. Neither was related to a man.

The study was published Thursday in the Journal of Heredity. This is the first report of asexual reproduction in California condors, although parthenogenesis can occur in other species ranging from sharks to honey bees to Komodo dragons.

But in birds, this usually only happens when females don’t have access to males. In this case, each mother condor had already bred with males, producing 34 chicks, and each was housed with a fertile male by the time they produced the eggs by parthenogenesis.

The researchers said they believed it was the first case of asexual reproduction in an avian species where the female had access to a partner.

“These findings now raise questions about whether this could happen undetected in other species,” said Oliver Ryder, study co-author and director of conservation genetics for the San Diego Zoo. Wildlife Alliance.

The nonprofit alliance manages the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park and has been involved in a condor breeding program in California that has helped bring giant vultures back from near extinction.

With a wingspan of 10 feet (3 meters), California condors are the largest flying birds in North America. They once spanned the entire west coast. But only 22 survived into the 1980s when the US government captured them and placed them in zoos for captive breeding. About 160 were bred at the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park.

There are now more than 500 California condors, including more than 300 that have been released into the wild in California, Arizona, Utah and Mexico.

Asexual reproduction was discovered a few years ago during large-scale testing of genetic material collected over decades from condors, live and dead, in breeding programs and in the wild.

“Of the 467 male California condors tested in the parentage analysis, no male was identified as a potential father” of the two birds, according to the study.

California condors can live up to 60 years, but both males were sick. One was less than 2 years old when he died and the other lived less than eight years.


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