Baby female dinosaurs lay eggs and reproduceBaby female dinosaurs lay eggs and reproduce

Baby Komodos at Texas Zoo had two
parents, but could have had virgin mom

By Ariel Tesch, Staff Reporter

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The
story of a virgin birth plays a prominent role in Christmas celebrations each
December, but herpetologists at one North Texas area zoo are thankful for a
different kind of birth, one that could have also been a virgin birth. Secluded
female Komodo Dragons are one of the few animal species that can produce
offspring without mating, but the new clutch born at the Fort Worth Zoo came
from a mated pair of the large reptiles.

While
the biblical story of Jesus’ birth to a virgin mother presents an example of a
miracle, such occurrences in the animal kingdom are less than miraculous. Virgin
births can happen naturally for about 70 different species of vertebrate
animals, including the Komodo Dragons found in Indonesia. Komodo Dragons are
the world’s largest living species of lizard. Measuring up to 10 feet long and
weighing up to 200 pounds, the Komodo Dragons are one of the world’s oldest
species as well. With sharp teeth and terrifying features, these predators eat
mostly deer and carrion, but also attack humans. Scientists believe these
cousins of the extinct dinosaurs have been patrolling the same Indonesian Islands
or over 100 million years.

Komodo Dragons may number around 3-6,000 in the wild and are
listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

A
group of fertilized eggs, also called a clutch, was produced from mating a pair
of Dragons at the Fort Worth Zoo earlier this year. Those eggs hatched in late
November.

“Students
often comment on the comparison to Jurassic Park,” said David Boyd, a retired
Texas biology professor and author. “In captivity they have been seen to do
what the dinosaurs did in the movie. We thought they could but the movie came
out before we had the proof.”

Jurassic
Park, a 1993 action adventure movie about cloned dinosaurs features a plot
point in which cloned female dinosaurs lay eggs and reproduce without any males
provided to the island. In the movie it appears that amphibian DNA allowed the
dinosaurs to change gender and become male, leading to the animal procreation.

In
2006, a lone female at the London Zoo was the first captive Komodo Dragon to
produce a clutch of living eggs without mating. Scientists hypothesize that a
single female could swim to an island and populate it with her offspring
without a male. While this may be good news for those hoping to stave off
extermination and save the species, the lack of diversity within the gene pool
can cause health problems. Just as the trend of pure bred dogs led to pets with
health problems, the inbreeding of any animal species can weaken its defenses
and exacerbate health concerns. For this reason, conservation efforts aimed at
preserving endangered species often rely on the cooperation of zoologists and
wildlife preserve personnel at competing facilities.

 “Captive births of some species are rare, and
virgin births even more so” zoo spokesperson Ashley Dean said. “While a virgin
birth of Komodos sounds interesting, any offspring would not be able to be used
in future breeding efforts. We are glad to report that this clutch includes
eleven unique hatchlings, safely away from both parents.”

The
young Komodo Dragons are segregated from the adults because the Komodo is a
cannibal species and parents in the wild, and if kept together in captivity,
often eat their own young.

Komodo Dragons, the
world’s largest lizard, live only on a few islands in Indonesia, and in
selected zoos. Map Courtesy of Buzzle Services.