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Costa Rica. Immaculate Conception in a crocodile

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A female crocodile has laid fertilized eggs despite having no contact with a male. The animal lived alone in a zoo in Costa Rica for many years, so its keepers were shocked when they saw 14 eggs in the pen. Although none of them hatched live young, scientists confirm that this is a groundbreaking discovery.

Parthenogenesis, also known as virgin birth, is a reproduction strategy based on the production of an embryo from the egg itself, without the participation of a sperm. In some organisms it is the main mode of reproduction, and in others it occurs relatively rarely – such cases have been recorded in some snakes, lizards, sharks and birds. An article published in the journal Biology Letters shows that ‘immaculate conception’ is also possible in crocodiles.

Fertilization without a male

A team of scientists from the United States and Costa Rica described the case of a female American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) from the Costa Rican zoo Parque Reptilandia. The animal had been in solitary confinement for 16 years, so keepers were surprised to discover 14 eggs in its enclosure in 2016.

Scientists were immediately informed about the case. The eggs were transported to the laboratory and tested – as it turned out, half of them were fertilized. They were placed in an incubator, but despite all efforts, none of them hatched.

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When the scientists were sure that all the eggs were lost, they decided to open them and test the embryos. Though most had not developed properly, inside one egg was a tiny, dead fetus, almost genetically identical to its mother. This indicated the occurrence of parthenogenesis – the first documented case of this phenomenon in crocodiles.

American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) – pic. illustrativeAdobe Stock

“Immaculate Conception” of dinosaurs

The American crocodile is a vulnerable species threatened with extinction in the wild. The animals inhabit an area from southern Florida to the northern part of South America. They usually mate in pairs, but it turns out that they can also reproduce parthenogenetically if necessary. One hypothesis is that this strategy may be more common among species on the brink of extinction.

Scientists have said that the “immaculate conception” in Costa Rica may also provide us with new information about the ancestors of crocodiles that inhabited the Earth about 250 million years ago.

– This discovery offers intriguing insights into the reproductive abilities of extinct organisms related to crocodiles and birds, especially those belonging to the orders Pterosauria and dinosaurs – they passed.

Main photo source: 208353732/Adobe Stock

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