Researchers have reported two California Condor chicks that hatched without fertilization from a male condor in what is being deemed as a ‘virgin birth’. The discovery was made after the researchers cross-referenced the chicks’ DNA against their potential fathers, and found none matched. In fact, there was no registered male California Condor whose DNA matched the two chicks. The DNA belonged 100% to their mothers.
So how did the researchers come to have a database of California Condors in the first place?
The birds had been on the decline, and in 1987 only twenty two were left in the wild. The choice was made to bring them all into captivity. Their current population sits at around 500. There are 200 California Condors in captivity currently. Thanks to the nurturing care of scientists some of the birds were carefully rewilded. There are now approximately 300 in the wild across California and Mexico. A ‘studbook’ of these condors was made, that documented which condor had mated with whom, and the number of offspring they had. Tracking the condors was essential to their survival. The scientists also ensured that there was enough genetic diversity in the species when encouraging pairs to mate.
The discovery that the California Condor was capable of asexual reproduction was a new phenomenon amongst these birds. This form of reproduction is mainly limited to reptiles and fish and is known as parthenogenesis. Parthenogenisis is most common amongst more ancient species. There has been no natural cases of this in mammals.Asexual reproduction has also been seen amongst turkeys and chickens, though most die soon after birth due to lack of genetic diversity.
These particular chicks managed to live several years, and is an exciting insight into how females of the species can reproduce asexually when there is no viable mate.