A crocodile in Costa Rica has impregnated itself in the first recorded instance of a “virgin birth” in a reptile species.
The crocodile was kept in captivity at the zoo and had no contact with males – but a fully formed fetus was found inside one of her eggs.
The fetus is 99.9% genetically identical to the mother, confirming that it has no father.
Virgin births or parthenogenesis have been recorded in birds, lizards, snakes and fish, but never in crocodiles.
The crocodile was 18 years old when it laid its clutch of eggs in 2018.
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Seven of the eggs appeared to be viable and were hatched, but after three months they had not hatched and they were opened. One contained a stillborn crocodile fetus.
Researchers from Virginia Tech who specialize in parthenogenesis analyzed the fetuses, and their findings are published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters.
The discovery, they say, suggests that crocodiles may be giving birth virginally without anyone realizing it.
“It is not uncommon for captive reptiles to lay eggs, and given the time spent in isolation from a mate, these are often considered non-viable and discarded.
“Thus, these findings suggest that eggs should be assessed for their potential viability when males are absent.
“Furthermore, given that (virgin births) can occur in the presence of potential mates, this may be missed when females cohabiting with males reproduce.”
The discovery provides “tantalizing insights” into the possible reproductive abilities of extinct crocodile relatives, especially dinosaurs, the scientists said.