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Amazing! Leopard Shark Successfully Reproduces Without a Mate, Gives Rare 'Virgin Birth' to 3 Pups

Jul 04, 2016 06:42 AM EDT
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Sharks spotted hunting unusually close to Australian beaches

Have you ever heard of a "virgin birth"?

A leopard shark named Leonie in Australia has conceived without the help of a mate. She has successfully given birth to three healthy female pups this week at the Reef HQ Great Barrier Reef Aquarium.

According to National Geographic, the leopard shark, also known as zebra shark, laid 41 eggs, despite the fact that the said animal did not have any contact with any male sharks in the aquarium. Leonie first laid fatherless eggs back in 2013; however, none of the embryos survived until now.

Laura Coulton, an aquarist, explained to the Daily Mail that the phenomenon is quite fascinating.

"This is what is known as a virgin birth, which means that the eggs weren't fertilised by a male. During a virgin birth, the mother can only produce females because she can only pass on her genetic information," she said.

Coulton clarified that the pups born from virgin births are not necessarily clones of their mother because the genetic makeup from the parent has been reshuffled in the younger ones.

National Geographic notes that virgin birth, though rare, has been present in sharks both in captivity and in the wild. Virgin birth, or parthenogenesis, also happens in other animals, such as snakes and invertebrates.

Previously, scientists theorized that virgin birth happens when a female animal stores up sperm from her previous mating encounters.

However, with cases like that of Leonie, who did not have any encounter with a male mate at all, experts think that the rare process could be caused by evolution. Considering that they are living in a no-male environment, the female animals were pushed to propagate on their own for species survival.

"I think it happens when they get pushed into an evolutionary corner, like in an aquarium with no males around," said George Burgess, a shark expert from the Florida Museum of National History.

However, amazing as it may seem that animals could evolve to reproduce on their own, there's still a downside to this process.

Leonie's pups, named Cleo, CC and Gemini, will only possess their mother's reshuffled DNA without having enough genetic diversity that a pup could get from having a male and female parent. As a result, the pups would be weaker to fight off infections and other potential threats.

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