Virgin births, or parthenogenesis, have been mentioned in ancient mythology. Recently, a captive American crocodile in Costa Rica laid viable eggs without mating, producing a genetically identical offspring, demonstrating a rare case of virgin birth in the animal kingdom.This isn’t the first case of a virgin birth in the animal kingdom. Baby lizards, snakes, sharks and birds, including the California condor, have all been documented hatching from unfertilised eggs.
How do we explain virgin births?
Sexual reproduction enables genetic diversity, allowing species to adapt and survive changing environments. Ancient asexual reproduction in our ancestors and similar processes in plants result in genetically identical offspring, limiting adaptability. Lack of genetic variation makes all members vulnerable to extinction if conditions worsen. In sexually reproducing species like humans, the combination of genetic material through fertilization creates offspring with unique gene combinations, promoting diversity. This diversity aids adaptation and reduces the risk of harmful mutations associated with inbreeding.
Virgin births, or parthenogenesis, occur when an unfertilized egg develops into an embryo, resulting in a form of asexual reproduction. Unlike other forms of asexual reproduction, virgin births require an egg. While the offspring may not be genetically identical to the mother, it depends on the development of the egg cell. Parthenogenesis can produce either half clones or full clones of the mother, with half clones having even less genetic diversity. Some species can alternate between sexual and asexual reproduction, using virgin birth when males are scarce.