A British zoo today announced the virgin birth of five Komodo dragons, giving scientists new hope for the captive breeding of the endangered species.
In an evolutionary twist, the newborns' 8-year-old mother, Flora, shocked staff at Chester Zoo in northern England when she became pregnant without ever having a male partner or even being exposed to the opposite sex.
"Flora is oblivious to the excitement she has caused but we are delighted to say she is now a mum and dad," said a delighted Kevin Buley, the zoo's curator of lower vertebrates and invertebrates.
Pic courtesy: www.nashvillezoo.org/
"When the first of the babies hatched, we didn't know whether to make her a cup of tea or pass her the cigars."
The shells began cracking last week, after an eight-month gestation period, which culminated with arrival yesterday of the fifth black- and yellow-colored dragon. Two more eggs remained to be hatched.
The dragons are between 40 and 45 centimetres long, weigh between 100 and 125 grams, said Buley, who leads the zoo's expert care team.
He said the reptiles are in good health and enjoying a diet of crickets and locusts.
Other reptile species reproduce asexually in a process known as parthenogenesis. But Flora's virginal conception, and that of another Komodo dragon in April at the London Zoo, are the first documented in a Komodo dragon.
The evolutionary breakthrough could have far-reaching consequences for endangered species.
Captive breeding could ensure the survival of the world's largest lizards, with fewer than 4,000 Komodos left in the wild.