The animal kingdom is filled with creatures of all shapes and sizes, temperaments, diets, and abilities. And a select few have the rare ability of parthenogenesis. What’s that, you ask? It’s the ability to reproduce with only one parent organism. In other words, without a mate.
While asexual reproduction is largely reserved for unicellular organisms and plants, a few lucky members of the animal kingdom possess the ability as well. Those include Komodo dragons, starfish, whiptail lizards, python snakes, marbled crayfish, wasps, ants, aphids, Amazon molly fish, and, of course, sharks.
Yep, one of the most fearsome predators of the sea doesn’t need a mate to reproduce. A female shark has the ability to create a baby all on her own.
That said, this phenomenon is far from commonplace. In the animal kingdom, it’s reserved as a “last-ditch” effort to reproduce in the event that a mate is unavailable. Except in the case of Bubbles the zebra shark, who’s a bit of a rebel and decided the males available for mating weren’t worth her time.
A long-time resident of the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Bubbles hatched a litter of pups back in 2008. At first, researchers didn’t think much of it. There were, after all, mature male zebra sharks in the tank with her. Obviously, the pups came from one of the potential fathers.
In a recent study, however, aquarium caretaker Lise Watson and Field Museum scientist Kevin Feldheim revealed that they were mistaken. Bubbles actually had a “virgin birth.”
Scientists Shocked to Discover Zebra Shark Had a ‘Virgin Birth’
After conducting genetic testing on the pups, assuming to add to the research related to a breeding program at the aquarium, scientists were stunned to discover that the babies had only Bubbles’ genetic material. The male’s DNA was nowhere to be found.
“This is only the second case that we know of where sharks have been born by parthenogenesis even when there were healthy mates available. This discovery throws a wrench in what we thought we knew about how and why parthenogenesis happens. It illustrates a key aspect of science: we’re continually learning,” Feldheim explained in a news release.