The term parthenogenesis (derived from the Greek for “virgin creation”) describes a type of asexual reproduction in which females are able to produce eggs that develop without fertilization. Scientists once believed that parthenogenesis only occurred amongst invertebrates, plants and a few rare lizard species. However, in 2005 and 2006 respectively, two captive Komodo dragon females, Sungaï and Flora, astonished the scientific community by producing viable eggs without any assistance from a male. Before this incredible finding, scientists had assumed that Komodo Dragons only reproduced sexually.
Having observed the remarkable Sungaï and Flora in action, scientists have come to believe that parthenogenesis occurs in Komodo dragons only if a male is unavailable in the vicinity (thus explaining why this phenomenon has only been observed in captivity in this species). However, while parthenogenesis carries the benefit of allowing komodo dragons to reproduce without male involvement, it also comes with all of the familiar trappings of asexual reproduction, posing a threat to genetic diversity and increasing a particular species’ susceptibility to genetic mutations.
These findings may have important implication for the breeding of Komodo dragons in captivity. Komodo dragons are an endangered species, and it is estimated that there are only a scant 4,000 left on the planet. Historically, zoos only permanently housed female dragons and circulated males for mating purposes. However, many scientists now think that male and female Komodos should be permanently placed together, in order to encourage sexual reproduction, thereby maintaining the genetic diversity of this unique species.
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