San Diego Zoo scientists prove condors can reproduce without having sex

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A California condor with a chick in an observation area for San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance scientists, who recently discovered the species is capable of asexual reproduction. (Photo: San Diego Zoo)

SAN DIEGO — Scientists with the San Diego Zoo’s conservation wing proudly unveiled an “extraordinary discovery” this week: California condors can lay eggs and produce chicks without having sex.

The news, reported in the “Journal of Heredity,” “could have rippling effects for wildlife genetics and conservation science,” the zoo wrote in a news release. The organization explained that a team studying genetics with the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance made the discovery during a “routine analysis” of biological samples from two California condors in their managed breeding program.

“Scientists confirmed that each condor chick was genetically related to the respective female condor (dam) that laid the egg,” the zoo explained. “However, in a surprising twist, they found that neither bird was genetically related to a male—meaning both chicks were biologically fatherless; and accounted for the first two instances of asexual reproduction, or parthenogenesis, to be confirmed in the California condor species.”

Scientists said the discovery also accounted for the first instance of asexual reproduction “in any avian species where the female bird had access to a mate,” as the condors that hatched the eggs had been housed with male birds.

“This is truly an amazing discovery,” said Dr. Oliver Ryder, a study co-author. “We were not exactly looking for evidence of parthenogenesis, it just hit us in the face.”

“San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance’s conservation team believes that though these results represent only two documented cases in the condor population, the discovery could have significant demographic implications,” the zoo said.

“These findings now raise questions about whether this might occur undetected in other species,” Ryder added.

You can read more about the science behind the finding and its implications for wildlife on the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance website.

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