Warren Booth, a molecular ecologist at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma, now reports the first known case of wild facultative parthenogenesis, publishing the study today in Biology Letters1.
In work conducted while he was at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, Booth and his colleagues captured pregnant wild copperheads and cottonmouths, which gave birth in the lab. The researchers suspected that some of the snakes had reproduced without male input: in comparison with those born from sexual unions, says Booth, asexually reproduced snake litters typically have a large number of failures in development such as stillborn babies, and few viable males. When he saw that some of the snakes had delivered broods with these characteristics, “these litters were at the top of my agenda to genotype”, says Booth. [...]
“When I got the results of the DNA sequencer, I was floored,” he says. The genotyping compared the genetic make-up of the offspring with the populations from which the snakes were collected; the results indicated that the chance of a male contribution was “infinitesimally small”. Researchers had always believed that facultative parthenogenesis took place in the wild, Booth notes, but he and his colleagues were “stunned” at finally finding the evidence.
So we’ve seem positive evidence of parthenogenesis in sharks and poisonous snakes … is somebody trying to tell us something?