Virgin Births Discovered In Critically Endangered Birds Hailed As Species First

by : Hannah Smith on : 31 Oct 2021 14:30
Virgin Births Discovered In Critically Endangered Birds Hailed As Species First@sandiegozoo/Twitter

Two California condors gave birth without any male genetic DNA, in a surprise first for the critically endangered species, scientists have said.

The unexpected discovery that two male chicks – hatched more than a decade ago – inherited DNA from their mothers without any from a father bird is understood to be the first time a bird species has recorded a virgin birth with males present for breeding, and has provided ‘new hope’ for conservation efforts.

California condor (Alamy)Alamy

Parthenogenesis – or asexual reproduction – is an extremely rare event but has been recorded in a handful of other species including lizards, snakes, fish and other bird species. It occurs when a cell in a female animal acts like a sperm and fertilises the egg.

According to the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, the two male chicks were born in 2001 and 2009 respectively, and while both have since died, genetic analysis showed that neither chick could be matched to any of the almost 500 male California condors present in the breeding pool. Both of the mother birds had previously carried other chicks fertilised traditionally.

‘This is truly an amazing discovery,’ said Oliver Ryder, director of conservation genetics at the Wildlife Alliance. ‘We were not exactly looking for evidence of parthenogenesis, it just hit us in the face. We only confirmed it because of the normal genetic studies we do to prove parentage.’


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‘These findings now raise questions about whether this might occur undetected in other species,’ he said in a statement following the publication of the findings in the American Genetic Association’s Journal of Heredity.

California condors are among the most critically endangered species in the United States, with only around 500 estimated to remain. Conservation efforts have managed to recover their numbers from a low of only around two dozen in the 1980s, per the BBC.

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Hannah Smith

Hannah is a London-based journalist covering news and features for UNILAD. She's especially interested in social and political activism.

Topics: News, Animals, endangered species, Now, Science


  1. BBC

    California condors: Virgin births discovered in critically endangered birds