Study finds California condors can have 'virgin births'

A California condor takes off in this file photo on June 21, 2017. It is seen flying eastwards from Big Sur, Calif. According to a Thursday, October 28, 2021 study, endangered California condors may have "virgin births." Genetic testing by the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance confirmed that two male chicks from unfertilized eggs hatched in 2001, 2009 and 2010 were related to their mothers. None of the chicks were related to a male. Credit: AP Photo/Marcio José Sanchez, File
According to a Thursday study, endangered California condors may have "virgin births."

According to the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, genetic testing proved that two male chicks from unfertilized eggs hatched in 2001/2009 were related to their mothers. They were not related to any male.

Thursday's study was published in the Journal of Heredity. This is the first time that California condors have been reported to reproduce sexually. However, parthenogenesis can also occur in other species such as honey bees, sharks, and Komodo dragons.

It is rare for birds to have this effect because they don't have males. Each mother condor had previously bred 34 chicks with males and was housed with a fertile man at the time of parthenogenesis.

Researchers believe that this is the first instance of sexual reproduction in an avian species. The female was able to find a mate.

Oliver Ryder, co-author of the study and director for conservation genetics at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, said that "these findings now raise questions as to whether this might occur undetected among other species."

This non-profit alliance manages the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and was involved in California condor breeding programs that saved the giant vultures from near-extinction.

California condors fly at a height of 10 feet (3 meters) and are one of the largest flying birds in North America. Once they were found all over the West Coast. Only 22 of them survived the 1980s, when the U.S. government took them and put them in zoos to be kept for captive breeding. Around 160 animals were raised at San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

More than 500 California condors are currently in existence, with more than 300 of them being released into the wild in California and Arizona.

Asexual reproduction was first discovered years ago through extensive testing of genetic material from condors (both living and deceased) collected over many decades in breeding programs and in nature.

The study found that none of the 467 California condor males tested for parentage qualified as potential sires.

California condors can live for up to 60 years. However, both of the males died from illness. The one who died was less than two years old, while the other lived for less than eight years.

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