California condors: Virgin births discovered in critically endangered birds

US wildlife researchers have discovered that two California condors, a critically endangered bird, gave birth without any male genetic DNA.

The discovery that condors are capable of virgin births - formally called parthenogenesis or asexual reproduction - surprised scientists.

BlockquoteThe researchers describe how routine genetic screenings of captive birds led to the discovery that two male chicks hatched in 2001 and 2009 were related to their mothers and had not inherited DNA from any father bird.

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Parthenogenesis has an odd wrinkle when it happens in birds. Since the females have ZW sex chromosomes, and WW individuals are not viable, only ZZ offspring can result. ZZ individuals are male, so only males can result from parthenogenesis. Parthenogenetic species, as seen in lizards and many other organisms, are impossible for birds.


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