Komodo dragons are the world’s largest lizard, reaching up to 10 feet long. They live on only four Indonesian islands, and unfortunately, they are considered vulnerable to extinction, as there are estimated to be only 6,000 left in the wild. A number of zoos and wildlife parks around the world are participating in Komodo dragon captive breeding programs in the hope that their numbers can be increased.
A female Komodo in the care of the Chattanooga Zoo, gave birth to three male offspring last September. What makes these babies remarkable is not just their rarity, but also how they were conceived. DNA results have shown that their mother, known as Charlie, was able to conceive all on her own, without the need to mate with resident male, Kadal. This process is called ‘parthenogenesis’.
Charlie, like all Komodo females, has a W and Z chromosome. Her egg cells typically contain one copy of either chromosome, but during parthenogenesis the chromosome in the egg cell replicates itself, creating either WW eggs (which are not viable) or ZZ eggs, which result in male offspring. While sexual reproduction leads to more genetically diverse offspring, being able to also create offspring without mating is a biological advantage for females in the wild who may be geographically isolated from eligible males. Hopefully these three baby Komodo dragons will go on to play a role in the continued conservation of this vulnerable species
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