September 08, 2021
Cala Gonone Aquarium in Sardinia made world news last week when it was announced one of their sharks had given birth to a baby. Why did this story make the news? The mother had been in a tank with only female sharks for companions for the past ten years!
Despite having no contact with a male, the mother smoothhound shark (Mustelus mustelus) was able to give birth to a shark pup that has been names “Ispera” which means hope in Maltese. This type of so called ‘virgin birth’ is more scientifically known as ‘parthenogenesis’, a phenomenon whereby females of some species are able to clone themselves in order to reproduce, without ever coming in to contact with a male of the species.
Typically, in sexual reproduction, genetic information from the sperm and the egg combine to create a new cell, a zygote. However, in this case, only one of the mother shark’s eggs was required. The egg then cloned itself, creating essentially a self-fertilized zygote.
The ability to produce offspring through both sexual reproduction and using parthenogenesis provides individuals like this female smoothhound shark reproductive options. Even when there are no males around females are still able to produce offspring that will ensure her genes are passed on to future generations. This is the first time parthenogenesis has been recorded in a smoothhound shark, although it has been recorded in other shark and ray species.
Source: Live Science
Learn more: https://www.livescience.com/aquarium-shark-virgin-birth.html