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Parthenogenesis in Komodo dragons

Should males and females be kept together to avoid triggering virgin birth in these endangered reptiles?

Abstract

Parthenogenesis, the production of offspring without fertilization by a male, is rare in vertebrate species, which usually reproduce after fusion of male and female gametes. Here we use genetic fingerprinting to identify parthenogenetic offspring produced by two female Komodo dragons (Varanus komodoensis) that had been kept at separate institutions and isolated from males; one of these females subsequently produced additional offspring sexually. This reproductive plasticity indicates that female Komodo dragons may switch between asexual and sexual reproduction, depending on the availability of a mate — a finding that has implications for the breeding of this threatened species in captivity. Most zoos keep only females, with males being moved between zoos for mating, but perhaps they should be kept together to avoid triggering parthenogenesis and thereby decreasing genetic diversity.

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Correspondence to Phillip C. Watts.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Methods

This file presents full details of (1) the movements and reproductive histories of the two female Komodo dragons (Flora and Sungai) that produced parthenogenetic offspring, (2) the methods used for genotyping and (3) the statistical analyses used to exclude sexual reproduction.

Supplementary Table 1

This table provides the raw genotype data of all Komodo dragons.

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Watts, P., Buley, K., Sanderson, S. et al. Parthenogenesis in Komodo dragons. Nature 444, 1021–1022 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1038/4441021a

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