Brief Communication | Published:

Parthenogenesis in Komodo dragons

Nature volume 444, pages 10211022 (21 December 2006) | Download Citation



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.

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

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Author information


  1. *School of Biological Sciences, University of Liverpool, Liverpool L69 7ZB, UK

    • Phillip C. Watts
  2. †North of England Zoological Society, Chester Zoo, Upton-by-Chester CH2 1LH, UK

    • Kevin R. Buley
    •  & Stephanie Sanderson
  3. ‡Zoological Society of London, Regents Park, London NW1 4RY, UK

    • Wayne Boardman
    •  & Richard Gibson
  4. §Department of Animal Biology and Genetics, University of Florence, 50125 Florence, Italy

    • Claudio Ciofi


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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Phillip C. Watts.

Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. 1.

    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.

  2. 2.

    Supplementary Table 1

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

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