Virgin Birth Not So Miraculous in Animal Kingdom


‘Tis the season for twinkling lights, wrapping paper, and virgin birth. For billions of Christians around the world, the holidays are a time to celebrate Jesus’s birth to the Virgin Mary. But for many animals, virgin birth is far from a miraculous event. Researchers have discovered a growing number of species that reproduce without assistance from the opposite sex.

Known formally as parthenogenesis, virgin birth occurs when an embryo develops from an unfertilized egg cell. The development of an embryo usually requires genetic material from sperm and egg, as well as a series of chemical changes sparked by fertilization. In some parthenogenetic species, egg cells don’t undergo meiosis, the typical halving of the cell’s chromosomes, before dividing into new cells. These offspring are generally all female and clones of their mother. Other forms of parthenogenesis occur when two egg cells fuse after meiosis.

Biologists think that sexual reproduction evolved as a way to mix the gene pool and reduce the impact of harmful mutations. Still, parthenogenesis can be beneficial if the mother is particularly well adapted to her environment, since all of her offspring will be just as well adapted.

Here’s a glimpse at some of the world’s most recently discovered parthenogenetic species:

New Mexico whiptail (Aspidoscelis neomexicana)

Living in the deserts of the U.S. Southwest and parts of northern Mexico, the New Mexico whiptail is an all-female species of lizard. The creatures first arose as hybrids between two closely related species of sexually reproducing lizards: the little striped whiptail (A. inornata) and the tiger whiptail (A. tigris). Male hybrids aren’t viable, making this one of the few all-female species. Adult female New Mexico whiptails reproduce solely through parthenogenesis, laying unfertilized eggs that develop into other female whiptails.

Written By: Carrie Arnold
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  1. This is interesting but why oh why add in the “virgin birth” of Jesus? Some theist stumbling onto this might say “ah ha, see virgin births are possible for humans too.” Let the science stand on its own. It doesn’t need the support of religious views to make it interesting.

  2. In reply to #2 by SaganTheCat:

    so god has to “visit” all these animals too? we need more carols

    Away in the Southwest
    No soft spot for Her bed
    The little lizard
    Laid down Her sweet head

    Large lizards in the desert
    Looked down where She lay
    The little lizard
    Asleep on the grass

    The snakes are rattling
    The poor Lizard wakes
    But little lizard
    No crying She makes

    I love Thee, little lizard
    you taste so yummy
    And stay warm in my stomach
    my long snake tummy

  3. Never mind the Whiptails, those darned greenfly (aphids) produce thousands of virgin clones in my garden!

  4. In reply to #4 by Agrajag:

    An all female species??

    Break glass for dental apparatus, in case of emergency.


  5. “Biologists think that sexual reproduction evolved as a way to mix the gene pool and reduce the impact of harmful mutations.”

    That sounds rather intentional. I hope no self respecting biologist actually thinks that. I hope they think sexual reproduction evolved because it mixed the gene pool and reduced harmful mutations resulting in the byproduct of an advantage. I doubt it was a way to do anything. It just was. I doubt genes are so selfish as to have intent.

  6. Is it still considered a virgin birth if the parent has to have lesbian sex in order to trigger the parthenogenesis? Because that’s what the whiptail lizard does.

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