Science

‘Tis the Season… Lizard Season…

‘Tis the season of miracles. Christmas miracles, at least. In general, I don’t buy into the paranormal part of Christmas. I don’t believe in God, and I’m not sure I believe that Jesus ever existed. Even if there was someone named Jesus, I don’t think he was born through immaculate conception… more likely, teenager Mary just pulled off the greatest cover up of an unwanted pregnancy in history.

However, before the religious fundies tie me to the stake, I should redeem myself a little. I do believe in virgin birth. Lizard virgin birth, at least. That’s because a virgin Komodo Dragon is giving birth to eight little baby Komodo dragons. Not just one immaculate conception! Eight little immaculate conceptions! Beat that, Mary!

Personally, I think that it’s incredible that a giant, virgin female lizard can fertilize her own eggs and give birth. In the Carl Sagan Cosmos sort of way, I feel very spiritual about the concept. This is certainly an example of the universe impressing me. Why go looking for paranormal miracles when there’s so much amazing real stuff going on in the world? Personally, science provides me with more feelings of awe and humility than religion ever did.

I don’t think that biologists really understand Komodo Dragon parthenogenesis yet. Some might call it paranormal, the hand of God trying to save an endangered species. In the language of Richard Dawkins, I’d call it perinormal, something which currently seems outside the realm of science but which may one day be understood through scientific principles. I’d say evolution is central to the answer. Are self-fertilizing eggs any more remarkable than eyeballs, wings, color-changing skin, and magnetic navigation systems? All of these characteristics of animals are incredible, and all can be explained through evolution.

So, who knows? Maybe after another few hundred centuries, human virgin birth will be possible. Though, it would be a shame, in a way. I mean, I’m sure Miss Flora the Komodo Dragon would have preferred that a sexy male dragon had fertilized her eggs.

Evelyn

Evelyn is a geologist, writer, traveler, and skeptic residing in Cape Town, South Africa with frequent trips back to the US for work. She has two adorable cats; enjoys hiking, rock climbing, and kayaking; and has a very large rock collection. You can follow her on twitter @GeoEvelyn. She also writes a geology blog called Georneys.

Related Articles

14 Comments

  1. What a bleek horrible future we may soon live in.

    I fear for my great great grandson as he watches all men die off in a crazy amazon woman run world where he is hunted to death.

    He will be Noah Miller the 4th. Last Man on Earth! With his laser pistol and motorcycle he fights for his right to exist.

    …. so I get carried away at times. It's my best quality.

  2. To place the nerd crown firmly upon my head I'm now going to admit that I've studied parthenogenesis at some length. Not because I'm a biologist, and not simply because I'm interested in the wonders of science. No, I studied parthenogenesis because I wanted a race of self-reproducing snow elves for a D&D game and my brain insisted I research the scientific validity of the topic. Yep, that's me; researching the scientific validity of something I'm inserting into a midevil fantasy role playing game. Later, when the D&D game didn't work out the concept of a parthenogenic society moved genres into a modern scifi-horror campaign as a race of demons. I still can't figure out why I'm not getting all those marriage proposals like Rebecca.

  3. Well DUH??? Is it any wonder that Flora would be a virgin? I mean I love reptiles and all, having bred Burmese pythons way back when it was cool, but have you ever smelt the breath of a Komodo? Who would kiss that, let alone, well, you know…

  4. I read about this is the paper. NR Miller : Flora will only give birth to male baby kommodos. The point is that they will grow up and fertilize her (I'm not making this up, that's what the paper said!) So this method will actually produce more males than the regular methods.

  5. The only thing unusual about this is the size of the species as other smaller lizard species self fertilise realatively routinely. It is also the second such event with a Kimodo dragon in an English zoo this year as a dragon at another zoo gave birth after two years without contact with a male. At first it was thought that she had stored sperm but DNA tests revealed that she was mother and father, so to speak. Perhaps there is something in the air over here :)

    However, it still doesn't matter whether this is fairly routine amongst many types of lizards or not as it still fills me with wonder at this amazing universe we are so fortunate to inhabit for our too brief existence.. It just saddens me that so many people simply don't get it, wasting their valuable time following one of numerous mythical sky jockeys instead of making the most of what they have right here and now.

    A merry yuletide to one and all.

  6. Do lizards have XX and XY chromosomes just like humans?

    Just wondering …

    I remember this one scene in Jurassic Park (who ever thought movies would provide interesting knowledge) about the dinosaur researchers having spliced DNA from African frogs into the missing parts of dino-DNA, and those frogs having the ability to change from female to male at will, if not enough males existed in the society.

    A female on her own would certainly qualify as "not enough males", so one could imagine her offspring being male as a result. If there's males around, there's also no need for self-fertilization.

    It's a fact that human males, if they are denied the right hormones during the key stage(s) in their in-utero development, they will be born female. Except they can't reproduce.

    It would appear that this works very different in reptiles.

  7. Exarch:

    From what I've read recently, I believe that Komodo Dragons (but not ALL reptiles) have a similar sort of sex chromosome pattern, except named Z and W.

    Another difference is that the sexes having heterozygous and homozygous. Men have XY chromosomes and women XX, while female dragons have ZW and dragon males have ZZ.

    Not all reptiles share this trait. Richard Dawkins recently wrote a bit about this exclusively for his website that's quite informative: The Komodo Dragon's Tale

  8. Expatria,

    Thanks, that explains the question I had. I could imagine the komodo dragon giving birth to offspring (eggs) who had been fertilized by herself, but how they could be male AND capable of reproducing seemed odd. Having one of each sex chromosome as a female settles that problem.

    So parthenogenesis in humans could only result in female children, whereas the komodo dragon theoretically could have a mix of both sexes that way.

Leave a Reply

You May Also Enjoy

Close
Close