These single ladies don’t need a man

Publication specs

Title: Facultative parthenogenesis in a critically endangered wild vertebrate

Authors: Andrew Fields, Kevin Feldheim, Gregg Poulakis, Demian Chapman

Journal: Current Biology

Year: 2015

The Internet exploded last year with news of a vertebrate capable of producing offspring without sex. Billions of people across the globe tuned in to learn about the smalltooth sawfish’s newly discovered ability. The study was led by our lead principal investigator, Dr. Demian Chapman, and his Ph.D. student, Andrew Fields. This ability, scientifically known as facultative parthenogenesis, where animals that generally need a male to produce offspring can do so without one, is not a new scientific concept. In fact, it has been discovered in many captive vertebrates like birds, reptiles, sharks, and more recently rays. So what’s so novel about it? Smalltooth sawfish are a type of batoid, or ray, that are critically endangered and in 2007 were among the first elasmobranchs to receive international trade regulations by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Since the 1960s, these rays have seen a population decline of about 95% due to habitat loss, overfishing, bycatch, and target capture – where their rostrum, or snout, was sold as curio, aka a bizarre object usually used for home decoration. Smalltooth sawfish are currently only found in Southwest Florida and parts of the Bahamas. This study provided the first evidence of facultative parthenogenesis in the wild and it may be more common than previously thought, particularly in populations on the verge of extinction. But don’t get too excited – there is no scientific evidence of this phenomenon occurring in mammals.