For four years, the Reptile Discovery Center’s Asian water dragon female lived alone. Then, while examining eggs as part of a study, animal keepers made a shocking discovery—one was fertile! How could a female lay a fertile egg without a mate? They turned to the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) for an answer to the mystery: parthenogenesis.
Get the details from Reptile Discovery Center keeper Kyle Miller and head of SCBI’s Center for Conservation Genomics Rob Fleischer, who published their findings June 5, 2019, in a PLOS ONE paper entitled, “Parthenogenesis in a captive Asian water dragon (Physignathus cocincinus) identified with novel microsatellites.”
What exactly is parthenogenesis?
Miller: Female Asian water dragons can reproduce sexually or asexually—with or without a male. This is called facultative parthenogenesis, and it comes in handy when an animal is trying to repopulate an area and cannot find a mate.
How exciting is it to be the first to confirm parthenogenesis in Asian water dragons?
Miller: While biologists have documented cases of parthenogenesis in other species of Squamate reptiles (snakes and lizards), the Smithsonian’s National Zoo’s Asian water dragon hatchling is the first-known case of parthenogenesis in this species. These scientific discoveries are always very exciting, and having the opportunity to confirm parthenogenesis at all is really cool!