Leonie the Zebra Shark Gets Pregnant Without A Male Shark In The Tank
Leonie the Zebra Shark has given scientists quite the shock when she decided to give birth to three pups this month. It was not the three pups that were a surprise, Leonie has had 12 pups from different pregnancies in the past, it was the fact that Leonie has lived alone for the last four years.
In the past, Leonie lived with another male zebra shark and they were mates. This pair has had 12 separate offspring in the past. However, in 2012, she was removed from the tank and now lives by herself. She has not had any interaction with any other zebra sharks, or sharks of any kind.
Now, after being apart for four years, Leonie has reproduced asexually and had three healthy pups. This was a shock to researchers who did not think that zebra sharks could reproduce without a male partner. According to New Scientist, there are some sharks, rays, snakes and Komodo Dragons that can reproduce in this manner, but this was a first for a zebra shark.
Verifying If It Was An Asexual Birth
The first thing researchers had to do is discover if the pups were a product of asexual birth or if there was a physical way that Leonie had stored sperm from her former mate for this period of time. DNA samples were taken from each of the pups and the genetic codes were examined. What they discovered is that all the genetic markers show that the pups were from Leonie only and that this was an asexual birth.
Scientists know that there some sharks will reproduce asexually if the population of sharks in the area is sparse and there are no viable males. It is the only way to keep the population from becoming extinct. However, these births are usually very far and few in between because it reduces genetic diversity in the offspring and can lead to weaker or sickly pups.
What is perhaps the most interesting thing about this case however, is the fact that Leonie had given birth through normal reproductive measures prior to this pregnancy. Scientists have never encountered a female in any species that turned asexual after they had given birth through normal sexual intercourse.
Researchers are going to continue to study this unusual development. This is such an unusual event that it could open up a whole new area of research and certainly is a thrilling news for all underwater und scuba diving enthusiasts.