Virgin Birth in the Shark World

Researchers announced this week that they had observed for the first time a female shark giving birth to a baby without the benefit of sperm from a male.

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The next male hammerhead shark you spot may seem a little glum. News this week that a female shark at a Nebraska zoo has given birth without benefit of a male sperm. The phenomenon known as parthenogenesis has been observed in other species but never before in sharks.

Research by a joint Northern Ireland-U.S. team published this week in the Biology Letters journal tells the story of a baby shark born in 2001 at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha. The pup, which was killed within hours of its birth by a stingray, was born in a tank with females who had not been in contact with a male shark for three years.

Shark researcher Bob Hueter noted that virgin birth has now been demonstrated in all major vertebrate groups but mammals. He says birds do it, reptiles do it, amphibians do it, fishes do it, and now sharks are known to do it. As for educated fleas, we're still not sure.

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