GYMNOGYPS CALIFORNIANUS PARTHENOGENESIS
This truly bizarre story comes courtesy of D.D., to whom a big thank you for spotting it and passing it along. It fascinates me because it's about a truly mystifying occurrence that has recently been observed in gymnogyps californianus, or the California Condor, a nearly extinct species of vulture that once graced the skies of the American southwest. Vultures are amazing creatures to begin with, since they eat just about any old carrion they find lying around, and never get sick... with anything... ever. As a result of this odd fact about these amazingly ugly birds, scientists have been studying them trying to learn what gives them their amazing immunity. And the California condor is no different, except perhaps its a very large bird, and it's almost extinct, having been brought back, as the articles states, from a population of only 22 condors, to a little over 500 after years of careful preservation efforts.
But more than that, it fascinates me for a specific reason we'll get into:
Note the basic story here:
US wildlife researchers have discovered that two California condors, a critically endangered bird, gave birth without any male genetic DNA.
The discovery that condors are capable of virgin births - formally called parthenogenesis or asexual reproduction - surprised scientists.
Virgin births have been recorded in other bird species, as well as lizards, snakes, sharks, rays and other fish.
The researchers describe how routine genetic screenings of captive birds led to the discovery that two male chicks hatched in 2001 and 2009 were related to their mothers and had not inherited DNA from any father bird.
All 467 male condors in the breeding pool were tested. What makes the case even more rare is that it is the first time that any bird species has had a virgin birth when males were present for breeding.
Parthenogenesis is an extremely rare event, but has been recorded in other species before. It happens when a cell in a female behaves like a sperm and fuses with an egg. It normally occurs in animal populations that have few or no breeding males.
What intrigues me here, beyond that which is stated in the article that these two virgin births occurred when there were male condors in the population, is that the two chicks which were virginally born were male, not female. Ponder that for a moment and you'll see how very odd that is, because in most reproductive processes, it is the male rather than the female that determines the sex of the offspring. Condors, in other words, may be very unique, not only because they're vultures (and very large ones at that), but because the female, in certain cases, is not only capable of parthenogenesis (virgin birth) but capable also of determining the sex of her offspring. That's quite a feat, especially if one views naturally occurring parthenogenesis as being a special form of "spontaneous cloning", in which case any offspring would be female and not male.
Of course, I'm speculating wildly here based on few clues from the article, but while we're speculating, lets walk even further toward the end of the twig, and hypothesize what potential mechanisms might be at work here. One possibility might be that in this instance parthenogenesis is related to (or is an effect of) external factors, such as epigenetic forces or perhaps related to truly external and non-material factors such as Dr. Rupert Sheldrake's hypothesized "morphological fields" or other "transcendent" causes we do not yet understand. Another possibility is that it could, in effect, be a combination of factors such as epigenetic or morphological fields responding to near extinction that may be survival mechanisms in certain species like the California condor. Yet another possibility might be that this event is somehow related to the vulture's ability to remain healthy on a diet that would be highly problematic for most other species.
And interestingly enough for those paying close attention to the symbolic aspects of this story, snakes, or serpents, are among the creatures that can experience parthenogenesis.
See you on the flip side...
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