Just in time for Christmas, an aquarium in Chicago is heralding a virgin birth.
Instead of mating, a zebra shark used her own genetic material to fertilize two eggs, Shedd Aquarium officials announced this week in a release.
According to a study published in the Journal of Fish Biology, the shark named ‘Bubbles’ reproduced some of her young through “virgin births.”
Bubbles gave birth to the pups in 2008 and through years of genetic testing, authorities were able to confirm she did it without a male shark. Aquarium officials released the details this week, in time for the holidays.
“By confirming the lineage of the offspring, we could more soundly make decisions on future breeding efforts to maintain maximum genetic diversity while supporting the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s Species Survival Plan for zebra sharks,” Lise Watson, assistant director of animal operations and habitats at Shedd Aquarium and an author of the study which focused on the zebra sharks born at that specific aquarium.
According to the press release, the aquarium started to see success in breeding in 2004.
Ironically, Bubbles had two male shark suitors in the tank with her before she became pregnant. But a 2008 analysis of the DNA of the shark pups showed they didn’t match any of the mature male sharks in the enclosure.
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“We’ve known for several years that parthenogenesis occurs in animals like sharks, but some aspects of it remain unknown, like why it occurs and what triggers it,” Feldhim said. “This latest paper is just another step in learning why these ‘virgin births’ happen.”
Watson said the study is just the beginning of researchers understanding the occurrence of the genetic phenomenon in zebra sharks.
“Zoos and aquariums like Shedd have a key role to play in the conservation of species like zebra sharks, which are nearly extinct in some parts of the world,” Watson said. “Knowing more about parthenogenesis and confirming the genetic makeup of our populations in zoos and aquaria is crucial to making informed decisions that fuel this work.”
Bubble’s isn’t the first shark to give birth through parthenogenesis.
Several others have done so including one in an Australian aquarium back in 2017.
Natalie Neysa Alund covers trending news for USA TODAY. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @nataliealund.
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