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Baby Shark Born Through Miraculous Virgin Birth Leave Zoo Workers Dumbfounded

epaulette shark virgin birth

Nature never ceases to amaze us and what could be more incredible than a virgin birth. Call it an immaculate conception, a virgin birth or what you will, but a baby shark born from a female without a male is nothing short of mind-blowing. This incident of a baby epaulette shark born through a virgin birth in Illinois Zoo in 2023 is one of few rare incidents that have been occurring in the last decade.

Baby epaulette shark born miraculously

epaulette shark birth
Epaulette shark birth. Source: YouTube, Channel: Biopixel

On August 23, 2023, Brookfield Zoo in Illinois witnessed an extraordinary event: the birth of an epaulette shark pup through parthenogenesis, a rare form of asexual reproduction. This marks the second known instance of such a “virgin birth” for this species in captivity.

What is Parthenogenesis?

Baby epaulette
The baby epaulette in Illinois Zoo. Source: YouTube, Channel: The Independent

Parthenogenesis is a form of asexual reproduction where an egg develops into an embryo without fertilization by a male. This phenomenon is rare, especially among complex vertebrates like sharks, making the Brookfield Zoo event particularly noteworthy.

The Epaulette Shark

Epaulette sharks walking
Epaulette shark walking on land. Source: YouTube, Channel: BBC

Epaulette sharks, native to the warm shallow waters from the southern coast of New Guinea to northern Australia, are known for their ability to “walk” on land using their pectoral fins. These nocturnal creatures typically grow to about 2.5 to 3 feet in length and can tolerate low-oxygen environments.

The Mother Shark’s Journey

Epaulette Shark in Zoo
The Epaulette Baby born through Parthenogenesis. Source: YouTube, Channel: The Independent.

The adult female shark at Brookfield Zoo reached sexual maturity at age three and began laying eggs at seven. Since her arrival at the zoo in 2019, she had no contact with male sharks, setting the stage for an immaculate conception.

The Birth of the Shark Pup

Healthy epaulette shark pup
The epaulette shark pup was well and healthy. Source: YouTube, Channel: The Independent

The shark started laying two to four eggs monthly, and on August 23, 2023, one of these eggs hatched after a five-month incubation period. This event highlighted the remarkable ability of parthenogenesis in sharks.

The Diet and Care of the Pup

Baby epaulette shark
Baby epaulette sharks like eating squid. Source: YouTube, Channel: The Independent

Brookfield Zoo staff have been diligently caring for the newborn shark. The pup thrives on a diet of finely chopped capelin, minced squid tentacles, and other seafood. The zoo plans to introduce the pup to visitors soon.

Scientific Significance

epaulette
A significant development. Source: YouTube, Channel: The Independent

This event adds to the growing body of evidence that parthenogenesis can occur in vertebrates, offering new insights into reproductive biology. Scientists are keen to study such occurrences to understand the mechanisms and evolutionary advantages of this reproductive strategy.

Previous Instances of Parthenogenesis

Epaulette shark hiding
The miracle baby shark at Brookfield Zoo. Source: YouTube, Channel: The Independent

While parthenogenesis has been observed in various species, including birds, reptiles, and other sharks, it remains a rare phenomenon. The Brookfield Zoo’s experience contributes valuable data to the scientific community.

Brookfield Zoo’s Achievement

baby shark
Epaulette shark pup at Brookfield Zoo. Source: YouTube, Channel: The Independent

Brookfield Zoo is now one of only two facilities to have successfully hatched epaulette shark pups through parthenogenesis. This achievement underscores the zoo’s commitment to marine biology and conservation.

Future Research Directions

Epaulette shark virgin birth
Epaulette shark pup is not the first virgin birth. Source: YouTube, Channel: The Independent.

Researchers are eager to continue studying the Brookfield Zoo shark and other similar cases to explore the genetic and environmental factors that enable parthenogenesis. These studies could have broader implications for understanding reproductive strategies in other species. Pathogenesis is not a new phenomenon. In the past there have been other virgin birth especially among marine animals.

Bubbles

Bubbles, Zebra shark
Bubbles, the Zebr shark. Source: YouTube, Channel: ABC7 Chicago.

In December 2022, a female zebra shark called Bubbles gave birth to twins at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. Bubbles conceived through parthenogenesis after she fertilized her own eggs. Both twins were born healthy little sharks.

Leonie

Leonie, Zebra shark
Leonie, a zebra shark. Source: YouTube, Channel: Scripps News.

Leonie a female Zebra shark in Australia had previously given birth to several babies with her mate in 2013, but after years without a mate, she delivered two healthy pups through parthogenesis. At first researchers thought she might have stored sperm from her mate, but DNA testing revealed the sharks only had Leonie’s cells.

Bandit Shark virgin birth in Japan

Bandit hound sharks
Bandit hound shark. Source: YouTube, Channel: Nippon TV, Japan

In 2016, staff at the Hua Zhu aquarium in Japan were shocked when a bandit hound shark gave birth to a litter of little sharks. What left them dumbfounded was the fact that the aquarium did not have a male bandit hound shark. Later researchers confirmed how bandit hound sharks can reproduce asexually.

Ipsera

Ispera, smooth-hound shark
Ispera, a smooth-hound shark. Source: YouTube, Channel: Jojo Discovery

In 2021, a baby smoothhound shark, named Ispera, was born at the Acquario di Cala Gonone in Sardinia, Italy. Ipsera’s mother had lived for ten years in the tank with another female and no male.

A remarkable phenomenon

Epaulette shark miracle birth
Parthenogenesis,a miracle phenomenon. Source: YouTube, Channel: The Independent

The birth of an epaulette shark pup through parthenogenesis at Brookfield Zoo is a remarkable scientific event that captivates both scientists and the public. It sheds light on the extraordinary capabilities of nature and opens new avenues for research into asexual reproduction in complex vertebrates.

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