The resurgence of the California condor is an inspiring case study for conservationists. There are now more than 500 condors living in the wild in the state, up from just 22 in 1982. The birds continue to surprise and amaze scientists as geneticists have confirmed that two of the birds reproduced without actually mating.
This phenomenon, called parthenogenesis, is documented in fish and reptiles, but rare in birds. The discovery was made when geneticists were going through historic bird population records to maintain the genetic health of the condors. Looking at records from the mid-2000s, they found that two male chicks in the population didn’t share genetic information with their assumed fathers. When checking the 487 other male birds, the researchers found that none of them were a genetic match to the two chicks.
Looking closer, it turns out that the chicks are homozygous for their mothers’ genetics, meaning they are entirely the genetic products of their mothers. The phenomenon is still extremely rare, so parthenogenesis likely won’t have a big impact on future conservation efforts. Nonetheless, it’s a remarkable discovery and researchers will keep an eye out for future chicks born from this occurrence.
Source study: Journal of Heredity – Facultative Parthenogenesis in California Condors