Keepers at Wichita’s zoo got a surprise last year when they found developing eggs inside the Komodo dragon compound. Komodos are large rapacious lizards naturally found in Indonesia, but increasingly populating zoos around the world. Finding fertile embryos of dragons is a joyous occasion — there are only a few thousand of the lizards in the wild and captive breeding may be the only way to keep the species around.
But these eggs — two of which hatched a few weeks ago — were unusual: they developed from a female that had had no male of the species in close proximity for more than a decade. Judging from similar occurrences over the past two years in Britain, it appears that these lizards sometimes use a form of virgin birth in which eggs hatch without conception. The embryos are genetic clones of the mother.
Neil Shubin, an associate dean at the University of Chicago and the provost of the Field Museum, is the author of “Your Inner Fish: A Journey Into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body.”