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Female California condors reproduce without males for the first time

ASMA KHALID, HOST:

They can fly at 55 miles an hour, have wingspans of up to 10 feet, and even made a brief appearance in "Jurassic Park."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JURASSIC PARK")

RICHARD ATTENBOROUGH: (As John Hammond) Condors are on the verge of extinction.

JEFF GOLDBLUM: (As Ian Malcolm) Oh, no.

ATTENBOROUGH: (As John Hammond) If I was to - no, no. If I was to create a flock of condors on this island, you wouldn't have anything to say.

GOLDBLUM: (As Ian Malcolm) No, hold on...

KHALID: Well, new research says female California condors are able to create their own flocks on their own. A study published this past week described how two female condors reproduced without male partners. It's apparently the first time that any female bird without access to a male has done so. Their offspring, which both hatched and passed away years ago, were the result of a process called parthenogenesis. That's when an embryo is able to develop from a cell-fertilized egg. Scientists have studied virgin births among bees, ants, sharks and other animals. But then genetic testing confirmed the California condors could have them, too.

OLIVER RYDER: It hit us in the face. We weren't looking for it. We didn't expect it.

KHALID: That's Oliver Ryder of the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, one of the geneticists behind the research, speaking with member station KPBS. It's a surprise, in part, because the endangered birds are under such close observation. California condors have been on the verge of extinction for decades. But with careful management, their population has grown from some two dozen in the early 1980s to more than 500 today. Some researchers say parthenogenesis could be a survival response. It's not clear if or when it could happen again. Still, as "Jurassic Park's" Dr. Ian Malcolm once proclaimed...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JURASSIC PARK")

GOLDBLUM: (As Ian Malcolm) Life finds a way.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: This story incorrectly characterizes the condors' virgin births as an apparent first for any type of bird. Parthenogenesis had previously been observed in turkeys and finches, among other birds.]

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN WILLIAMS' "JURASSIC PARK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: November 1, 2021 at 12:00 AM EDT
This story incorrectly characterizes the condors' virgin births as an apparent first for any type of bird. Parthenogenesis had previously been observed in turkeys and finches, among other birds.
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