It never ceases to amaze me how corn can fuel our cars, how one pig can provide for so many piglets, or how a feline can run as fast a car can drive…and the list goes on and on! However, one wonder on my personal list is parthenogenesis. Wondering what in the world this six-syllable word means? I was too. Parthenogenesis is the phenomenon of virgin birth. And here I thought Mary was the only one who didn’t a male to procreate!
Parthenogenesis was discovered (on accident) in turkeys by Olsen and Marsden. Just how many Turkey eggs did they find don’t have to be fertilized to hatch into poults (poult = baby turkey)? Answer: a shocking 14% of Beltsville Small White (BSW) turkeys. Problems with this research: conducted by one scientist on one noncommercial strand of turkey. Today’s research estimates about 4% of broilers are parthenogenic. However, this isn’t a form of reproduction sweeping the poultry world. Most all parthenogenic turkey eggs do not survive past the first three days of incubation because development is unorganized (it has been linked to problems with the imprinting of genes). And because I’m not the expert on this topic, more information on turkey/chicken parthenogenesis can be found here.
Furthermore, it seems animals from other parts of the animal kingdom are even more successful at procreating without males…including some types of fish, several insect varieties, and a handful of frogs/lizards. If you are a scientist, you can make mice successful parthenogenic reproducers too!
For some it is the only method of reproduction and for some parthenogenesis is purely circumstantial. Aphids use it to reproduce rapidly in the spring when food sources are abundant. Komodo dragons refer to this method when sources of males are not abundant…luckily all of their offspring are male which might help future generations of komodo mothers. Also, some species of wasp are forced to reproduce a generation of females in this manner due to a bacterial infection that passes on its own genes through eggs, making male wasps unnecessary and unwanted… at least to the bacteria!
So there you have it, the wonders of nature and what man can do with it is astounding. The same solution benefits species in times of plenty and in times of difficulty. And while there may be a lesson or a solution amongst these facts, one thing is certain: taking males out the equation completely is not always the answer!