California condors may occasionally be able to reproduce asexually, Wired reports.
As part of its breeding program, the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance has carefully tracked the California condors there, it adds. Through it analysis, a researcher there uncovered two chicks that only their mothers' DNA and no genetic contribution from the bird that was thought to be their father, Wired says.
As the zoo's Leona Chemnick and colleagues now report in the Journal of Heredity, these chicks appear to be two cases of facultative parthenogenesis, noting that both birds were male, as would be expected of avian parthenotes, and were homozygous at all maternal markers.
The Economist notes that parthenogenesis is common among invertebrates and has been reported to a lesser extent among vertebrates. However, it says that most cases in birds have been linked to a dearth of males, which was not the case for the condors in the breeding program. Wired adds that it suggests that facultative parthenogenesis might be more common than suspected.
The parthenotes, though, were not robust and died young, the researchers noted.
Still, the University of Tulsa's Warren Booth tells Wired that the study "gives us some information that maybe within raptors, we might see the ability to produce healthy — or at least living and somewhat viable — parthenogens that could then potentially reproduce within that population."