Facultative parthenogenesis in a critically endangered wild vertebrate Letter

Fields, AT, Feldheim, KA, Poulakis, GR et al. (2015). Facultative parthenogenesis in a critically endangered wild vertebrate . CURRENT BIOLOGY, 25(11), R446-R447. 10.1016/j.cub.2015.04.018

cited authors

  • Fields, AT; Feldheim, KA; Poulakis, GR; Chapman, DD



  • Summary Facultative parthenogenesis - the ability of sexually reproducing species to sometimes produce offspring asexually - is known from a wide range of ordinarily sexually reproducing vertebrates in captivity, including some birds, reptiles and sharks [1-3]. Despite this, free-living parthenogens have never been observed in any of these taxa in the wild, although two free-living snakes were recently discovered each gestating a single parthenogen - one copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix) and one cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus) [1]. Vertebrate parthenogens are characterized as being of the homogametic sex (e.g., females in sharks, males in birds) and by having elevated homozygosity compared to their mother [1-3], which may reduce their viability [4]. Although it is unknown if either of the parthenogenetic snakes would have been carried to term or survived in the wild, facultative parthenogenesis might have adaptive significance [1]. If this is true, it is reasonable to hypothesize that parthenogenesis would be found most often at low population density, when females risk reproductive failure because finding mates is difficult [5]. Here, we document the first examples of viable parthenogens living in a normally sexually reproducing wild vertebrate, the smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata). We also provide a simple approach to screen any microsatellite DNA database for parthenogens, which will enable hypothesis-driven research on the significance of vertebrate parthenogenesis in the wild.

publication date

  • June 1, 2015

published in

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

start page

  • R446

end page

  • R447


  • 25


  • 11