California Condor Parthenogenesis

California Condor Parthenogenesis
California Condor in the Grand Canyon

In the 1980s, there was great concern about the shrinking population of California condors. In 1987, they became extinct in the wild, and only 22 were left in captivity. Due to a captive breeding program, at last count, there were 518 living California Condors in 2019. Most of them were in the wild in California, Arizona, and Utah. Recently, scientists discovered two cases of California condor parthenogenesis, or as news reports called it, “virgin birth.”

Researchers from the San Diego Wildlife Alliance discovered two male condors who had not been produced by sexual reproduction, even though their mothers had previously produced offspring in the usual way. The scientists could determine that because they have a record of the genetic data for the more than 900 condors hatched since the captive breeding program began in the 1980s. Both birds contained identical copies of their mother’s DNA, which cannot happen when a female’s egg has been fertilized by sperm.

Parthenogenesis occurs in some insects and other invertebrates and a few fish, amphibian, and reptile species. It even happens in some captive birds, but it is unknown in wild birds. I have often kidded my biologist friends about their discipline, saying that the only universal rule in biology is that anything you say always has an exception. California condor parthenogenesis is one of those exceptions.

Reasons for preserving wildlife are to protect the environment and its impact on humans and learn from studying the design of living things. But, of course, another reason is to enjoy the beauty of the natural world. We can see God’s creative wisdom in the world all around us, and the more we know about the creation, the better we understand the Creator.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

References: Living Bird magazine (Winter of 2022, page 13) and Journal of Heredity