“I don’t need a man” is a phrase many single ladies have used time and again after The Pussycat Dolls made it popular back in 2009. Most single women can probably relate well to this song or have danced to it.
If the female leopard shark, Leonie, could join in right about now she would, because she gave birth to three pup sharks - completely asexually! Leonie was separated from her partner Leo back in 2013 and has had no male contact since then.
“It’s not uncommon,” said Dr. Ray Waldner, professor of marine biology at Palm Beach Atlantic.
He specializes in oceanography and frequently appears on television as a shark expert.
“Even though it reproduced asexually, it may not save it from being endangered,” Waldner said.
When Leonie was with her partner, she was part of a reproduction program to save the endangered species. According to Huffington Post, she produced about two dozen pups.
After that, her partner was moved to another tank. Huffington Post said scientists thought Leonie stored her partner’s sperm since she produced more offspring - but she didn’t.
When her eggs hatched, scientists tested her offspring’s DNA and found they only carried that of their mother.
This means she at one point laid viable eggs without the help of male fertilization, called parthenogenesis. While this might seem helpful in the process of increasing the species’ numbers, Walder said it may not.
“The asexual reproduction doesn’t allow for a variation in DNA,” he said.
Without the variation in DNA, the breed may still suffer.
At the Reef HQ Aquarium in Australia in April 2016 she laid three eggs that recently hatched. The pups have no trace of DNA from any other specimen except the mother.
This marks the first recorded instance in sharks of a species’ switch to asexual reproduction.
Photos courtesy National Geographic & University of Queensland