Endangered sawfish capable of virgin births, scientists find

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Before you go close icon
Endangered Sawfish Capable of Virgin Births, Scientists Find

The smalltooth sawfish is critically endangered, and scientists say the females are doing something rather drastic that species on the brink of extinction sometimes do: giving birth virgin Mary style.

This is according to new research published in the journal Current Biology. Researchers found seven of the female sawfish they examined in Florida were likely the product of asexual reproduction... which is weird for a species that usually reproduces sexually.

Here's how it works: Scientists say an unfertilized egg absorbs "a sister cell" that is almost identical to the egg. The offspring usually don't survive, but the sawfish's did, and they appeared to be healthy to boot.

And scientists found this by chance. They were observing a sawfish population in an estuary in Florida to see if they would mate with relatives. So they essentially went searching for inbreeding and got virgin births.

8 PHOTOS
Sawfish / carpenter sharks
See Gallery
Endangered sawfish capable of virgin births, scientists find
Smalltooth Sawfish, Sydney Aquarium, Darling Harbour, Sydney
TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 16: Paige, 6, and mother Jessica, of Burlington (no last name), watch a Sawfish being surrounded by Sand Tiger Sharks circling around in Dangerous Lagoon as Ripley's Aquarium of Canada opened to the public. October 16, 2013. (Bernard Weil/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
A critically-endangered sawfish swims in its new home at the Sydney Aquarium in Sydney, Australia, Friday, Dec. 9, 2011. Sawfish have been placed on the critically-endangered list mainly due to a human impact to their environment and being entangled in fishing nets.(AP Photo/Rob Griffith)
A critically-endangered sawfish sifts through the sand on the bottom of its new home at the Sydney Aquarium in Sydney, Australia, Friday, Dec. 9, 2011. Sawfish have been placed on the critically-endangered list mainly due to a human impact to their environment and being entangled in fishing nets.(AP Photo/Rob Griffith)
Two sawfish rest on the bottom of their new home at the Sydney Aquarium in Sydney, Australia, Friday, Dec. 9, 2011. Sawfish have been placed on the critically endangered list mainly due to a human impact to their environment and being entangled in fishing nets. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)
TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 16: A Sawfish and a Southern Stingray circle around in Dangerous Lagoon as Ripley's Aquarium of Canada opened to the public. October 16, 2013. (Bernard Weil/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
A critically endangered small tooth sawfish roams its new home at Oceanworld in Sydney on August 18, 2011. Measuring over 1.5 metres in length, sawfish have adapted to live in both salt and fresh water, while their long saw-like rostrum (nose) has evolved to expertly forage for food under the sandy ocean floor. AFP PHOTO / Torsten BLACKWOOD (Photo credit should read TORSTEN BLACKWOOD/AFP/Getty Images)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

It's the first time researchers had seen this type of asexual breeding occur in the wild. Sky News reports these "virgin" births had only previously been seen in animals in captivity — and that this was the sawfish's way to "cheat extinction."

The discovery is important because it is causing us to rethinking what we thought we knew about reproduction in vertebrates.

One scientist involved in the research said in a statement this discovery could "rewrite the biology textbooks."

The smalltooth sawfish is currently listed as critically endangered. So, this extra reproductive help is needed.

More from AOL
FBI behind mysterious surveillance aircraft over US cities
Tropical Storm Blanca expected to become major hurricane
Apple's Siri has new role in new 'smart' home systems

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.

From Our Partners