The Virgin Birth (Deadly lizard edition)
It's a familiar sounding story this time of year-- a virgin with child. Only this time the natural world is outdoing the supernatural, because this virgin is with children. Seven, in fact. And these virgin offspring will have grow up to have mouths filled with toxic bacteria-- though I'm not sure that's really an improvement. Flora, an eight year old komodo dragon living in a zoo in Chester, England, has produced seven eggs baring ferocious little omnivores, despite the fact she has never known the scaly touch of a male komodo dragon. Parthenogenesis, females reproducing without all the problems associated with mating with a male, is known to occur in some 70 other species, but until this year it had never been observed in komodo dragons. (If you want a quick refresher on these minor league dinosaurs, here's a brief komodo overview.)
Actually, Flora isn't the first virgin mother among the deadly omnivores of Komodo island. Another dragon, Sungai at the London Zoo, pulled off the parthenogenesis trick last May, but that blessed (if slightly toxic) event didn't get the international media coverage Flora's story is generating. All of which proves that amazing new discoveries in science have something in common with comedy-- it's all about timing. History-making virgin lizard birth in May? A story too obscure and boring to touch. Virgin lizard birth in late December? Now that's a story.
Of course, if any herpetologists understand comedy, it should be komodo dragon experts. For decades, the great radio comedians Bob and Ray performed a famous routine about a komodo dragon expert called, appropriately enough, "The komodo dragon". You can listen it here. (scroll down to the bottom)
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