California condors don’t need mates to breed

California condors have the ability to asexually reproduce. Credit: Jim Bahn

Female California condors have the rare ability to reproduce without a mate, joining other animals like sharks, rays and lizards. Scientists came across this discovery when working on captive breeding efforts for the species, once on the edge of extinction. After looking at their genetic data, they found two males showed no genetic contribution from the birds thought to be their fathers. The researchers said this “parthenogenesis” or asexual reproduction could actually be a survival tool for the critically endangered species, which has only about 300 individuals in the wild. However, the two birds that were produced this way didn’t live long—one made it to seven years and the other to less than two. California condors (Gymnogyps californianus) can often survive 60 years.

Read the study in the Journal of Heredity and read the article in National Geographic.