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THIS virgin lizard has caused a world stir after giving birth in an "immaculate conception" at an Irish zoo.

The female Nile monitor lizard, which has never met a male of the species, left zoologists worldwide stunned by the unexpected birth.

International lizard experts are now focusing on the Reptile Village Zoo in Gowran, Co Kilkenny, where Nice has lived since she hatched.

Although other lizards are known to procreate by cloning themselves, it has never before been witnessed in this species.

Zoo curator James Hennessy said the birth was a "miracle of nature".

He added: "Having a Nile monitor reproduce in captivity is an accomplishment in itself, but what makes this even more amazing is that the female has never been with a male lizard and has been in captivity with us since she was a hatchling.

"This phenomenon is known as parthenogenesis and has never been known in this species before."

He said there had been two cases of parthenogenesis recorded in Komodo Dragons, a different species found only in Indonesia.

As in the Steven Spielberg blockbuster Jurassic Park, some species will create a clone if there is no male to mate with.

Frogs commonly do it, with some males even transforming their sex if there are not enough females. Mr Hennessy said Nice, who is one of two female Nile monitors at the zoo - the other is called Nasty - laid about 12 eggs 200 days ago.

He added: "Both the lizards lay eggs most years, but we usually just throw them out.

"I'd heard about the Komodo Dragons so this year I decided to put the eggs in an incubator and see what happened.

"I'm still not 100% sure why I did it this year, but I'm glad I did."

Within weeks, many of Nice's eggs were beginning to go off so staff began to throwing them out.

But out of curiosity, Mr Hennessy decided to cut one open and was astonished to find a fully-formed embryo inside the egg.

He said: "Obviously, by cutting it open, I killed the embryo which I'm still sickened about, but we kept a very close eye on the others after that and realised another one was fertilised."

The egg should have hatched within 180 days but as time went on, Mr Hennessy realised some-thinwas wrong and was devas-tateto discover the baby lizard had died before it could hatch.

He said: "In the end we cut the egg open because we knew something had gone wrong and movement inside the egg had stopped.

"Unfortunately, the young lizard was too weak to hatch and died."

Mr Hennessy added it was still unknown how the "virgin birth" happened. He said: "It's just one of those miracles of nature.

"Monitor lizards are like the monkeys of the reptile world, they're very evolved, so that makes it even more surprising.

"We'd expect this of a lessevolved species, something very simple, but not a monitor lizard."

Nice - 4.5ft long from top to tail - was brought over to Gowran from Ghana as a hatchling and is expected to live to be about 20 years of age.


MIRACLE FOETUS The unborn lizard was too weak to hatch
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jul 2, 2009
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