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Virgin birth of dragons

Manchester: A British zoo on Wednesday announced the virgin birth of five Komodo dragons, giving scientists new hope for the captive breeding of the endangered species. In an evolutionary twist, the newborns' 8-year-old mother, Flora, shocked staff at Chester Zoo in northern England when she became pregnant without ever having a male partner or even being exposed to the opposite sex. ``Flora is oblivious to the excitement she has caused but we are delighted to say she is now a mum and dad,'' said a delighted Kevin Buley, the zoo's curator of lower vertebrates and invertebrates. The shells began cracking last week, after an eight-month gestation period, which culminated with arrival on Tuesday of the fifth black- and yellow-coloured dragon. The dragons are between 40 and 45 centimetres long, weigh between 100 and 125 grams, said Mr. Buley, who leads the zoo's expert care team. He said the reptiles were in good health and enjoying a diet of crickets and locusts. Other reptile species reproduce asexually in a process known as parthenogenesis. But Flora's virginal conception, and that of another Komodo dragon in April at the London Zoo, are the first documented in a Komodo dragon. The evolutionary breakthrough could have far-reaching consequences for endangered species. — AP

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