Pregnant Stingray With No Mate Is A Rare Medical Marvel

Photo: Paul Souders/Stone/Getty Images

A pregnant stingray is making national headlines, not for her soon-to-be-born pups but for a stranger reason: she's had no male mate.

Charlotte, a stingray that resides at the Aquarium and Shark Lab by Team ECCO in Hendersonville, North Carolina, surprised her aquatic team when the swelling that they first thought was cancer turned out to be a sign of pregnancy, per WLOS. However, Charlotte, due to give birth soon to as many as four pups, has not been in a tank with a male stingray in eight years. This has raised questions about who the father is, and if there even is a father at all.

Despite initial reports that the pups could be a result of Charlotte mating with one of a few small sharks in her tank, they are likely the result of a rare process called parthenogenesis, the Associated Press reports. Described by Team ECCO founder and executive director Brenda Ramer as a "once in a bluest of blue moons experience," parthenogenesis is a type of asexual reproduction that does not require a genetic contribution from a male, rather offspring develop from unfertilized eggs. It can occur in some creatures like insects, fish, amphibians and reptiles.

While at first glance it may seem as if the pups will be clones of their mother, Kady Lyons, a research scientist at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta said this isn't the case. An unfertilized egg fuses with another cell that then triggers cell division that eventually creates an embryo.

"We don't know why it happens," Lyons said. "Just that it's kind of this really neat phenomenon that they seem to be able to do."

Charlotte is expected to give birth within the next two weeks. The Aquarium and Shark Lab by Team ECCO plans to share updates to its Facebook page.

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