You probably don’t want to call it an immaculate conception, but a shark at a zoo in Chicago has made history. She became the first documented example of her species giving birth despite having no contact with males.
The female epaulette shark lives in a habitat of her own at the Brookfield Zoo, located outside Chicago, where she’s lived since 2019. She hasn’t been housed with a male since her arrival, according to a press release from the zoo, writes The New York Post.
On August 23, one of the mom’s eggs hatched into a pup — only the second recorded case of an epaulette shark pup produced by asexual reproduction at an Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ accredited facility.
The first occurrence was at New England Aquarium, where Brookfield Zoo’s adult females originated.
“We are happy to report that our epaulette pup has been eating well on her diet of finely chopped capelin, minced squid tentacles, and other finely chopped seafood,” Mike Masellis, a lead animal care specialist at Brookfield Zoo, said in a statement. “Our colleagues at New England Aquarium have been a great resource as shark pups produced parthenogenetically can be very delicate.”
“Beginning in 2022, the adult female shark began laying two to four, typically infertile eggs, each month,” the zoo said in a news release. “One of those eggs was fertile, and following a five-month incubation the pup hatched and has been behind the scenes being monitored by staff.”
“We are happy to report that our epaulette pup has been eating well on her diet of finely chopped capelin, minced squid tentacles, and other finely chopped seafood,” the zoo’s Mike Masellis, a lead animal care specialist, said. “We are looking forward to guests being able to see the pup.”
NPR reported that the “virgin-born pup is now 2 months old, measuring about 6 inches. It could grow to become an adult 2-3 feet long when fully grown.”
Epaullette sharks might be one of the weirdest animals, but also one of nature’s most durable, adopting several ways to continue its survival.
NPR explained that “epaulette sharks exist at the intersection of cute and interesting, with distinctively large false eye spots resembling epaulettes. They’re famous for being able to walk — on the seafloor and on coral, but also on land.”