Fossils Reveal 100 Million Year Old Shrimp Reproduced Without Male

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Recent study shows that female fairy shrimp may have survived without males in the past. The researchers got to know this while studying Cretaceous-period freshwater fossils in the Koonwarra fossil bed. They have described a new species of now-extinct freshwater shrimp whose females most likely reproduced without male. This phenomenon is known as parthenogenesis. Another way of calling it is asexual reproduction.

Parthenogenesis is a process about spontaneous growth of an embryo from an unfertilized egg. However, this comes across as an incredibly rare phenomenon, but it is known to exist in both plants and mammals.

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Shrimp reproduce without male
(Image source: Museumofvictoria)

Apart from this fairy shrimp there are some other species, such as whiptail lizards, which reproduce exclusively through parthenogenesis. Moreover, in the 2021 Journal of Heredity two fatherless California condors were also mentioned.  They were sexually reporduced, but they are also been known to reproduce parthenogenetically.

Thomas Hegna said, “As far as we can tell, [parthenogenesis] is unknown in the fossil record of fairy shrimp.” Therefore this is the first time that it has been recognized in freshwater varieties.

This new species was discovered in the Koonwarra fossil bed. Whis is a paleontological site rich in fossils dating from the Aptian period. It contains feathers from avian-line dinosaurs, bony fish, and invertebrates like these fairy shrimp. Furthermore, the fossils themselves are kept in the Melbourne Museum’s paleontological collection in Victoria, Australia.

“There is one population of fairy shrimp in Australia that might be parthenogenetic,” Hegna said. Moreover, he said that this doesn’t mean that the species is not completely asexual, either. “Males [in this species] are really, really rare. And so there may be this gradient that’s tied into the dispersal strategy, which is kind of neat.” he further explained.

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