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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 January 2007, 12:56 GMT
Virgin lizard becomes new parent
Five of the seven Komodo dragon eggs have hatched so far

A female Komodo dragon which laid fertilised eggs despite being a virgin is now a mother and "father" of five.

Flora produced a clutch of 10 eggs without mating at Chester Zoo, Cheshire, in May 2006.

Although other lizards reproduce this way, it has only recently been recognised in Komodo dragons.

The five male hatchlings are up to 18 inches (46cm) long and weigh about 4ozs (113g). Two eggs are still in incubation and three others collapsed.

The newborn lizards feed on locusts and crickets and can be seen at the zoo from Easter.

The hatchlings are black and yellow, but the bright colours will fade with time.

Genetic fingerprinting

Kevin Buley, curator of lower vertebrates and invertebrates at Chester Zoo, said: "Flora is oblivious to the excitement she has caused, but we are delighted to say she is now a mum and dad.

"When the first of the babies hatched, we didn't know whether to make her a cup of tea or pass her the cigars."

The hatchlings, who will be moved to an enclosure on public display at the zoo around Easter, will grow to three metres in length - the Komodo dragon is the world's largest lizard.

Mr Buley said the young reptiles had not been named yet.

"As Komodo dragons can live for over 40 years, we want to get the names just right," he said.

Flora the Komodo dragon (Chester Zoo archives)
Flora had never been kept with male Komodo dragons

Threatened species

When Flora, one of the zoo's two female Komodo dragons, laid her eggs in May, they were put in an incubator where three collapsed.

On opening them, staff discovered they contained embryos, and genetic fingerprinting by scientists at Liverpool University showed Flora's eggs had developed without being fertilised by sperm - a process called parthenogenesis.

All Komodo dragons bred in this way will be male.

The new clutch are the first Komodo dragons to born at Chester Zoo, where Flora and sister Nessie are part of a European zoo breeding programme to protect the threatened species.

It is believed there are fewer than 4,000 Komodo dragons left in the world, and those living in the wild live on three islands in Indonesia, which they swim between.

In the wild they ambush and bite their prey and then track it for up to two days until it dies of blood poisoning.


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
The baby dragon lizards emerge from their eggs



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