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Thursday, January 7, 2016

Toronto Zoo's first births of the New Year

Photo Credit: Toronto Zoo
Toronto Zoo announces three baby Desert Grassland Whiptails hatched on Saturday, January 2, 2016 making all three females the official first births of the new year! The babies are not viewable by the public at this time, but their mother shares an exhibit with another desert lizard species, the San Esteban Chuckwalla, in the Zoo's Americas Pavilion. Did you know? Desert Grassland Whiptails reproduce by parthenogenesis, meaning there is no sexual reproduction because this species contains only females!

What occurs is this: Meiosis is a process of cell division that produces gamete cells (sperm and eggs). Whiptails are a triploid species meaning they have three sets of chromosomes compared to most animals that have only two sets. Even though they reproduce by parthenogenesis without mating with a male, the offspring do not necessarily have identical chromosomes as their mother. When the female lizard is forming gametes (eggs), she doubles the sets of chromosomes to six.  To maintain genetic diversity they pair sister chromosomes (one chromosome from each new pair) instead of pairing homologous chromosomes from each parent chromosome during meiosis to form the gamete.
An interesting aspect to reproduction in these lizards is they demonstrate many characteristics of sexual behavior, including courtship and pseudo-copulation even though they are all females. One female plays the role of a male and mounts the female that is about to lay eggs. This behaviour is due to hormonal cycles. It has been found that lizards who act out the courtship ritual produce more offspring, therefore it can be said that they still require sexual behaviour to maximize reproductive success. Now you know!
Whiptails that are captured by the tail will shed part of the tail structure and thus be able to flee. The detached tail will continue to wiggle, creating a deceptive sense of continued struggle and attracting the predator's attention away from the fleeing prey animal. The animal can partially re-grow its tail over a period of weeks. The technical term for this ability to drop the tail is caudal autotomy. Now that's a defence mechanism!
Photo Credit: Toronto Zoo
CLICK HERE to watch our latest video of our female polar bear cub.
PLUS, CLICK HERE to view the Zoo's new Polar Bear Cub page on our website.

Come out to the wetlands exhibit in the Americas Pavilion every Saturday at 1:30pm this month and watch our Midland Painted Turtles get some fun enrichment from their Keepers!

9:30am - 4:30pm, daily
 Last admission one hour before closing.
The Toronto Zoo is open year round (except Dec. 25th).
General Admission (13-64): $23
Seniors (65+): $18
Children (3-12): $14
Children (2 and under): FREE
Members: FREE
Prices include tax as applicable
Parking is $12 year round

Events and admission prices subject to change without notice.

For general information visit
Toronto Zoo is accredited by CAZA (Canada's Accredited Zoos and Aquariums). Look for this logo whenever you visit a Canadian zoo as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. For more information, visit caza.ca.

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