'We were blown away when we realized what she'd done,' said Kevin Buley, a reptile expert at Flora's home at the Chester Zoo in this town in northern England. 'But we certainly won't be naming any of the hatchlings Jesus.'
Other reptile species reproduce asexually in a process known as parthenogenesis. But Flora's virginal conception, and that of another Komodo dragon earlier this year at the London Zoo, are the first time it has been documented in a Komodo dragon.
The reptiles, renowned for their intelligence, are native to Indonesia. They are the world's largest lizards and have no natural predators — making them on par with sharks and lions at the pinnacle of the animal kingdom.
"Komodo dragons seem to be able to switch ways of reproducing to deal with a shortage of suitable boyfriends," said Dr. Rick Shine, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Sydney, Australia. Shine was not involved with the Nature paper. In contrast, other lizard species that reproduce asexually cannot mate normally.
That might give Komodos a distinct survival edge. Only about 4,000 dragons remain in the wild, of which 1,000 are female. Concerns about dwindling Komodo dragon populations might be allayed by Flora and Sungai's recent self-induced motherhood.
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?