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Whiptails: Texas' strange, asexual lizards

If you think lizards are mundane, you haven't seen a whiptail. These long, slender lizards are found throughout the Coastal Bend, and commonly have long stripes running along their bodies. If you can get close enough, whiptails are recognizable by their snake-like, forked tongue.

Many whiptails have life cycles that are unheard-of among vertebrates. Individual whiptails of a single species might reproduce in a typical, sexual manner. However, if two species of whiptail interbreed, the hybrid offspring will undergo a process known as parthenogenesis. This is where a female offspring lays eggs without fertilization by a male. The female will often need stimulation by another female - in the form of the other female laying on top of it, or pseudocopulating with it - in order to become fertile. Females will switch roles, with one initiating fertility in another female and vice versa, until both females have had a chance to lay eggs. Offspring are genetically identical to the mother and are all female, resulting in an all-female population of asexual lizards.

Nobody really knows how the whiptails manage to reproduce asexually and still have sufficient genetic variability to evolve or adapt to the environment. It is known that this is one of the only incidences of asexual reproduction among vertebrates. So next time you see a little lizard scurrying down your driveway, remember that it's more weird and wacky than it seems!




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