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A shark pup that can 'walk' and was asexually conceived was just born at a Chicago-area zoo

Sebastian Cahill   

A shark pup that can 'walk' and was asexually conceived was just born at a Chicago-area zoo
  • A Chicago-area zoo recently welcomed a new epaulette shark pup.
  • The sharks are known for "walking" and the large, round spots behind their pectoral fins.

A new shark pup is always cause for celebration at the Brookfield Zoo, but the birth of an epaulette shark has zookeepers especially excited due to its unusual conception.

The zoo, located just outside of Chicago, welcomed the pup on August 23 — but her mother had not been in contact with a male shark since 2019, according to a press release from the zoo.

Now, at about two months old, the pup is small, between five and six inches long, said the release.

Epaulette sharks, which can reach up to 3 feet long at maturity, are easily identified by the large spots behind their pectoral fins.

But they're also known for a strange reason — being able to "walk" using its fins both on land and in water.

Using this skill, the sharks can survive harsher environments and move between tide pools to find more food and oxygenated water.

The birth of the pup in Brookfield marks the second known asexual birth of an epaulette shark in an accredited zoo or aquarium, per the release. The first was born at the New England Aquarium.

When sharks asexually reproduce, the process is called automictic parthenogenesis.

Sharks producing eggs usually make one egg and three "polar bodies," shark researcher Kevin Feldheim told Deutsche Welle, a German media outlet.

While normally the female shark reabsorbs the polar bodies, sometimes one of them has the same amount of genetic material as the egg and fertilizes it.

The process could be triggered by the lack of a male partner in sharks, but there is still a lot scientists don't understand about the process.

"We don't know how common it is and the handful of cases we have seen have mostly taken place in an aquarium setting," Feldheim told DW.

The pup at the zoo, housed in the Living Coast habitat, continues to thrive, per the release.

Specialists at the zoo said they received help from their peers at the New England Aquarium, since pups produced parthenogenetically may be more delicate than others.

"We are happy to report that our epaulette pup has been eating well on her diet of finely chopped capelin, minced squid tentacles, and other finely chopped seafood," said lead animal care specialist Mike Masellis, per the release. "We are looking forward to guests being able to see the pup."

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