Flora plays mum and dad

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 January, 2007, 12:00am

Flora the Komodo dragon has become a mother and a father to a clutch of babies, bosses at a British zoo announced on Wednesday. This follows her 'immaculate conception' which stunned scientists.

The female Komodo, a badly-endangered giant lizard, astounded keepers at Chester Zoo, northwest England, when she laid fertilised eggs in May - having never mixed with a male.

DNA tests on eggs which collapsed proved that Flora was both the 'mother' and 'father' of the embryos.

Flora's five babies, all male, hatched on January 15, 17, 18, 21 and 22. Two eggs remain in incubation and are expected to hatch soon.

They are bright yellow and black, colours which will fade over time. They weigh around 115 grams and measure up to 46 centimetres long.

Self-fertilisation in this way is called parthenogenesis. Under it, the species makes a copy of its own genetic code. All baby lizards conceived this way are male.

Although other lizard species can sometimes self-fertilise, it was the first time it has ever been recorded in a Komodo dragon that has never mated.

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

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

'It is a huge relief and a huge excitement - when the first one slit its egg, our head of reptiles screamed.

'Even though they are only a few days old, our baby dragons are doing very well and receiving the expert care they need at this time.'

The Komodo dragon is the world's biggest lizard, with adult males reaching up to three metres long and weighing up to 90 kilograms.