Geckos gone wild!

Female mourning geckos reproduce without the aid of males -- and their numbers are booming.

By Carol Lloyd
Published December 15, 2006 12:13AM (EST)

What would happen if a group of women evolved to the point of making men biologically unnecessary? The situation is not quite so hard to imagine since scientists in Australia's Northern Territories observed the recent explosion of female mourning geckos, a species that doesn't need males to reproduce.

The result? Gird your loins, men -- from purely a survival perspective, it's not a pretty picture. The Australian reports that biologists have noticed that the invading Asian species is going forth and multiplying in its own immaculate way at such a rate as to threaten the native species of geckos, which still depend on sexual reproduction. The Lepidodactylus lugubris has been so successful it's pushed the other 37 gecko species that once inhabited the region into the bushland. By omitting males from the equation, the female mourning geckos seem to have hit on a winning formula for fast-lane procreation. You go, gecks!

Discovered by Charles Bonnet in the 18th century, parthenogenesis, the growth of seed or egg without male fertilization, has long been known as a natural part of the reproductive process in many lower animals, including aphids, some bees and reptiles, and even, in rare instances, birds. Many scientists have triggered artificial parthenogenesis by stimulating unfertilized eggs to reproduce among many higher mammals. But the case of the Australian gecko is intriguing because it shows a possible evolutionary strength of asexual reproduction.

The idea of parthenogenesis among humans has its own peculiar history as a hoary old chestnut of second-wave feminism. In one extreme example from 1972, Elizabeth Gould Davis' "The First Sex" spawned the prototypical man-bashing myth with a pseudoscientific theory that the Y chromosome is defective and that men are but mutants. Evolutionarily, Davis argued that parthenogenesis was not only our origin as a species but our ultimate destiny. (Praise the Goddess!)

Though there are still feminists who debate such ideas, what's most interesting in the new biological discoveries around sexuality, reproduction and gender roles is not their confirmation of some dogma, but their revelation of what a diverse, fabulous world we inhabit. Between the amorous, peaceful Bonobos and homosexual guinea pigs, the geckos down under are just another reminder that Mother Nature won't be joining the Promise Keepers anytime soon.

Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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