NEWS

Leonie The Zebra Shark Produces Babies Without A Male Mate

01/17/2017 01:42 EST | Updated 01/17/2017 01:42 EST

A female zebra shark in an Australian aquarium has proved that she's an independent woman who needs no man.

At Reef HQ Aquarium, Leonie the shark had been living away from male mates since 2012, but produced three baby sharks last year anyway.

She was originally paired with a male shark, and together the two produced about two dozen offspring. From then on, he was moved to another tank, according to New Scientist.

Scientists originally thought that Leonie may have stored some of her mate's sperm and used it to fertilize her eggs.

zebra shark A zebra shark in Thailand. (Photo: Getty Images)

But when they tested her babies, they only found their mother's DNA.

Hamish Tristram, a senior aquarium caretaker with Reef HQ told CNN the births were "definitely a surprise."

"She had been mating successfully for several years, and there was nothing much published about such large animals switching reproductive strategy so quickly."

Christine Dudgeon, a University of Queensland biologist, said one theory behind Leonie's offspring is that in the wild, if males aren't able to have contact with females for a breeding season, they can reproduce asexually until they can find mates again.

Has happened before, but not like this

Several species, including sharks, Komodo dragons, snakes, and rays, have been shown to reproduce asexually, even though they normally reproduce sexually, according to New Scientist.

But most reports have been in females who have never had male partners, i.e. never reproduced sexually.

At the end of the day, however, this type of reproduction isn't going to completely replace males.

As with Leonie's babies, offspring that are produced this way only have their one parent's DNA. If this continues, it greatly reduces the genetic diversity of the species.

"Long term, they need to diversify to help them adapt to their environment," Dudgeon told CNN.

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