Pregnant Stingray Defies Nature in Rural North Carolina Aquarium

Charlotte, a rust-colored stingray the size of a serving platter, has spent much of her life gliding around the confines of a storefront aquarium in North Carolina’s Appalachian Mountains. And yet "nature has found a way," the aquarium’s owner said. The stingray is pregnant with as many as four pups and could give birth in the next two weeks.

“Here’s our girl saying, ’Hey, Happy Valentine’s Day! Let’s have some pups!” said Brenda Ramer, executive director of the Aquarium and Shark Lab on Main Street in downtown Hendersonville.

The small aquarium is run by Ramer’s educational nonprofit, Team ECCO, which encourages local schoolchildren and others to take an interest in science. Its biggest lesson now is on the process of parthenogenesis: a type of asexual reproduction in which offspring develop from unfertilized eggs, meaning there is no genetic contribution by a male.

Kady Lyons, a research scientist at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta who is not involved with the North Carolina aquarium, said Charlotte’s pregnancy is the only documented example she’s aware of for this species, round stingrays.

“We don’t know why it happens,” Lyons said. “Just that it’s kind of this really neat phenomenon that they seem to be able to do.”

Charlotte currently lives in a tank that’s about 2,200 gallons (8,300 liters), or nearly the size of a construction dumpster. Ramer said they’re hoping to get a tank nearly twice that size to accommodate Charlotte’s offspring. They also want to put live cameras up for people to see them.

“It is very rare to happen,” Ramer said. “But it’s happening in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains in rural North Carolina, hundreds of miles from the ocean.”

As for the suggestion that Charlotte could have been impregnated by a shark, Lyons said that’s impossible.

“We should set the record straight that there aren’t some shark-ray shenanigans happening here,” said Lyons, whose graduate work focused on the species.

Round stingrays like Charlotte are abundant on the Pacific coasts of southern California and Mexico, often resting on the ocean’s sandy bottom near the shoreline. Lyons finds the species fascinating. For example, embryos in the womb are bathed in uterine milk that provides nutrients to help them develop.

“It’s not necessarily as sexy as a white shark, but they do a lot of really neat stuff.”

Posted in Sex Life Animals Tech & Science by Paul van der Maas

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