CHESTER Zoo has revealed its own nativity story to rival even that of the Virgin Mary.
In a groundbreaking paper to be published in the scientific journal Nature next week, Chester Zoo has helped prove that Komodo Dragons -the world's largest lizard - can reproduce through self-fertilisation.
The key to this discovery lies with Flora, one of the zoo's two female Komodo Dragons. In May this year Flora laid a clutch of 11 eggs, which normally hatch in 7-9 months.
The zoo's reptile keepers placed the eggs in an incubator. Three of the eggs collapsed but, once opened, were found to be fertile as they contained embryos.
Fertile dragon's eggs are not in themselves unusual, but what made it surprising was that virgin Flora has never been mixed with, or mated by, a male dragon.
Scientists at Liverpool University under the guidance of Dr Phill Watts, carried out genetic fingerprinting on the three eggs and on the two adult dragons at the zoo. This 'paternity' testing proved Flora was both the 'mother' and 'father' of the eggs.
Kevin Buley, Chester Zoo's Curator of Lower Vertebrates and Invertebrates and a co-author of the Nature paper, said: 'Other lizard species can self-fertilise but this is the first time it has ever been reported in Komodo Dragons.
'Essentially what we have is an immaculate conception and because the eggs were laid in May they could hatch around Christmas time.
'We will be looking out for shepherds, wise men and an unusually bright star in the sky over Chester Zoo.'
The Nature paper demonstrates that, while the embryos are not identical clones of Flora, their genetic make-up reconstructs the genetic make-up of the mother exactly and no other Komodo Dragon could have been involved.
'This discovery has important implications for understanding how reptiles colonise new areas,' said Mr Buley.
'Theoretically a female Komodo Dragon in the wild could swim to a new island and establish an entirely new population of dragons. The genetics of self-fertilisation in lizards means all her hatchlings would be male.
'These would grow up to mate with their mother and within one generation there would potentially be a population able to reproduce normally.'