Charlotte the ‘Pregnant Virgin’ Stingray Dies After Diagnosis of Reproductive Disease

The animal drew attention earlier this year for becoming pregnant despite having no male ray in her tank

A stingray sits at the bottom of a sandy aquarium tank
At the beginning of June, aquarium officials announced Charlotte was no longer pregnant due to a reproductive disease. Aquarium & Shark Lab by Team ECCO via Facebook

Charlotte the stingray, whose mysterious pregnancy grabbed headlines earlier this year and earned her a legion of online fans, has died, according to the Aquarium & Shark Lab by Team ECCO, the facility where Charlotte lived.

The ray’s death comes roughly one month after the aquarium, located in Hendersonville, North Carolina, announced that Charlotte had a reproductive disease.

“We are sad to announce, after continuing treatment with her medical care team and specialist, our ray Charlotte passed away today,” the aquarium wrote in a Facebook post over the weekend. “We are continuing to work with her medical care team and research specialist. The Team ECCO family appreciates your continued love and support while we navigate this great loss.”

In February, the aquarium announced its female ray was pregnant with up to four pups. The news caused a stir, because Charlotte hadn’t been around a male ray in at least eight years, raising the question of how she became pregnant.

Brenda Ramer, founder of the aquarium, speculated that Charlotte could have been impregnated by one of the male sharks that shared her tank, according to NPR’s Bill Chappell. But scientists never considered this a real possibility.

“We should set the record straight that there aren’t some shark-ray shenanigans happening here,” Kady Lyons, a research scientist at the Georgia Aquarium, told Ben Finley of the Associated Press (AP) in February.

“It’s like saying your dog and your cat are having a baby,” Larry Boles, director of the Aquarium Science Program at Oregon Coast Community College, told USA Today’s Mary Walrath-Holdridge in May.

The more likely explanation, scientists said, is an asexual reproductive process called parthenogenesis, in which an egg develops without fertilization. The term comes from the Greek words “parthenos,” meaning virgin, and “genesis,” meaning origin. More than 2,000 species are thought to be able to reproduce this way, including some plants, insects, birds and reptiles—though it rarely occurs in higher vertebrates.

Experts quickly developed doubts around the stingray’s condition—and her standard of care. The aquarium had said Charlotte’s pregnancy might have begun in November, but stingrays typically have a gestation period of just four to five months.

“If the animal was pregnant, it should have delivered,” Boles told USA Today in May. “So it’s not having a normal pregnancy, and it’s certainly probably not going to deliver any viable pups. That alone is cause for immediate veterinary care.”

Others noted the facility is not accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, meaning it does not need to adhere to the annual examinations required by the program. The aquarium has not named any scientists or veterinarians that may have been working with them in recent weeks, per USA Today’s Saman Shafiq and Mary Walrath-Holdridge, though it has made references to a medical care team.

The aquarium announced at the end of May that Charlotte had developed a rare reproductive disease, and on June 5, they said that as a result of the disease, she was no longer pregnant.

“The medical team ... reported that Charlotte is stable and continues to show no decrease in appetite or activity,” the aquarium said in a Facebook post. “Charlotte continues to be in her normal routine and content.”

The aquarium did not post any updates on Facebook about Charlotte’s health between June 5 and her death. In its announcement this week, the aquarium said it will be closed temporarily.

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