Jesus , Aphids and Parthenogenesis

The image above shows an infant Jesus being cradled by His mother who is in turn held by her mother, Anne.  Known as Anna Selbdritt, this depiction of the Holy Kinship became popular in the 14th century – Leonardo da Vinci produced a version. Most strikingly, in some of these depictions, Mary appears as child and Jesus as an impossibly tiny infant.

Aphids are largely defenseless against predators. Some species have entered into an evolutionary protection racket with ants in return for honeydew excreted from the rectum of the aphid. Others have maximised their rate of reproduction by doing away with the time constraints of sex and resorting to parthenogenesis, a reproductive process that doesn’t require fertilisation. Combined with paedogenesis (reproduction in the young), this allows the use of a strategy called telescoping generations in which an individual aphid generates offspring before its own birth. In other words, an aphid may give birth to daughters who are already pregnant, much like an aphid Russian doll. In this way, an aphid can give birth as early as ten days of age.

The Anna Selbdritt depiction has obvious parallels with telescoping generations. What’s more, the birth of Jesus has been likened to parthenogenesis. In fact, the term is derived from the Greek parthenos, virgin and genesis, birth. The orthodox Christian view is that Jesus’ birth was due to divine intervention. No such claims have been made about aphids.

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