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West Japan zoo discovers its 'male' barn owl is female after she lays egg

Ai the barn owl is seen staring at an egg she laid in this photo provided by the Tokuyama Zoo in the city of Shunan, Yamaguchi Prefecture.

SHUNAN, Yamaguchi -- A 4-year-old barn owl at Tokuyama Zoo in this west Japan city that was previously deemed male in a DNA test has turned out to be female after a zookeeper noticed on April 4 that she had laid an egg.

    In response to the surprise revelation, the zoo corrected the bird's information by posting on its official Twitter account: "On a personal note, I (the owl) laid an egg this morning."

    Barn owls inhabit various parts of the world including Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and are known for their heart-shaped face.

    Ai the barn owl came to Tokuyama Zoo in October 2016. A DNA test done with blood samples taken by a research institute at the zoo's request came back male. But, when a zookeeper looked inside Ai's enclosure at around 8:30 a.m. on April 4, they found under the owl's belly an egg measuring 4 centimeters long and weighing 20 grams.

    Ichiro Kihara, 52, assistant head keeper, recalled with a smile, "Everyone at the zoo was surprised." The egg is unfertilized, meaning a chick will not hatch from it.

    According to the zoo, DNA information on most birds is unknown, and it's difficult to detect the gender of some species, like barn owls, based on their appearance.

    Ai is currently on display near the zoo's main gate, and Kihara said, "She's our main attraction. We would like everyone to keep on loving Ai-chan, just the way she is."

    (Japanese original by Takatoshi Wakiyama, Shunan Bureau)

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