New Self-Cloning Lizard Found on Lunch Menu
A lizard species new to science was discovered at a Vietnamese restaurant. A number of the entirely female and identical lizards were trapped in a tank inside the restaurant where they are served to customers. The lizard has actually been eaten in Vietnam for many years.
A Vietnamese scientist (Ngo Van Tri) who entered the rural restaurant for a meal was startled to notice the lizards and the fact that they all looked exactly the same. He photographed them and sent the photos to Lee Grismer, a herpetologist in Riverside, California who is a professor at La Sierra University, and Grismer’s son Jesse, who is a PhD student. Grismer studied the photos and identified the lizards as belonging to Leiolepis genus. He also suspected the lizards were a new species, and decided to fly to Vietnam to examine them. By the time he arrived however, the lizards were gone. They had been purchased, cooked and consumed at the restaurant.
Van Tri and Grismer visited some other restaurants and found more of the lizards, and purchased them for specimens. They were also assisted by local children who showed them where to find more in their natural habitat. Sometimes these lizards are called butterfly lizards. They live in dry, open areas with some vegetation and dig deep burrows. They can grow up to twenty inches long, with long tails. Agama is another name used for butterfly lizards, and some people like to keep them as pets.
In a paper titled, “Who’s your mommy? Identifying maternal ancestors of asexual species of Leiolepis Cuvier, 1829 and the description of a new endemic species of asexual Leiolepis Cuvier, 1829 from Southern Vietnam”, the Grismers wrote, “Theoretically, the production of all female progeny has a two-fold reproductive advantage over sex (Maynard–Smith, 1978) yet parthenogenesis occurs in only 0.1% of described vertebrate species (Kearney et al., 2006).”
Parthogenesis is asexual reproduction in females. This type of reproduction occurs in some lizards, scorpions, bees, and a few other species. The term comes from two Greek words which mean virgin birth.
The new species was named Leiolepis ngovantrii in honor of the Vietnamese scientist Ngo Van Tri. Mr. Van Tri is a researcher of the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology.
Image Credit: kin_onn