11 November 2010
Scientists have found a previously unknown lizard in Vietnam cuisine, does not mate with a male lizard, but reproduces via cloning.
The lizard is called Leiolepis ngovantrii, according to National Geographic News.
"The Vietnamese have been eating these for time on end," said herpetologist L. Lee Grismer of La Sierra University in Riverside, California, who helped identify the animal.
"In this part of the Mekong Delta [in southeastern Vietnam], restaurants have been serving this undescribed species, and we just stumbled across it," he added.
The lizard is an all-female species. Only one percent of lizards are able to reproduce on their own by cloning (parthenogenesis).
Grismer's colleague Ngo Van Tri of the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology was the first to notice a restaurant in Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province selling oddly looking lizards, and sent pictures to Grismer and his son Jesse, a herpetology doctoral student at the University of Kansas.
The father-duo researchers suspected that they had found an all-female lizard species.
Grismer and his son flew to Ho Chi Minh City, spoke to the restaurant owner to reserve the lizards and drove eight hours on a motorcycle.
"When we finally got there, this crazy guy had gotten drunk and served them all to his customers," recalled Grismer, who has received funding for other projects from the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration.
They eventually could examine 70 lizards, which were similar, with help from school children. All turned out be females.
The newfound reptile also had rows of enlarged scales on its arms as well as lamellae-bone layers-under its toes that set it apart from other species.
The species is probably a hybrid from maternal and paternal lines of two related lizard species, a phenomenon that can occur in transition zones between two habitats.
"So species that do really well in one habitat or the other will occasionally get together and reproduce to form a hybrid," Grismer said.
Genetic tests of the new lizard's mitochondrial DNA identified its maternal species as L. guttata. Because this type of DNA is passed down only through females, the paternal species isn't yet known.
The newly discovered hybrid species may already be at a disadvantage, Grismer added-even though it doesn't seem to be rare in the wild.