Thursday, October 13, 2011

Lady Lizards for Lunch

National Geographic calls it “the surprise du jour: A popular food on Vietnamese menus has turned out to be a lizard previously unknown to science”. Leiolepis ngovantrii is a small lizard found only in the Mekong delta in south Vietnam, an all-female species that reproduces via cloning, without the need for male lizards.

I read that single-gender lizards, while very rare, aren't that much of an oddity: About one percent of lizards can reproduce by parthenogenesis, meaning the females spontaneously ovulate and clone themselves to produce offspring with the same genetic blueprint. This process of self-fertilization can occur when faced with adverse environments, pollution or over-hunting.

The species was discovered by Ngo Van Tri of the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology, who came across tanks full of them at small diners in rural villages in the Ba Ria-Vung Tau province.

Lee Grismer of La Sierra University in Riverside, California, who helped identify the reptile carried out DNA sampling and discovered that the lizards were clones of their mothers.

Grismer says 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. For instance, the new lizard's home, the Binh Chau-Phuoc Buu Nature Reserve, sits between scrub woodland and coastal sand dunes.

"So species that do really well in one habitat or the other will occasionally get together and reproduce to form a hybrid," he said.

Imagine that! An entirely new lineage of life that was being sold and eaten for food!

1 comment:

One Yen said...

wonder if human could clone themselves in the future..