First, there was the drunken zookeeper bitten by an irresponsibly handled cobra. And now, there is this: the great backstory behind the discovery of a new species of lizard.
I always find it interesting when scientists discover a previously unknown species, but the story of this particular lizard, Leiolepis ngovantrii, is more unusual than most. This new species wasn’t hiding under a rock or in the jungle in some remote, uninhabited corner of the Earth. It was being served to diners in a Vietnamese restaurant. National Geographic explains:
Noting that the reptiles all looked strangely similar, Ngo sent pictures to Grismer and his son Jesse Grismer, a herpetology doctoral student at the University of Kansas.
The father-son team suspected that they may be looking at an all-female species. That’s because the team knew that the lizard likely belonged to the Leiolepis genus, in which males and females in lizards have distinct color differences—and no males were apparent in the photos.
So the pair hopped on a plane to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), telephoned the restaurant to “reserve” the lizards, and began an eight-hour motorcycle odyssey—which ended in disappointment.
“When we finally got there, this crazy guy had gotten drunk and served them all to his customers,” recalled Lee Grismer, who has received funding for other projects from the National Geographic Society’s Committee for Research and Exploration. (The Society owns National Geographic News.)
Fortunately other area restaurants had the lizards on offer, and local schoolchildren helped gather more from the wild. Eventually the Grismers examined almost 70 of the lizards—and all turned out to be females.
The reason that all the lizards were female, it turns out, is because the species undergoes parthenogensis, which means that rather than reproducing sexually, the female lizards clone themselves, giving birth to their exact genetic replicas. (The lizard eggs do not need to be fertilized by a male in order to develop.) For more on the fascinating story, see the great account in National Geographic.
And yes, the Venn diagram above is pretty much the extent of my computer graphic skills.