Sunday, November 14, 2010

New Self-Cloning Lizard Found in Vietnam bistro

You could call it the surprise A popular food on Vietnamese menus has turned out to be a lizard before unknown to science, scientists say. What's more, the newfound Leiolepis ngovantrii is no run-of-the-mill reptile the all-female species replicates via cloning, without the need for male lizards.

Single-gender lizards aren't that much of a peculiarity. About one percent of lizards can reproduce by parthenogenesis, meaning the females spontaneously ovulate and clone themselves to make offspring with the same genetic blueprint. "The Vietnamese have been eating these for time on end," said herpetologist L. Lee Grismer of La Sierra University in Riverside, California, who helped recognize the animal.

"In this part of the Mekong Delta [in southeastern Vietnam], restaurants have been serving this undescribed species, and we just staggered across it."

Who's Your (Lizard) Daddy?

The newfound reptile also had rows of distended scales on its arms as well as lamellae bone layers under its toes that set it apart from other species, according to the study, published April 22 in the journal ZOOTAXA. The species is almost certainly 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 actually 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.

"So what you get in the unisexual lizards is a mule that can clone itself."