Though it’s been a well-known ingredient to chefs in
South East Asia for some time, the lizard is new to science.
Though it has been a regular item on menus across the Mekong delta for as long as anyone can remember, the lizard, now known as Leiolepis ngovantrii, has just recently been introduced to science.
The unusual description of the species places it in the one percent of reptiles that reproduce via parthenogenesis—in which embryos are clones of their mothers.
Lee Grismer, one of the herpetologists responsible for the discovery, explained:
It’s an entirely new lineage of life that was being eaten and sold in restaurants for food…but it’s something that scientists have missed for hundreds of years.
DNA analysis revealed that the lizard was, in fact, a new species. It also turned up the unusual fact that all of the specimens were female.
The trait is uncommon, but not unheard of. Some species of lizards and fish have been known to adapt to parthenogenesis—a trait much more common among plants and insects—when stressed by habitat depletion, pollution, or over-hunting.
So are the lizards in danger of being eaten into extinction? In this case, probably not. The dish, Grismer commented, is an acquired taste that “feels like something very old and dead [is] in your mouth.”
Photo credit: L. Lee Grismer