A Vietnamese scientist, Ngo Van Tri of the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology, has discovered a previously unknown species of lizard in Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province. While eating at a rural restaurant in this southwestern region of the Mekong Delta, Dr. Van Tri noticed a tank of live lizards awaiting transfer to the grill, after which they would be served with a side of salad.
The Independent reports that the lizard, now known as Leiolepis ngovantrii, is a hybrid of two similar species in the region. The L ngovantrii species are entirely female, and reproduce by parthenogenesis, a form of cloning.
Confirmation of the new species came via two American herpetologists, Lee Grismer of La Sierra University in Riverside, California, and his son Jesse Grismer of Villanova University in Pennsylvania. In a goose chase akin to something out of a “Far Side” cartoon, father and son departed immediately for Vietnam after being emailed photos of the lizards by Dr. Van Tri. Upon arrival, they called the restaurant and asked the owner to hold an order of live lizards, before embarking on a two-day motorbike journey to the establishment.
The senior Grismer told the National Geographic News, “When we finally got there, this crazy guy had gotten drunk and served them all to his customers.” Fortunately, the Grismer’s were able to hire some local boys to find live specimens, and DNA testing confirmed that L ngovantrii is an all-female species. Explains Dr. Lee Grismer,”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. It’s not that they’re not known, locals know all about them. It’s just that they’re not known to scientists.”