Scientists were recently shocked to discover a new species of lizard in the Mekong River delta in Vietnam. There are two reasons why this species is particularly extraordinary. For one, all the lizards are female and reproduce by cloning themselves (daughters are just replicas of the mothers). The second reason, you ask? These lizards are popular menu items in small restaurants across Vietnam.
For years, Vietnamese diners have been chowing down on leiolepis ngovantrii, presumably unaware of the lizard's unique qualities. Ngo Van Tri (no relation to the lizard, dummy), a Vietnamese reptile scientist, came across tanks full of leiolepsis in small rural restaurants in Vietnam. He became curious when he noticed that all the lizards were female, so he contacted a colleague in California, Dr. Lee Grismer, who flew out with his son to further investigate.
Ms. Lizard is very small and found only in Vietnam. Grismer told CNN that a local restaurant owner promised a tank of the lizards would be available for inspection upon their arrival, but festivities got in the way. "Unfortunately, the owner wound up getting drunk, and grilled them all up for his patrons... so when we got there, there was nothing left."
Fortunately, local children came to the rescue. Hired by the scientists to capture as many of the lizards as they could, the children came up with over 60 specimens.
"It's an entirely new lineage of life that was being eaten and sold in restaurants for food," says Grismer. "But it's something that scientists have missed for hundreds of years."
Grismer speculates the lizards are a hybrid-- a mix of two other species in the area. While scientists are unaware of many species of life around the world, locals usually know their neighbors quite well.
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"What we're finding is that local inhabitants know a tremendous amount about the natural histories of the regions in which they live," Grismer says, "It's not that they're not known... locals know all about them. It's just that they're not known to scientists."
While American scientists are excited about the discovery, it is pretty safe to assume that foodies won't be.
"You wouldn't want to substitute it for a Big Mac or anything like that," Grismer says, "You take a bite out of it and it feels like something very old and dead in your mouth."