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On the menu – an undiscovered species

2010 November 11
by Paul Vallely

A good scientist never sleeps. Well, he or she is never off duty at any rate if Dr Ngo Van Tri of the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology is anything to go by. He was in a restaurant in the Megong Delta when he was served up grilled lizard and salad.  Intrigued he asked to see a live specimen – and decided it might be a new species unknown to science even if it was familiar to local chefs.

 The enterprising scientist then emailed pictures of the lizard to experts in the United States who jumped on a plane to Ho Chi Minh City from where they phoned the restaurant to place an order. Unfortunately the restaurateur, so excited by his sudden international celebrity, got drunk and served all the remaining lizards to customers in celebration. When the US scientists arrived there were none left. Fortunately local boys sent out into the forest returned with 60 more of the beasts. They were, indeed, unknown to herpetology.

 Most intriguingly the creatures were all females. It turns out that the species has no males but reproduces by cloning unfertilised egg cells in a process called parthenogenesis – which sounds suspiciously like virgin birth. But that’s another story.

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