Virgin Birth Possible: Self-Cloning Lizard Discovered in Vietnam

Leiolepis ngovantriiPhoto: Dr. L. Lee GrismerLeiolepis ngovantrii
All images courtesy of Dr. L. Lee Grismer, La Sierra University, Riverside, CA

We are all aware of the term parthenogenesis, a form of asexual reproduction, found in females, where they can reproduce themselves without getting fertilized by a male. This form of reproduction has been seen mostly in the invertebrate animal species such as water fleas, aphids, nematodes and some bees. Talking about vertebrates, very few reptiles, fish, rare birds and sharks have this type of reproductive system. Recently, scientists discovered an all-female species that reproduces by self-cloning. Scientifically named as Leiolepis ngovantrii, this is a smallish agamid lizard, native to Southeast Asia and definitely a peculiar critter.

Today, this lizard is known as one of a few Leiolpis and all-female species of lizards that reproduce by parthenogenesis, named after the herpetologist Ngo Van Tri of the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology. Unlike artificial cloning processes, here the female can produce a sort of natural clone offspring without the need for a male.

Leiolepis guttataPhoto: Dr. L. Lee Grismera female Leiolepis guttata

Leiolepis reevesiPhoto: Dr. L. Lee Grismera male Leiolepis reevesi

Sir Ngo Van Tri is a Vietnamese reptile scientist who first discovered the species after seeing them sold and eaten in many remote restaurants in South Vietnam. He found a tank full of similar looking reptiles in rural villages in the Ba Ria-Vung Tau province. He immediately called his American friend Dr. L. Lee Grismer and his son Jesse Grismer and told them about this rare species. The amazing part was that all the lizards were females and clones of their mother. After gathering more than 60 lizards from his surroundings, Jesse Grismer ran a DNA test. He remembers: “The DNA analyses showed that it was a female Leiolepis guttata, the hybridized with male Leiolepis reevesi, which produced the all-female Leiolepis ngovantrii.”

Dr. L.Lee GrismerPhoto: Dr. L. Lee Grismer Dr. L. Lee Grismer

Recalls Dr. L. Lee Grismer: “What we are finding is that local inhabitants know a tremendous amount about the natural histories of the regions in which they live.” So, it may be an old menu standby in these Vietnamese restaurants, but it’s a smorgasbord discovery for scientists that they have missed for hundreds of years.

Click here for a video of the lizard and more information.

My sincere thanks to Dr. Grismer for sharing these rare images and valuable information.

Sources: 1,2, 3