Student finds new lizard — on a menu

LAWRENCE — A University of Kansas graduate student was on the hunt for a new lizard species and found it in Vietnam — on a restaurant menu.

Jesse Grismer, a doctoral student in KU's department of ecology and evolutionary biology, studies reptiles and amphibians. The Lawrence Journal-World reported that Grismer has helped classify dozens of new species.

"The cornerstone for conservation is taxonomy, which is the discovery and description of new species," he said. "You can't conserve and protect what you don't know exists."

A colleague in Vietnam told Grismer last year about the possibility of a new species located in Vietnam and sent him photos and tissue samples to examine. Grismer tested the samples for mitochondrial DNA and realized they were probably dealing with something new.

Grismer went to Vietnam in search of the lizard with his father, Lee Grismer, a biology professor at La Sierra University in Riverside, Calif. They headed to a restaurant in the Ca Mau region on Vietnam's Mekong Delta, where they had heard the possibly new species was on the menu.

The restaurant was all out of the lizard meat, but Grismer said he did eventually taste the new species of lizard, which they named after the scientist and family friend in Vietnam, Ngo Van Tri, who told them about it. It's called Leilolepis ngovantrii.

Lee Grismer said he would take his son on trips to identify species while the boy was still in diapers. And he said he was extremely pleased that his son has decided to follow in his footsteps.

"As a father, and as a naturalist, it just doesn't get any better than that," the elder Grismer said.