Leapin’ Lesbian Lizards are here to stay

Science communication Uncertain Seattle freeway glowing in the winter mists, Washington, USA
Photograph by Alistair J. Cullum (Acullum at en.wikipedia) Email acullum@creighton.edu
Photograph by Alistair J. Cullum (Acullum at en.wikipedia)

Ever hear about lesbian lizards from Mexico? Well, they may not actually be lesbians, but there’s a reason for the name.

The New Mexican whiptail is a species of lizard with an unusual way of reproducing.

Parthenogenesis is a mode of reproduction in which the embryos do not require fertlisation. This process has been studied extensively among the New Mexican whiptail genus which includes 15 species of lizard that reproduce exclusively through parthenogenesis.

The whiptail population is entirely female. Despite reproducing asexually, the whiptail still engages in mating behaviour with other females of its species – which has given rise to the nickname “lesbian lizards'”. The theory is that this behaviour stimulates ovulation.

Today, knowledge around these leapin’ lesbian lizards is well established, but in the late 1970’s when Professor David Crews first put forward his theory on their asexual mode of reproduction, the issue was quite different – quite controversial, in fact. Unsurprisingly, the concept of seemingly lesbian lizards was pretty catchy too, and so Time magazine (the first publication to coin to term) published under the header “Leapin’ Lesbian Lizards”.





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