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Students Discover Cannibal Lizards on Remote Aegean Island

May 23, 2018

It reads like a mashup of Greek mythology and H.G. Wells. “The Odyssey of Doctor Moreau,” perhaps. Explorers find their way to a remote Aegean island and discover it’s inhabited by reptilian cannibals. They describe one encounter as follows:

“[I]t began to run away, with the dead lizard torso and head still in its mouth. The cannibal continuously ran along the top of a wall and paused intermittently to thrash the corpse against the cement.”

This grisly description isn’t from a horror story. Nor is it a macabre vignette from Greek mythology. It’s from a scientific paper authored by Kinsey Brock — Quantitative Systems Biology doctoral student and two-time Southern California Edison Fellowship recipient — and her undergraduate field assistant Indiana Madden. They recently published a paper in Herpetology Notes reporting their discovery of lizard cannibalism in a subspecies of Aegean wall lizard, Podarcis erhardii mykonensism, native to the island of Siros.

“I was catching lizards for Kinsey’s Ph.D. project when I saw a large male lizard perched on a stone wall thrashing its head with something in its mouth,” Madden said. “I thought it was eating a butterfly or something because it was pretty big, so I got closer to try to noose it. I was about three steps away when it turned around and I saw that it had the severed upper torso of another adult lizard of the same species!”

Luckily, the lizard stuck around long enough for Madden to document her discovery.

“The cannibal didn’t run immediately,” Madden said. “It just kind of stared at me with the corpse hanging out of its mouth — long enough for me to take a picture — then it ran away with its prey still clutched in its jaws.”