Hassan Firuzabadi, a retired military officer and advisor to Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has claimed that lizard skin can detect "atomic waves," so Western countries used reptiles like lizards and chameleons as spies to identify Iranian uranium mine locations. But is that really possible?
The phrase "atomic waves" seemed unclear to many scientists, who speculated that Firuzabadi might have been talking about gamma rays emitted from radioactive isotopes during uranium mining. However, experts have said that lizard skin does not have the capability to detect radiation.
Responding to the recent arrest of local environmentalists in Iran, Firuzabadi told the Iranian Labour News Agency that they had spotted individuals trying to enter the country carrying reptiles, leading to the suspicion that the West was using this technique to spy on Iran.
"We found out that their [reptiles'] skin attracts atomic waves and that they were nuclear spies who wanted to find out where inside the Islamic Republic of Iran we have uranium mines and where we are engaged in atomic activities," he told ILNA, adding that the spies "failed every time."
"This is pure and simple BUNK," zoology professor at the University of Texas at Austin Eric Pianka told Live Science. Lizard skin is made of keratin, the same protein that is present in human skin. And humans do not have radiation detecting capabilities.
Biologists also deny the possibility of reptiles having any sort of capability to be drawn towards uranium mines. Instead, they say lizards are cold-blooded animals and would shy away from cool mines. Research has already proved that lizards seek warm, comfortable places to sustain body heat.
Firuzabadi particularly mentioned chameleons, which live on trees and have not been observed straying under rocks or in mines for a long time. "So, the claim, based on what we know about lizard learning and motivation, is absurd," evolutionary biologist Barry Sinervo from the University of California, Santa Cruz, told Live Science.
If lizards can indeed detect uranium radiation and expose a country's nuclear secrets, it will be a major breakthrough for the scientific community.