Scientist Responds To Furoe Over Misnamed, Misidentified of World’s Smallest Snake

snake(b.hedges/psu)

Over at Barbados Free Press, S. Blair Hedges the evolutionary biologist who as pointed out in our post ”Barbados Home To World’s Smallest Snake” “dicsovered” a “remarkable undiscovered species” sought to addressed bloggers by presenting his views on the circumstances leading up to the international story on his discovery and naming the brown snake after his wife.

His remarks and our response are below.

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5 Responses to Scientist Responds To Furoe Over Misnamed, Misidentified of World’s Smallest Snake

  1. BGR says:

    Hedges
    August 6, 2008 at 4:57 pm
    I am the author of the scientific article describing the small snake, the Barbados Threadsnake. I encourage people to examine the article, which is free here:
    http://www.mapress.com/zootaxa/2008/f/zt01841p030.pdf

    I understand why some of you react to the word “discovery” when you already knew the snake was in Barbados. In science, that word is often used to credit the work done to distinguish or recognize something (for example, an astronomer discovering a planet or star, even though others may have previously seen the light). Many taxonomists “discover” new species in their laboratories, sent to them by people who had no idea what they collected. In my case I came to Barbados and collected the snake. But virtually all of the work was done in my laboratory over the last two years, carefully comparing that species with others from museums around the world.

    There were only two specimens from Barbados known to science before this work, one from 1889 and another from 1963, both in a London museum. I found two more and located a fifth (misidentified) in a museum in California collected 100 years ago. As you can see, this is not an abundant, well known species, at least in museums. Those previous specimens were confused and mis-identified as another species, L. bilineata, occurring on Martinique. My work showed that Barbados has its own, separate species (not a subspecies as one blogger commented; please read the paper). That it happens to be the smallest snake also makes it special. The size aspects are complicated, so please see the paper.

    There is no award or prize for describing a new species, or for finding the smallest or largest, and certainly no money has come to me for this. This is just my job, as an educator and researcher. I would hope that rather than focus on whether this is or not a “discovery” (doesn’t matter to me) you might focus on how to protect this special little snake that seems to be rare and also which has brought attention to Barbados. There are some good things that can come out of this “report” as some previous bloggers noted.

    By the way, it is easy to confuse this species with other, more common species (called sometimes poison lizards, grass snakes, etc.). Even as an expert on these snakes, I often must use a magnifying glass or microscope to tell different species apart. There is also a small introduced snake from Indonesia that is on Barbados in gardens, flowerpots, etc. called the Flowerpot Blindsnake, Ramphotyphlops braminus. It is usually black, and the young can coil on a coin, so it is easy to confuse with this one. On my visit to Barbados, every one who thought they saw the endemic threadsnake actually saw the introduced flowerpot snake (I examined specimens).

  2. BGR says:

    BGR
    August 6, 2008 at 5:45 pm
    All well and good Mr Hedges but this damage control piece still leave a few questions unanswered.
    For instance have any research went in to validated the claims by bloggers on this site that the species is already documented in local history.
    And if as you said the species were incorrectly misidentified, surely you can appreciate the fact that Barbadians are upset that this “new” species is name after your wife.

    We can play on the word “discovery”. At the end of the day, sir, you took Barbadian intellectual property, highjacked its name for fame and then try to insult Bajan intellect “on how to protect this special little snake.”

    Attention to Barbados. Your adopted name will be right up there with it!

    Money can run out. Fame is forever.

  3. BGR says:

    Partial
    August 6, 2008 at 7:07 pm
    @ru4real.

    That is a most narrow minded and short-sighted opinion. Of course it matters that a snake most Barbadians are familiar with is going down in scientific history as being not only ‘discovered’, but also named after the ‘discoverer’s’ wife. I find it extremely presumptuous on his part and very offensive.

    Did this man discuss this with any scientific people in this country before giving our snake a name, or is it that we don’t have any? Did he ask permission? Did UWI or anybody know about this research?

    It seems as if Barbados has become a free- for- all. Foreigners are just coming here and doing what the hell ever they want.

    Whose country is this? Who is in charge??

    Lady Anon
    August 6, 2008 at 7:27 pm
    I read Mr Hedge’s article, as much as I could read it, as it is very scientific. But it is obvious that quite a bit of work went into differentiating this thread snake from others.

    I also understand Mr Hedge’s argument that “discovery” in scientific terms may have a different meaning to the general application of the word “discovery”.

    Be that as it may, I guess in the scientific world, Mr. Hedges can therefore name the snake as he sees fit. If I were his wife, I am not sure I would like to have a snake named after me, but that is beside the point.

    Mr. Hedges will go down in history, as brief as it may be, for scientifically discovering this snake. As a Bajan, I am somewhat disappointed that the Barbados was not mentioned anywhere in the name, but that was for Mr. Hedges to decide.

    Someone mentioned the University of the West Indies. UWI should question its research practices in that this discovery was not made by them. What research are they therefore doing to record the species in Barbados and by extention, scientifically discover new species? I would venture to say absolutely nothing. If I am wrong, please let me know.

    I know this may sound as though I am changing my stance, but give Mr. Hedges his due…he has done the work, he has therefore been given the opportunity to name the species and he named it after his wife…

    What we should do, and what UWI should do is to ensure that no one else could take away our opportunities.

    Hedges
    August 6, 2008 at 8:32 pm
    To BGR and Partial:

    You assume that I dropped in unannounced and had no contact with UWI or the Barbados government. That is not true. The Environment Division of the Ministry Energy and the Environment very graciously gave me permission to research these animals, and faculty members of UWI kindly helped me during my stay on Barbados. I also visited UWI and identified specimens for them. All of these people know the value of having new, scientific information about the fauna of Barbados, regardless of the nationality of the investigator.

    To Lady Anon:

    Please don’t criticize UWI and your wonderful biologists on the island. No one can be an expert on everything. There are only a few other people in the world who study these small burrowing snakes, so what is the chance that one of them lives in Barbados? If they did, the species would have been described many years ago. Today, you know that this small, apparently rare snake is found only on Barbados. That was not known before, either in local history, modern history, or in the scientific literature. This new knowledge assists the government of Barbados in managing and protecting this snake and other fauna.

    Partial
    August 6, 2008 at 8:44 pm
    @Hedges

    Thank you for taking the time and being courteous to explain.

  4. BGR says:

    BGR
    August 6, 2008 at 10:01 pm
    We appreciate Mr Hedges taking time out of his busy schedule to talk to us bloggers.
    However after reading his last post I am convince more than ever the government i.e the “Environment Division of the Ministry Energy and the Environment” and the UWI biologists needs to clear the air on this most scandalous of affairs.

  5. Pingback: Associated Press Credit Quotes From Blog And The Nation……..? « Bajan Global Report

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