Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Modern Day Frontiers

Recent news stories have been amazing for fans of exploration, naturalists and zoology. From the discovery of the world’s largest rat in an honest to goodness “Lost World” to the rediscovery of a shrew species long thought extinct, there are a lot of good reminders that there is a lot left to be discovered in the world. The fact is that this is an amazing world and exploring it is an exciting and worthwhile endeavor.

When I was a kid living in Costa Rica for a year, I discovered a series of “Adventure” books by Willard Price. They were all about two brothers who went around the world catching animals for their father’s Zoo supply company. Animals had always fascinated me and reading those books, I changed my career plans from being a detective to being a naturalist of some sort. I started reading everything I could about zoology and explorers. One day, I saw an episode of National Geographic explorer in which a team of scientists was surveying the wildlife of an area of the Amazon jungle. (It was much like the opening scenes of Arachnophobia.) That was the coolest job I could imagine. Going into some remote unexplored part of the earth and documenting all the animal and plant life you could find!

I graduated from High School having taken every Biology class offered (six years worth) and set out to study Zoology. One of the best jobs I ever had during those years was being a field lab assistant working for the government of Texas as a part of a team documenting all the animal life of a new state park that had been established at the Medicine Mounds sight near Chillicothe. I was the assistant to the Entomologist on the team, but we were supposed to document anything we could find. In addition to dozens of species of insects, spiders, scorpions and the like, my exciting discoveries that week involved snakes.

The first was one that we found at lunch one day, when we saw a bird trying to protect its nest. Turned out there was a five-foot bright green snake on the hunt. We caught it and I said that it looked like a Yellowbelly Racer (Coluber constrictor flaviventris). We didn’t have a Herpetologist there that week, but when we keyed it out, that was exactly what it was. The years of reading had paid off! Later that day I found a little tan snake under a rock. It turned out to be a Flathead snake (Tantilla gracilis), which was unknown that far west. The whole week was a blast and a dream come true.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so glad you have such wonderful memories, even though I made sure anything resembling an insect or spider found inside the house had to be killed.
    You always had a remarkable memory and never forgot anything you learned about animals. I remember your high school biology teacher saying that no matter what she was covering in class, you always had some bit of info to share that was new to her and the class, of course.


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