August 9, 2008

Barbadians Angry Over Tiny Snake

Residents of the wealthy Caribbean nation of Barbados are up in arms over the recent discovery of a small snake. 

Caribbean airwaves, and blogs have been filled with comments of anger against the U.S. scientists who announced his "discovery" this week, and named the snake "Leptotyphlops carlae," after his wife Carla.

"If he needs to blow his own trumpet ... well, fine," said Charles Atkins, a 43-year-old Barbadian. "But my mother"¦showed me the snake when I was a child."

A writer for the Barbados Free Press blog questioned how a person could "discover" a snake that locals already call the thread snake.

"How dare this man come in here and name a snake after his wife?" said the writer.

The man everyone is angry with is Penn State University evolutionary biologist S. Blair Hedges.  Hedges became the first to describe the snake when he published his genetic test and observations in the journal "Zootaxa." 

The snake, which is so small it can curl onto a quarter, is typically less than 4 inches long when fully grown.

According to The Associated Press, Hedges understands the Barbadians reaction, but according to scientific practice, the first person to give the species a scientific name, and full description discovered it.

Most newly "discovered" species are well known to locals, but the term refers to the scientific work done to establish a genetic profile. 

Hedges also recently discovered the world's smallest lizard in the Dominican Republic, and the smallest frog in Cuba.  In his report he says that those specimens were originally found in 1889 and 1963.

"There are no false claims here, believe me," Hedges said.

According to Damon Corrie, president of the Caribbean Herpetological Society, the discovery makes locals seem ignorant, although Corrie acknowledges that Hedges is the first to scientifically examine the snake.

"It gives the impression that people here ... depend on people from abroad to come and show us things in our own backyard," Corrie said.

Karl Watson, historian at the University of the West Indies in Barbados, said it's common for people to get wound up over very large or tiny animals.

"Probably people have overreacted. ... It's nationalism going a bit awry," Watson said.

Hedges agreed saying, "I think they're carrying it a bit too far."


Image Caption: The snake named Leptotyphlops carlae, as thin as a spaghetti noodle, is resting on a US quarter. Blair Hedges, professor of biology at Penn State University, discovered the species and determined that it is the smallest of the more than 3,100 known snake species. Credit: Blair Hedges, Penn State


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