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Barbadians gripe over snake 'find'

They long knew about the world's smallest snake, which just made its scientific debut.

September 07, 2008|Danica Coto | Associated Press

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO — A small snake has sparked a big debate in Barbados.

Residents of the wealthy Caribbean nation have been heating up blogs and clogging radio airwaves to vent their anger at a U.S. scientist, who last month announced his "discovery" of the world's smallest snake and named it Leptotyphlops carlae, after his wife Carla.

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

One writer to the Barbados Free Press blog took an even tougher tone, questioning how someone could "discover" a snake long known to locals, who called it the thread snake.

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

The man she refers to is Penn State University evolutionary biologist S. Blair Hedges, whose research teams also have discovered the world's tiniest lizard in the Dominican Republic and the smallest frog in Cuba.

Hedges recently became the first to describe the snake -- which is so small it can curl up on a U.S. quarter -- when he published his observations and genetic test results in the journal "Zootaxa." Full-grown adults typically are less than 4 inches long.

Hedges told The Associated Press that he understands Barbadians' angry reactions, but under established scientific practice, the first person to do a full description of a species is said to have discovered it and gives it a scientific name.

He said most newly "discovered" species are already well known to locals, and the term refers to the work done in a laboratory to establish a genetic profile. In the study, he reported that two specimens he analyzed were found in 1889 and 1963.

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

Damon Corrie, president of the Caribbean Herpetological Society, acknowledged that Hedges is the first to scientifically examine and describe the snake, but said the so-called discovery makes locals seem ignorant.

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