Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : July 16th 2015 Contents B1
On a simmering hot,
oppressively humid day
in New York in late June
I went to collect a copy
of a book about a snake
from the offices of Skyhorse Publishing
Inc on the 11th floor of an office building
in downtown Manhattan.
The book and the snake are both fas-
cinating, but even more interesting are
the two men without whom the book
would not exist.
Dan Eatherley is a zoologist, BBC nat-
ural history filmmaker and the author of
Bushmaster: Raymond Ditmars and the
Hunt for the World s Largest Viper.
And Ditmars is the eponymous her-
petologist of the title---herpetology is the
study of things that creep or crawl---
whose extraordinary life captivated
Eatherley and at one stage in the early
20th Century most of the United States
"He s great," said the publishing exec
in the cramped office space high above
the packed, noisy streets of the city. "Each
day I get an email from him saying, I
did this, this and this and I contacted
such and such a person...it s really amaz-
He was talking about Eatherley of
course; not Ditmars. Ditmars died in 1942.
Not from a snake bite or poisoning but
from pneumonia, a month short of his
When I interviewed Eatherley, who
retraced Ditmars footsteps to Trinidad
in search of the elusive bushmaster
snake---known locally as the mapepire
zanana---he was just as enthusiastic as
his publisher had described him. All the
way through our interview his explana-
tions of venom cures, nocturnal predation
and the adapted saliva of snakes during
their evolution (which began 80 million
years ago), he fizzes with an insatiable
energy. The hallmark of a true animal
obsessive and an overflowing fount of
He s sitting at home in rural Cornwall
in south-west England. We can hear his
daughter playing happily in the back-
ground as we talk and somewhere in the
house his wife is looking after their new
baby. Any tiredness Eatherley is suffering
from late night nappy-changing duties
is counteracted by his exuberance about
Ditmars life; and reading the book it isn t
hard to see why.
Born in 1876, Ditmars became fasci-
nated with animals from an early age and
was exchanging snakes with other her-
petologists all over the world by the age
At the age of 18, while still living at his
parents house in The Bronx where he
had created a darkened reptile house in
the sizable attic, Ditmars began sending
and receiving snakes from an English
expat living in Trinidad in what was then
the British West Indies.
"He was called Richard Richardson-
Mole, or RR Mole," says Eatherley. "You d
be interested in him actually because he
used to own a newspaper in Trinidad
called The Mirror in the 1880s, 1890s."
I scurried to Google to investigate this
piece of journalistic history at the earliest
opportunity and found in Belinda
Edmondson s book Caribbean Middle-
brow: Leisure Culture and the Middle
Class, a passage which said that Mole
had indeed founded the "leftist" Mirror
in 1898. A paper which, according to
Edmondson, showed "a vested interest
in local literature" and "the black middle
From a book by Hans EA Boos entitled
The Snakes of Trinidad and Tobago, I
gleaned that Mole had arrived in 1886
and quickly began sending back snake
specimens to the British Museum. Mole
co-wrote a paper called Notes on Some
Reptiles From Trinidad in a journal called
The Proceedings of the Zoological Society
of London in 1891 and, in that same year,
founded the Trinidad Field Naturalist s
Club; an organisation which still exists
to this day.
"Mole didn t really know how old Dit-
mars was," Eatherley continued, "and he
just decided to send him a box load of
quite venomous snakes," in return for the
rattlesnakes the teenage Ditmars sent
him from New York and Connecticut.
"Ditmars came back from work at the
American Museum of Natural History
where he was doing a really boring job
pinning out insects," Eatherley says in
his soothing professorial manner.
"He found this crate and told his par-
ents to stay downstairs, opened up the
box and there were bags of wriggling
snakes inside and he said the bushmaster
jumped out of the bag and advanced on
him. An account of which he wrote up
in his 1933 book Thrills of a Naturalist s
Quest. Long since out of print, of course."
After that first encounter with
the largest of the vipers, Ditmars
didn t see one again for decades,
until he had become a fairly successful
writer and filmmaker in the 1920s and
1930s and was able to fund summer hol-
idays to Central America and the
Caribbean on cruise ships to places like
Haiti, Cuba, Honduras and Panama.
From 1931 onwards, hearing news that
engineers making excavations around the
Panama Canal were uncovering hundreds
of snakes---including bushmasters---as
they cut into the virgin rainforest, Ditmars
made several expeditions there to find
the beloved snake, but every time he
arrived, he found he had just missed the
finding of a bushmaster. And every time
he left, it was the same story.
"One year, a few weeks before he visited
Panama, they found about 16 bushmasters
all just lying out on the road where the
forest was being destroyed for these dam
works, and the snakes were running out.
But when he got there, he didn t have
any luck at all..."
These lethal snakes prefer to leave you alone---if you'll let them
PHOTO COURTESY DAN EATHERLEY
Continues on Page B2
Scientists at the Large Hadron Collider
have announced the discovery of a new
particle called the pentaquark.
It was first predicted to exist in the 1960s
but, much like the Higgs boson particle
before it, the pentaquark eluded science for
decades until its detection at the LHC.
The discovery, which amounts to a new
form of matter, was made by the Hadron
Collider's LHCb experiment.
The findings have been submitted to the
journal Physical Review Letters.
In 1964, two physicists---Murray Gell Mann
and George Zweig---independently proposed
the existence of the subatomic particles
known as quarks.
They theorised that key properties of the
particles known as baryons and mesons
were best explained if they were in turn
made up of other constituent particles.
Zweig coined the term "aces" for the three
new hypothesised building blocks, but it was
Gell-Mann's name "quark" that stuck.
Hadron Collider discovers new particle
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