Naturalist Graham Reynolds dedicates career to the study of reptiles

October 21 is National Reptile Awareness Day, and perhaps few people are more aware of these beautiful yet often misunderstood creatures than UNC Asheville professor R. Graham Reynolds. His earliest memories of becoming enamored with reptiles started in elementary school at the Western North Carolina Nature Center where he attended summer camps.

“Every day I ‘visited’ the snakes and turtles upstairs in the education center,” he recalls. “I knew that studying snakes was going to be part of my path. They seemed especially mysterious to me.”

As a kid Reynolds spent rainy days poring over field guides to reptiles, amphibians, fishes, and sharks. In fifth grade he started to learn scientific names of species and began keeping what scientists call “life lists” of all the animals he had seen. His parents supported his interest.

“I would plan trips with my family to places like Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the hope of finding snakes in the wild,” he says. “Finding a snake or a salamander on a family walk was an event to be celebrated and documented, and this encouragement no doubt gave me the spark to find joy in looking for wildlife.”

The Silver Boa, discovered by R. Graham Reynolds and colleagues from Harvard on a remote island in the Bahamas in 2015.

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That spark has been especially bright for Reynolds in the past six years, during which he has found or helped to discover an astounding four new species of snakes! The best known is the Silver Boa, which he likes to say actually ‘found him’ on a remote, uninhabited island in the Bahamas where he and some colleagues were taking inventory of snakes.

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