Saturday, August 09, 2008

Big fuss over smallest snake

As I blogged earlier (see below), biologist S. Blair Hedges recently described the world's smallest known snake from the island of Barbados. He named the 10-cm snake Leptotyphlops carlae. The citizens of Barbados, though, are up in arms over the claim of someone to have "discovered" something islanders have known about for a long time. Hedges notes that it's common for "discovered" species to be locally known, and he is claiming only to be the first to assign the animal a scientific name and write a formal description.

COMMENT: This is an interesting issue, and it's not the first time it's come up. There's a difference, though, between "discovered" in the sense of "first to see the thing" and "discovered" in the scientific sense. I always prefer the term "described" for the latter, and Hedges has the right of the argument here.

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