Quad Cities man discovers new snake
Posted by Miqe on June 12, 2007
By ANTHONY WATT The (Moline) Dispatch & The Rock Island Argus
MOLINE, Ill. — There is a snake wandering around northwestern Venezuela named after a 14-year-old Quad Cities boy.
It’s called the Paraguanan blue whiptail, but the snake’s proper name is Atractus matthewi. The boy’s is Matthew Markezich. It’s his father’s doing. Allan Markezich, 57, is the snake’s discoverer.
“I do research on evolution, ecology and biological diversity in the tropics,” said Markezich, a biology professor at Black Hawk College.
That sentence sums up a career that involves tramping around the Western Hemisphere — mainly Venezuela — since the late 1980s, studying reptiles and amphibians and trying to conserve their habitat.
Atractus matthewi probably does not have a common name, Markezich said. It’s a secretive ground-dwelling animal that tends to live in cover in an isolated mountain range in northeast Venezuela.
“You don’t see this kind of snake often,” the 57-year-old said.
And there are other South American species that owe their human names to Markezich. The first was a tiny lizard — a dwarf gecko.
Its Latin moniker, Lepidoblepharis montecanoensis, might be bigger than it is.
“That is the first animal I ever collected, and it was this species,” he said.
It’s one of the smallest geckos in the world, Markezich said. It’s also critically endangered, existing in a habitat only a few hundred acres across.
And the threat of extinction for this animal, and others, is one of the reasons Markezich wanders.
“There’s a lot of extinction going on,” he said, “I think that’s what motivates me more than anything.”
Many species are going extinct before people have a chance to find and understand them, he said.
It is something, he said, for which expanding human populations and more efficient forms of harvesting natural resources can be blamed. Plant and animal populations are not being given enough time to recover.
By scientifically documenting new species, scientists give them some protection because it makes it easier to protect their habitats, Markezich said.
It also allows him to make people aware of what is out there and the fact that it is disappearing, he said.
He said the best part of the job is “making other people, like students, aware of the natural world.”
The natural, real world can be more fascinating than anything in a fantasy, Markezich said.
From The Hawk Eye