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Illinois Wesleyan biologist names newly discovered snake species for Harrison Ford

A snake
Edgar Lehr
Harrison Ford's Slender Snake was discovered in a swamp in a high Andean valley in Peru.

In an ironic twist, an Illinois Wesleyan University biologist has named a new species of snake after the actor Harrison Ford. In the iconic movie "Raiders of the Lost Ark," Ford's character Indiana Jones doesn’t like snakes.

“There’s a big snake in the plane Jock!” said Jones. “Oh, that’s just my pet snake Reggie,” said Jock. “I hate snakes Jock! I hate em,” said Jones in an early scene after escaping danger in a trap-filled temple.

Jones really doesn’t like them.

“Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?” said Jones at the Well of Souls in which the Ark of the Covenant was hidden.

It was a recurring theme in several other "Indiana Jones" movies. Ford himself is quite taken with snakes.

IWU scientist Edgar Lehr discovered "Harrison Ford's Slender Snake" during an expedition to Peru in May 2022. The team included Peruvian biologists Juan C. Cusi, Maura Fernandez, and Ricardo Vera. “The snake was a big surprise as we did not expect to find a snake in a high elevational swamp,” said Lehr.

It is rare for new species of snakes to be discovered, with the closest related snake named in 1896, said Lehr.

Swamp in Peru
Edgar Lehr
Otishi National Park includes a swamp in a high mountain valley.

The black-bellied reptile with copper eyes was found sunbathing in an Andean swamp in Otishi National Park, more than 10,000 feet above sea level. It is pale yellowish-brown with scattered black blotches. Its belly is black.

“The snake’s got eyes you can drown in, and he spends most of the day sunning himself by a pool of dirty water — we probably would’ve been friends in the early ‘60s,” Ford told Conservation International.

He is vice chair of that organization which disseminates environmental news.

Harrison Ford’s Slender Snake has the scientific name "Tachymenoides harrisonfordi." Other scientists have named an ant and a spider after Ford.

“Every new species is exciting, and it’s important to name it because only the organisms that are known can be protected. We hope that the publication of the new snake species will create awareness of the importance of biodiversity research and the importance of protecting nature,” Lehr said.

Biologist in Peru
Edgar Lehr
IWU professor Edgar Lehr has helped discover 100 new species of amphibians and reptiles.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Ford joked while advocating for the protection of wildlife.

“These scientists keep naming critters after me, but it’s always the ones that terrify children. I don’t understand. I spend my free time cross-stitching. I sing lullabies to my basil plants, so they won’t fear the night,” said Ford.

Ford also said the discovery is humbling and a reminder there is much still to learn about the earth.

"Humans are one small part of an impossibly vast biosphere. On this planet, all fates are intertwined, and right now, one million species are teetering on the edge of oblivion. We have an existential mandate to mend our broken relationship with nature and protect the places that sustain life,” said Ford.

The name was announced in a publication of the journal Salamandra on Tuesday.

“I was surely influenced by the commercial of the new 'Indiana Jones' movie and the fear of snakes of Indiana Jones. Knowing that Mr. Harrison Ford is an active conservationist who actually likes snakes, his voice for nature and his service as vice chair of Conservation International led to the idea of dedicating this species to him,” said Lehr. Since Lehr began research in Peru in 1997, he has helped discover more than 100 species of reptiles and amphibians. Only three have been snakes.

Lehr told Conservation International he and the other scientists had to cut their expedition short when they found a drone observing them at their camp in the remote area known as Peru’s Cocaine Valley.

WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.