“Snakes… why did it have to be snakes?” That would probably be Indiana Jones’ reaction to having one of these reptiles named after him – but Harrison Ford himself has welcomed the gesture, with a newly-discovered species of slender snake found in Peru being named Tachymenoides harrisonfordi.
“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,” Ford joked in a statement. “In all seriousness, this discovery is humbling. It’s a reminder that there’s still so much to learn about our wild world – and that 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.”
Harrison Ford is Vice Chair of Conservation International. Tachymenoides harrisonfordi was named after him in honor of his decades of environmental advocacy, with the paper on the discovery stating, “We dedicate this species to Harrison Ford, actor and conservationist, in recognition of his work for Conservation International and his voice for nature.”
The new species was found in the Otishi National Park (ONP) in May 2022. The team of researchers found one adult male specimen in in the Pantano la Esperanza swamp, measuring 40.7 centimeters (16 inches) long. It is yellowish-brown with black blotches and a black belly, and is harmless to humans.
“For a biologist, describing a new species and making it public with its new name is one of the most vital activities during the biodiversity crisis. I am honored that Mr. Ford accepted our dedication,” Dr Edgar Lehr, a professor at Illinois Wesleyan University who led the expedition, said.
“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 said in another statement.
The authors of the paper note that “ONP is located in the VRAEM (Valley of Rivers Apurímac, Ene, Mantaro) area, which is the center of Peru‘s coca production and narco-trafficking,” explaining that, “Based on its remote location in a dangerous area and steep mountains of the Cordillera de Vilcabamba, the ONP is Peru‘s least scientifically surveyed national park.”
In fact, Conservation International says that the team of researchers were shadowed by narco-traffickers during their expedition, waking up to drones hovering over them and finding fresh footprints by their camp. The trip had to be cut short by a week as the team were “fearing for their lives”.
“Was it worth it? Yes – discovering new species, including Harrison Ford’s snake, is always worth it,” said Lehr.
“We hope the new snake will create awareness about the importance of biological fieldwork that intends to discover the unknown – often an adventurous and expensive process requiring more financial support from funding agencies,” Lehr explained.
“Only organisms that are known can be protected.”
The study is published in the journal Salamandra.