This fall, first-year students at UNC Asheville read How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention and Discovery by Kevin Ashton — a practical primer to help them prep for their first classes, undergraduate research projects, and future work. Little did they know that their classes would be filled with fellow innovators and instructors, from the faculty experts sharing new approaches and discoveries, to classmates flipping the kayaking world on its head.
Quick How-To Guide
How to discover a species
Graham Reynolds might have dreamt of finding a new species of snake, but he probably didn’t expect to discover one in his sleep. That’s what happened to the UNC Asheville assistant professor of biology, then a Harvard postdoctoral fellow, one night during a research expedition to a remote corner of the Bahamian Archipelago. The silver, slithery species crossed his head while he slept—one of six animals that the research team documented during the trip, naming it the Silver Boa, Chilabothrus argentum.
The silver boa is the first new species of boa discovered in situ in the Caribbean since the 1940s and brings the total known species of West Indian boas to 12. It is considered critically endangered and is one of the most endangered boa species globally.
“We found this species on its way to extinction, and now we have the opportunity to intervene on their behalf so that doesn’t happen,” said Reynolds, who led expeditions in 2014 and 2015, and now incorporates the research into his zoology classes and undergraduate research projects. “It’s a tangible example of what a species is, how we describe them, and how we define them.”
That tangible process is present in other courses at UNC Asheville, from the Liberal Arts 178 course on reptiles and amphibians to environmental studies classes in Herpetology and Field Herpetology, taught by Instructor Landon Ward. He brings creatures into the classroom and leads two-week research-intensive courses every other year, where students search for snakes from North Carolina to the Florida Keys, with stops in each state along the way.