Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads


#SciFri: Reflecting on 2020, the year everyone wants to forget

For many people, this year has been quite a trying and stressful time. I fully sympathise with this view given the delays and isolation caused by lockdowns, in the attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19. To me, it has been hard to discern when certain events too place and the whole year has become one amorphous blur of insanity. There is no doubt going to be a number of books and blogs looking back at the mayhem that occurred this year, instead I want to reflect on the more positive things that happened.

The year started out with so much promise, I among with almost 900 other people congregated in Dunedin, New Zealand for the 9th World Congress of Herpetology. Here I presented some research in the form of a poster and also gave a talk on how scientists can use social media, to help convey the positives of amphibian and reptile conservation. I had a great time in New Zealand and the opportunity to network with so many other amazing people. Whilst there, I also had time to do some sightseeing and to check out some of New Zealand’s wildlife – an opportunity that I may never get again. I said it at the time but there it is again, a huge thanks to my doctoral training partnership EnvEast for helping fund my exploits to New Zealand.

Most of the delegates of the World Congress of Herpetology, can you spot me?

Also in January, an exciting paper was published where were described a new species – Pseudoacanthocephalus goodmani, named after my good friend and colleague Mark Goodman. The parasitic worms were first collected in late 2015 and it took 3 and a half years to establish their identity before working on a manuscript to describe a new species. The toad that shed these parasites was a stowaway from Mauritius, that ended up in our care after an unlikely set of events.

The guttural toad (Sclerophrys gutturalis) which stowed away from Mauritius to Cambridge

Unfortunately in April spent my birthday alone. However, due to the generosity of everyone out there, I received a number of books (many of which were popular science) as presents (from my Amazon Wishlist) and I’m still working my way through them. Thanks to everyone that bought me a book for my birthday, I really appreciate it! I’ve been reading these as quickly as I can and posting my review of them on the #SteveReviews section of this blog. In late May, I was elected a Fellow of the Linnean Society – something I am extremely happy about. I’m not yet able to use the post-nominal title of ‘FLS’ as I haven’t been formally admitted due to COVID-19, so watch this space!

When July came around, I was finally able to get out to the field and catch some snakes to collect data for my PhD. After waiting for a number of months for the restrictions to relax, I managed to get to my fieldsite and collect some data – of which I am still in the process of analysing. At this time as well, four papers that I’d contributed to were published in the Herpetological Bulletin. These were projects that had helped keep me sane during the first national lockdown and included topics such as confirming a new population of Aesculapian snakes in southern Wales and describing a case of leucism in slow worms. If you’d like a copy of these, you can find them here.

One of my study barred grass snakes (Natrix helvetica) checking to see if I’m a threat after I lifted the cover object it was under

Whilst things seem to have been all doom and gloom, they weren’t always. I’m sure that this year is going to be a nightmare for future historians due to the concentrated lunacy that was packed into each month. Whilst there may have been other events that helped make this year seem a lot brighter, the scientific ones I’ve mentioned are those that I’ll remember when I think of 2020 in the future. Just as I was writing this, I’ve taken a peek at my citations as listed by Google Scholar this year. Whilst I know they’re not perfect, I’ve had 15 citations this year, which is an all time record for me. Fingers crossed that 2021 is a lot better for us all, I hope you all stay safe and cheerful over this trying holiday period.

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