Thomas Wydra via Wikimedia Commons
This has all the makings of a grand tale: A spy leading a double life. An exotic locale. And…an obsession with frogs? It turns out prolific amphibian researcher Edward Taylor, who died in 1978, led quite the life.
“The elder herpetologist had logged 23 years in the field over his lifetime, collecting more than 75,000 specimens around the world, and naming hundreds of new species,” Brendan Borrell writes in Nature. And yet, that isn’t the most interesting part of his legacy: “He was a racist curmudgeon beset by paranoia – possibly a result of his mysterious double life as a spy for the US government.”
His extensive career obsessively cataloging new species of frogs, lizards and snakes, mostly in the Philippines, took precedent over anything else in his life, Borrell describes. “‘I named about 500 species,’ he would later tell a reporter, ‘but I can’t always remember the names of my own children.’ His wife, Hazel, could not bear his long absences, and they divorced in 1925.”
But Taylor still found some time for “extracurricular” activities:
In the midst of his forays into espionage, he managed to describe dozens of new species. Many of his specimens, stored in the Philippine Bureau of Science, were destroyed during the U.S. attack on Manilla during World War II. Taxonomists are still arguing over whether all the specimens he declared as new species were actually new to science, or just slightly different examples of another species.
Read the whole sordid tale–spies, frogs and all–over at Nature.
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