​Jack Reid – In Memoriam

Tom Lott


Most readers of this site will not recognize the name of Jack R. Reid, but if you were an aspiring young herpetologist in the 1950s and 1960s in the San Antonio area, it is likely that Jack served as your mentor at some point along the way.

Jack in his Kelly AFB Civilian Guard uniform with a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, (Crotalus atrox).
U.S. Air Force photo, circa 1959.

I am not sure exactly when Jack became fascinated with reptiles and amphibians, but shortly after World War II he was himself mentored by the noted herpetologist John Werler, who was then curator of reptiles at the San Antonio Zoological Gardens.  Although never officially employed by the zoo, Jack was prominent among an entourage of young men who basically served as Werler’s interns, many of whom went on to careers in zoology and higher education themselves.

Since Werler’s research interests centered on the herpetology of Texas and the sparsely-explored portions of southern Mexico, it was natural that Jack became part of many expeditions mounted by Werler into those regions.  His verbal accounts of those trips were legendary and highly entertaining.  On such a trip to the isolated Sierra de los Tuxtlas range in southern Vera Cruz, on February 15, 1953, Jack was climbing one of the many epiphytic-laden trees on the rim of the extinct Volcan San Martin when he encountered and collected an unfamiliar greenish lizard that he thought resembled an alligator lizard.  Not quite a year later he and Werler managed to find another specimen of the puzzling lizard.  In 1961 Werler and Frederick A. Shannon officially designated the new lizard species as Abronia reidi, in Jack’s honor as its discoverer (Werler and Shannon, 1961).  Werler and Shannon, as was customary at the time, did not assign a common name to the new lizard, but Ernest Liner later suggested that the highly endemic form be known as Reid’s Arboreal Alligator Lizard (Liner, 1984).  Although this was the only species to be named in his honor, Jack was instrumental in many of the other herpetological discoveries made by those expeditions.

Jack looking for herps among epiphytic bromeliads in Vera Cruz, Mexico.
Donald M. Darling photo, circa 1954.

Jack holding a Don Darling and/or John Werler photo of Abronia reidi.
The map he is pointing to does not extend far enough south to include the collecting locality for the lizard.
U.S. Army photo, circa 1954.

In the late 1950s, after John Werler had departed San Antonio to assume similar responsibilities at the Houston Zoo, Jack teamed up with R. Earl Olson and several others to initiate the Southwest Texas Herpetological Society, which was supported by the Witte Memorial Museum, where Olson eventually became curator of natural history.  Although this society was as notoriously short-lived as most of its ilk, it did have the ambitious goal of regularly publishing a mimeographed bulletin incorporating herpetological research and opinion from the area.  Jack, Olson, and Al Dinkins, the San Antonio Zoo’s new reptile curator, predictably authored most of the articles appearing in the “Bulletin.”

I first met Jack in 1960, when he took several of us budding fourteen and fifteen year-old herpers under his wing.  Jack already knew so much of the natural history that we typically obnoxious teenagers had yet to learn, but he managed to teach us without any hint of condescension or, more importantly, without any of us realizing it at the time.  A consummate field man, Jack was also totally at home with the academic side of herpetology, conversing as easily with tenured PhDs as with grizzly commercial collectors.  He insisted that we neophytes know the scientific nomenclature for the animals we sought and, being naturally friendly and gregarious, he encouraged us to make acquaintances with as many like-minded souls as possible.  Without embarrassment, he dragged us to the annual field meetings of the Texas Herpetological Society, meeting and herping with other enthusiasts from throughout the state; he even covered the payment of dues for any of us who were caught “out of pocket.”

The 1961 annual meeting of the American Association of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (ASIH) hosted by Texas Herpetological Society and the University of Texas in Austin was a particularly big deal for Jack.  It was our chance to rub elbows with many of the big names in herpetology from across the nation—many of whom Jack already knew—and to attend sessions where the findings of brand new scientific papers would be presented orally.  Also part of the meeting was a large exhibit of live herps from all over Texas arranged according to the biotic provinces in which they were most characteristic.  I saw my first Lampropeltis alterna there—still known, from very few specimens, as the Davis Mountain Kingsnake—that had been collected in the Big Bend National Park by Ernest Tanzer.  It was interesting watching the herpetological “big shots” from all over line up to take photos of that snake with their primitive 35mm cameras, some even using a measuring tape to establish distance from the lens for focusing purposes.

After the big meeting a great number of specimens that had been on exhibit were donated to the new reptile house at the Houston Zoo (but not the L. alterna!).  Jack characteristically volunteered his vintage Ford station wagon to help transport the booty to its new destination, figuring that we would get in some southeast Texas herping in the process.  Arriving in Houston late in the afternoon, with no place arranged to stay, we were graciously invited by John and Ingrid Werler to crash out on their living room floor—it no doubt helped that they had a teen-aged herper of their own at the time.  The next day, after dropping off our cargo at the zoo, we were introduced to our first taste of the austroriparian fauna found in the eastern portion of the state: Southern Copperheads, Texas Coral Snakes, Buttermilk Racers, Southern Crawfish Frog, etc.

One of Jack’s articles for the Bulletin contained his interesting observations on the feeding behavior of the Texas Blind Snake (Leptotyphlops dulcis) in devouring termites (Reid and Olson, 1958).  At the time almost nothing was known of the methods employed by these diminutive snakes to capture and engulf their ant and termite prey.  After expanding his observations even more, Jack recruited me to research existing publications on the topic and to assist him in readying his manuscript for submission to a peer-reviewed herpetological journal.  The result was a short paper in the journal Herpetologica (Reid and Lott, 1963), which is still occasionally cited in publications concerning blind snakes.

For many years Jack was the “go to guy” for herpers visiting the San Antonio area in search of local herps.  On a particularly cold January day in 1961, I ditched school to accompany Jack and a fellow from Pennsylvania who was seeking Slimy Salamanders and Barking Frogs.  I thought it was insane to go looking for any kind of herp in forty-degree weather, but Jack assured me that he knew exactly where to find these species in some numbers.  True to his words, Jack navigated us in the Pennsylvanian’s Volkswagen bug to several caves in the Helotes area of northwestern Bexar County.  Each of the limestone caves was a different world, hovering at about seventy-degrees and very humid, compared to the drizzling cold outside.  We found the target species in some numbers in and around the twilight zones of each cave, along with my first encounter with the Cliff Chirping Frog (Eleutherodactylus marnockii), Hog-nosed Skunks, and over wintering bats of several species.  Jack also pointed out the squarish, solidly built limestone house that had been the abode of Gabriel Marnock when he was discovering most of the local herps in the late 1800s.

One of Jack’s favorite summertime activities was to engage in impromptu trips from San Antonio to the Del Rio area in search of the “rare” Blair’s Kingsnake, described only ten or twelve years earlier, which as far as we were aware was known from only two specimens at the time—the second of which had been briefly exhibited at the San Antonio Zoo (before its unfortunate escape!).  Typically, the call from Jack would arrive at about dusk and it would be 8:30 PM or so before we were all piled into his Ford and en route on the three to four-hour drive along Highway 90 to the collecting area north of Del Rio proper.  Once in the “correct” habitat (i.e., near where the second specimen was collected), we would road hunt for several hours, usually until three or four in the morning, at which time we would pull off the ranch road and sleep until dawn.  Those of us who were prescient enough to bring sleeping bags, usually slept on the right-of-way, between the car and the fence line; those who didn’t tried to sleep in the car.  At dawn, we were up and scouring promising canyons that became evident with the daylight.  The southwest Texas borderlands were different back then: there was hardly any nocturnal traffic on back roads at all, local ranchers were puzzled by but tolerant of our presence, and we were never hassled by anyone.

Despite all the effort, neither Jack— nor any of us, until later—ever found a Blair’s Kingsnake on one of those whirl-wind trips.  We simply didn’t know how to look for them at the time, never even considering looking until the hot summertime arrived (the two known specimens had both been collected in June).  Most of the early 1960s were drought years out west, hardly conducive to Grayband hunting.  In wet years June is a continuation of spring, but in dry years even late May is full-on summer.  Nevertheless, even those seemingly fruitless excursions served as learning experiences under Jack’s patient tutelage.

By the late 1960s Jack’s many interests as well as new commitments in his life began to pull him in different directions and it was clear that, although he was still interested in herpetology, it was no longer his driving passion.  I last saw him in the early 1970s, after which we drifted apart and lost contact.  I had thought of him often over the years and resolved to get in touch again “one of these days.”  That window closed with my stumbling across his obituary in the paper last week.

A decorated combat veteran of the U.S. Army’s 2nd Infantry Division during the Korean War, Jack was buried with full military honors at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio.  He was 75.  Vaya con Dios, Amigo, y muchas gracias por todo.


Literature Cited

Liner, E.A.  1994.  “Scientific and common names for the amphibians and reptiles of Mexico in English and Spanish.”  Herpetological Circular No. 23.  Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles.  Pp. i-v + 113.

Reid, J.R. and R.O. Olson.  1958.  “Interesting notes on feeding of three south Texas reptiles.”  Bulletin of the Southwest Texas Herpetological Society 1(1): 3-4.

Reid, J.R. and T.E. Lott.  1963.  “Feeding of Leptotyphlops dulcis dulcis (Baird and Girard).”  Herpetologica 19(2): 141-142.

Werler, J.E. and F.A. Shannon.  1961.  “Two new lizards (genera Abronia and Xenosaurus) from the Los Tuxtlas Range of Veracruz, Mexico.”  Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science  64(2): 123-132.