Fruitland Park Discovery Rocks Scientific World

Image from the 1911 edition of Proceedings of the U.S. National Museum announcing discovery of the Neoseps reynoldsi in Fruitland Park. The museum, part of the Smithsonian, was incorporated into the Museum of Natural History.

Image from the 1911 edition of Proceedings of the U.S. National Museum announcing discovery of the Neoseps reynoldsi in Fruitland Park. The museum, part of the Smithsonian, was incorporated into the Museum of Natural History.

One hundred years ago this month, the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia published Entomological News and Proceedings, the most prestigious scientific publication in its field.

Arthur G. Reynolds of Gulfport, Florida, south of St. Petersburg, paid $1 to place a one-inch banner advertisement across the inside cover of the journal.

The ad reads: “FLORIDA INSECTS of all Orders Also Fish, Batrachians, Reptiles, Shells and Marine Invertebrates Sold by A.G. Reynolds, Gulfport, Florida.”

So Reynolds earned a little cash from a mail order business in creepy crawly critters. Reynolds may have come from Milwaukee. Among the 555,000 insect specimens in the Invertebrate Zoology Collection at the Milwaukee Public Museum (1) are bugs Reynolds had collected in Gulfport and Fruitland Park.

In 1910 Reynolds was in Fruitland Park poking around for bugs and butterflies and “Also Fish, Batrachians, Reptiles, Shells and Marine Invertebrates” he could sell to collectors across the country.

He was looking for termite mounds among the pine trees near Spring Lake when he noticed a slight movement in the sand.

He stopped and watched carefully. Something moved just beneath the surface of the sand, wriggling, as if a snake were burrowing its way along, “swimming” in the dry sugary soil.

Reynolds pounced.

What he discovered that day is about all he is known for: a new skink. And not just a new species but a whole new genus unrelated to anything known on the American continent.

At the time, only two species of skinks—lizards—were known to exist inside U.S. borders. Reynolds had discovered a third that was so different from all others it constituted its own genus.

Reynolds donated his odd wiggly worm to the United States National Museum—the Smithsonian.

The Curator of Reptiles and Batrachians—Leonard Steineger—declared Reynolds’ discovery unique in history. Steineger named the genus “Neoseps” and the species reynoldsi.

Today the Neoseps reynoldsi is better known as the Florida Sand Skink, a threatened species.

Today the Neoseps reynoldsi is better known as the Florida Sand Skink, a threatened species.

Google “Neoseps reynoldsi” today and you get dozens of web sites describing and devoted to the Florida Sand Skink, a unique animal that is known nowhere else on earth.

Reynolds might have asked to name the worm after the place where he found it. Thankfully, “Neoseps fruitlandparki” is neither in the record books nor a threatened species.

But Neoseps reynoldsi is.

And it was discovered right here in Fruitland Park a century ago. And yes, “rocks” the scientific world was a slight overstatement, although Reynolds might have liked it.

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