Raymond Lee Ditmars

Ditmars, Raymond Lee (1876-1942) was America's foremost popular authority on snakes and other reptiles. He was a pioneer in producing nature documentaries and was instrumental in bringing about the U.S. manufacture of antivenins, the antidote to the poisonous substances in snake venom, known as venins.

From the time he was a small boy growing up in New York City, Ditmars was fascinated with nature, especially reptiles. A boyhood club he helped to found, the Harlem Zoological Society, led to a job, in 1893, as an entomology department assistant at the American Museum of Natural History. He remained there until late 1897.

Ditmars then worked briefly for an optical instruments company before becoming a reporter for the New York Times. On assignment for The Times in 1899, he interviewed the director of the New York Zoological Society. William T. Hornaday. Hornaday hired Ditmars as assistant curator of reptiles for the Society's New York Zoological Park that was being built at the time. Ditmars became a master at exploiting the public's interest in snakes to gain publicity for the zoo and himself, and remained a curator there for the rest of his life.

After a friend's death by snake bite, Ditmars, with others, established the Antivenin Institute of America. Among his many efforts in this regard, he researched techniques by which venom could be stored for long periods.

Although Ditmars had no formal training as a herpetologist and published few scientific papers, he produced many books and several short and feature-length films that became tremendously popular. His books, The Reptile Book, published in 1907, and Reptiles of the World, 1910, were comprehensive overviews of reptiles that successfully popularized the topic.