Cuban researcher comes to study for doctorate in Kansas, bringing along important herpetology collection

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LAWRENCE — Growing up around Havana, Javier Torres López always was fascinated by reptiles. As the son of a professor who teaches vertebrate zoology at the University of Havana, he focused on studies of literature and science in high school and thought about following in his father’s footsteps.

“In Cuba, everyone has an opportunity to go to university,” he said. “You have to take tests according to your preferred major, and you have the right to pick up to 10 majors. Based on the tests results and your high school score, you get one of the 10 options. I was able to obtain my first choice, biology. So, I started studying at the University of Havana as a biology major — that was in 2004. There, for the first time, I started to become aware of the diversity of Cuban and Caribbean amphibians and reptiles.”

As an undergraduate, Torres started conducting original research, finding himself drawn to Tropidophis, a genus of dwarf boa snakes endemic to the Caribbean and South America.

“I was totally into studying snakes,” Torres said. “I found out about this particular group of Cuban snakes called dwarf boas. Studying the behavior of those snakes got me a ticket to the Latin American Herpetology Congress held in Cuba in 2008.”

There, Torres had his first contact with Rich Glor, KU associate professor of ecology & evolutionary biology and associate curator at KU’s Biodiversity Institute. The two stayed in contact over the years as Torres completed his undergraduate studies. All the while, Torres continued to investigate species endemic to Cuba, spending time in the field and learning important lessons about research.

“After a while studying the behavior and biology of dwarf boas, I understood it was a difficult system to work with because they are quite rare and hard to find,” Torres said. “So, I started to work on a project to understand …

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