A young scientist retraces the work of Edward Taylor, a prolific herpetologist (a zoologist who studies reptiles and amphibians) who also led a double life as a spy:

“Taylor was called to duty again in 1944, when he was 54 and war raged in the Pacific. According to records in the US National Archives, he joined the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), to train agents in Sri Lanka — then a British territory that provided ready access to Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia and other areas that the Japanese had infiltrated. Scientific work, an OSS officer explained to one of Taylor’s superiors, was ‘excellent cover.’

“Taylor taught jungle survival at Camp Y, a steamy settlement on the coast. With a penetrating stare and a lantern jaw, he seemed more imposing than his 1.8 metres. In his spare time, he occasionally dodged gunfire to nab specimens, which he studied for two monographs published after the war. ‘Have just described five new forms of blind snakes from the island,’ he wrote to S. Dillon Ripley, a young ornithologist who served with him and would later lead the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. In a later letter, he offered ‘some 500 species’ of mollusc shells to the Smithsonian.”