Grismer has taught biology at La Sierra University in Riverside, Calif. since 1994. Each summer he takes biology students on adventurous trips to the Malaysian jungles to conduct field research and search for new animals. But the journey to the mountain cave to search for the brown gecko Grismer took by himself. “It’s too dangerous,” he said. “I got shot at a couple years ago near that place.”
At the end of last August he led two La Sierra students on an expedition to uninhabited, unexplored islands of Malaysia’s West and East coasts and areas around the village of Lata Tembakah. The trip’s research goals included continued studies of the four-lined, bent-toed gecko.
While the experienced herpetologist pushes into extremely remote and sometimes dangerous areas for his own fieldwork, he takes particular care with his students, leading them through safer terrain and keeping watch over their wellbeing.
“He always looks after me. I feel safe with him,” said Chelsea Johnson, a senior pre-med major who is headed for medical school. She participated last September on a research trip with Grismer to Malaysia. “He’s always [asking], ‘ok, Chelsea, are you tired? Want to take a break?’” Grismer’s faith in her ability to catch reptiles and conduct field research helped her achieve things she previously wouldn’t have thought possible, Johnson said.
Johnson and fellow biology student Kimberly Rosenberry spent two weeks in the hot, humid, densely green jungles of Malaysia with Grismer. They stayed at a hotel, ate breakfasts of roti, a flatbread in curry sauce, and Milo, a chocolate drink. They spent mornings and evenings hiking up and down the mountainous region through the humid air, often accompanied by the chatter of monkeys. During the heat of midday they documented their work in journals.
The students hunted for amphibians and reptiles and in particular, members of the species of gecko Cyrtodactylus quadriviragatus. Through observation and DNA analysis they aimed to determine variations among the geckos which are currently lumped under the one scientific name, and submit their findings to Zootaxa for potential publication. Under Grismer’s instruction, the students caught hundreds of creatures, sometimes finding them in the dark jungle night with flashlights, crawling on and under rocks, on leaves and trees, and burrowing underground. “I catch them with my hands,” Johnson said. “If they’re too high on a tree I use a blow pipe. …It’s fun.”
Grismer is a member of several societies, a much-published scientist, skilled photographer and author of two upcoming books on herpetology in Malaysia. He and son Jesse starred in Animal Planet’s 2004 documentary “Reptile Kings.” He is teaching classes at La Sierra this quarter while publishing papers about his recent finds. He’s also plotting his next hair-raising adventures to parts unknown, searching out yet more animals the modern world has never seen and taking on extreme challenges in the process.
His next stop? A remote island in the Indian Ocean known as a hideout for modern-day pirates. It is his destination for the spring quarter’s fieldwork and he’s not taking students. To improve his odds for safety, he’s rounding up an armed escort to accompany him and his colleague.
“The island is rocky, small, and covered with forest,” Grismer said. “Nothing is known from the island and I am sure we'll make some amazing discoveries after we roust out the pirates.”
PR Contact: Larry Becker
Executive Director of University Relations
La Sierra University