Fritts, Thomas H.
Tom was born on April 23, 1945, in central Illinois and grew up on a farm so far from other human residents that the Fritts farm had to have its own tom cat. Each year, in the spring, Tom and his family would look forward to the early breeding of bull frogs in the nearby cow tank, because wading for frogs furnished an opportunity for a good bath at the same time. Childhood memories include going to town on Saturday night to watch haircuts, chasing meadow voles down the plow furrows, and catching carp in the local ponds using Wheaties for bait. Tom began his professional involvement in herpetology during his last year of undergraduate school, when he had a chance to go to Mexico with three graduate students from the University of Illinois’ Department of Zoology. Not only did he discover the world of tropical reptiles, but equally important were exotic foods like tortillas, avocados, and hot sauce. He’s never been the same! He returned to Mexico a year later to conduct research meant to disprove that all-female lizard species existed, but in the end he named a new species of all-female lizard hypothesized to have resulted from hybridization of two bisexual species. His father never really understood the paper. After completing his Master’s Degree in zoology at the University of Illinois in 1968, he moved to the University of Kansas only to discover that the corn was not as tall there as in Illinois, but that opportunities to go to South America would provide access to more new lizard species and more kinds of hot sauce. After completing his PhD degree working on high altitude lizards in the Andes, he took a teaching position with St. Edward’s University. He moved to San Diego where he became Curator of Amphibians and Reptiles at the San Diego Natural History Museum. Six years in a museum began to fray Tom’s nerves so he looked for a prestigious job as a government researcher, beginning as station leader for a Fish and Wildlife research project at Tulane University in New Orleans. Equipped with a World War II bomber and a fistful of contract dollars, he and his group conducted studies of the distribution of birds, mammals, and sea turtles in outer continental shelf oil and gas leasing areas. In 1982, Tom transferred to a Fish and Wildlife Service field station in the University of New Mexico’s Department of Biology, where he continued work in the Southwestern United States, Mexico, and occasionally even South America. In 1984, he began trying to apply his tropical experience to the problems caused by the brown tree snakes and he was transferred to Washington, D.C. Tom’s studies on snakes led to ecological studies on lizards, analyses of power outages due to snakes, recipes for how to use roasted snakes, workshops on exotic islands at risk of receiving infestations of the snake, and yes, more kinds of hot sauce, more exotic foods, and a vast collection of Aloha shirts which increased his visibility in the Washington area. It is widely known that he was elected to the Washington Biologists’ Field Club in 1990 for his knowledge of snakes, sauces, and shirts from Hawaii. He is the only member of the Club that can catch a black snake while stirring Wild Turkey into the potatoes. Others would have drunk the booze, jumped out the window, and burned the potatoes!