Raymond Ditmars

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Raymond Ditmars.
Silent movie Biography of a Stag (1918) by Raymond Ditmars. Running time: 9:28. With intertitles in Dutch. EYE Film Institute Netherlands.
Silent nature documentary The Four Seasons (1921) by Charles Urban and Raymond Lee Ditmars, showing the cyclic changes in living nature through the four seasons with lyrical intertitles. Duration: 01:18:14. Intertitles in Dutch. EYE Film Institute Netherlands.
Silent film showing an African chamaeleon and an Indian cobra. Raymond Ditmars?, 1915.

Raymond Lee Ditmars (June 22, 1876 from Newark, New Jersey – May 12, 1942 in New York City) was an American herpetologist, illustrator, writer and filmmaker.

Ditmars was very interested in animals, primarily reptiles, obtaining his first snakes at twelve years of age. Only a mediocre student, he much preferred vacations when he could search for new specimens or study them at his house.

In 1893, Ditmars was hired by the Department of Entomology at the American Museum of Natural History as an illustrator. He quit in 1897 to take a better-paying job as a stenographer. In July 1898, he began to report for the New York Times. One of his first pieces led him to discover the newly created New York Zoological Society (now the Wildlife Conservation Society), which had just built a zoological park in the Bronx. He was soon employed as an assistant conservationist in charge of reptiles in July 1899. He then offered his own collection to the zoo, where it is now a permanent part of the natural history museum. This began a long collaboration between Ditmars and the Bronx Zoo. He served as an assistant curator from 1905 to 1925; in 1926 he was placed in charge of the mammals, and in 1940 the insects and then served as an honorary curator from 1940 to 1942. His presence helped the Bronx Zoo achieve a world-class status.

Ditmars helped bring about the antivenom centers in both the United States and Brazil.


Ditmars published several books on zoology, his own life, and his travels. The Reptile Book was released in 1907 to great success; it was republished and expanded several times. With Reptiles of the World in 1910 (edited and expanded in 1933), Snakes of the World in 1931, Reptiles of North America in 1936 and Field Book of North American Snakes in 1939, he helped tap a large public interest in reptiles. Many herpetologists have said that they first fell in love with reptiles in part through reading Ditmars' books.

His other books were also a success: Strange Animals I Have Known in 1931, and three autobiographies, Confessions of a Scientist (1934), The Making of a Scientist (1937) and Thrills of a Naturalist's Quest (1939).


Ditmars pioneered the direction and production of at least 84 silent nature documentaries, e.g.,

  • Life in Our Ponds (1912, Pathé Frères)
  • Hidden Life in Sea Weed (1913, Pathé Frères)
  • The Snowy Egret and Its Extermination (1913, Pathé Frères)
  • The Fish with a Storage Battery in Its Brain (1913)
  • The Deadliest of Nature's Celebrities (1914, Pathé Frères)
  • Housekeeping at the Zoo (1910 - 1922, a documentary of the New York Zoological Park)
  • Insects That Mimic (1914, Pathé Frères (France))
  • Amphibian Oddities (1916, Power Picture Plays)
  • The Smaller Monkeys (1917)
  • Evolution (1918, Educational Films Corporation of America)
  • Biography of a Stag (1918, Educational Films, USA, a documentary from a zoo about the growth of the antlers of a stag)
  • The Polar Bear (1919)
  • The Four Seasons (1921, with Charles Urban?, Kineto Film Company of America, a lyrical documentary of seasonal changes in the natural world))


  • Kraig Adler (1989). Contributions to the History of Herpetology, Society for the study of amphibians and reptiles.
  • Raymond Ditmars at the Internet Movie Database, where his scientific films of the 1910s and 1920s are listed

Further reading[edit]