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Spotlight on Amateur Naturalists
Contributions to Vertebrate Zoology
Documenting Life History, Biogeography, Behavior, and Ecology
In addition to describing and classifying species, zoologists strive to understand how species exist within their environments, how they grow and reproduce, and where they can be found geographically. Amateur naturalists have contributed greatly to this knowledge.
Althea Rosina Sherman (1853-1943), an Iowa artist, published many articles in natural history periodicals such as Bird-Lore, including "The Nest Life of the Sparrow Hawk" and "The Problem with the House Wren." Sherman was the author of Birds of an Iowa Dooryard (1952),which was published posthumously.
Edward Avery McIlhenny (1872-1949), was the son of the inventor of Tabasco brand pepper sauce. Before assuming control of his family's company in 1898, McIlhenny dropped out of college to participate in expeditions to the Arctic from 1894 through 1897. He exhibited an interest in all manner of vertebrates, especially birds and reptiles. McIlhenny wrote The Alligator's Life History (1935) illustrated with his own photographs. It is considered a significant work in crocodilian biology. Through his influence and business connections he was instrumental in establishing wildfowl refuges in the south Louisiana coastal marshlands.
Amelia R. Laskey (1885-1973), was not formally trained in science, but she was a careful observer and amassed a large volume of data on the life history of birds. Laskey was in her forties when she attended her first ornithological society meeting at the prompting of a friend. From this initial meeting, she went on to write life histories and behavioral observations on more than ten species of bird, including the Brown headed Cowbird, Northern Mockingbird, Blue Jay, and Eastern Bluebird. These observations were published in various scientific journals over a forty-year span. In honor of her contributions to the field of ornithology, the American Ornithologist's Union elected her a Fellow of the society.
Before recording equipment was available, bird rhythms and sounds, and phonetics were transcribed by hand. Artist and composer F. Schuyler Mathews (1854-1938) wrote the first field guide to bird songs, Fieldbook of Wild Birds and their Music (1904). Schuyler observed the birds in the woods surrounding his New Hampshire home and carefully translated the bird songs he heard into musical notes.
Malcolm A. Smith (1875-1958), a physician, spent over two decades as a medical officer with the British Embassy in Bangkok and also as a doctor to the Royal Court of Siam. He was able to fulfill his childhood ambition of studying amphibians and reptiles through this medical position in Southeast Asia, in a region of the world known for its diverse herpetofauna. He co-founded the Natural History Society of Siam and contributed articles to the society's journal. Additionally, he was in regular correspondence with a curator at the Natural History Museum in London about his discoveries and observations of reptiles and amphibians of Southeast Asia and India. Upon his retirement as a physician in 1925, he returned to Great Britain and was given a desk in that Natural History Museum to conduct his own research. He became a compiler and editor of the herpetological section of the Zoological Record. His most significant publications include a Monograph of the Sea-Snakes (1926), and a three-part work on Indian and Indo-Chinese reptiles, in the Fauna of British India series (1931-1943).
Margaret Morse Nice (1883-1974), enjoyed a progressive education for a woman of her day by attending college, though she did not pursue an advanced degree. Nice spent her life running a home and raising a family, but she would preferentially call herself a (self) trained zoologist rather than house wife. A consummate observer, Nice fastidiously recorded the bird life in the various localities where she lived. In addition to being a student of natural history, she exhibited a wide range of academic interests and wrote several articles on child psychology. She became more active in ornithological studies upon moving with family to Oklahoma, in 1913. One of the results of this move was a treatise, The Birds of Oklahoma (1924). She published over 250 articles in scientific journals, with a trend toward studies of avian behavior. Her most highly regarded work, Studies in the Life History of the Song Sparrow (1937) brought her international prominence as an ornithologist.
Louise de Kirline Lawrence (1894-1992), was a nurse for many years, including service in WWI. She retired from nursing in her forties and became a self taught naturalist. Initially banding birds near her log cabin home in Canada, she later studied breeding biology. Her most significant scientific work, A Comparative Life History Study of Four Species of Woodpeckers was published in 1967. She also wrote several popular nature books including The Loghouse Nest (1945).
Lawrence Walkinshaw (1904-1993), a dentist, grew up surrounded by wildlife in his native Michigan. Though always interested in birds, he did not begin his studies of cranes until his late 20's when he came upon a flock of cranes while out on a hike. This experience inspired a lifelong passion for these birds. While maintaining a full time dentistry practice, Walkinshaw found time to travel the world, observing and studying crane species. His resulting publications, The Sandhill Crane (1949) and Cranes of the World (1973) were the result of decades of study.
Sherman Anthony Minton Jr. (1919-1999), a physician-herpetologist, and his wife Madge (1920-2004), a former WWII pilot with the WASPs, worked together on studies of venomous reptiles. Minton pursued a degree in medicine due to the influence of his father, who felt it a more practical means of making a living than the study of natural history. He ultimately became professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the Indiana University School of Medicine where he served until 1984. Madge, also sharing a lifelong interest in reptiles, was a partner in her husband's collecting and research efforts. Though not earning a living from their herpetological studies, the Mintons were able to take work assignments through the U.S. AID medical exchange program that took them to places where they could study and collect reptile species that were little known to science. They popularized herpetology and helped shape public perceptions of amphibians and reptiles through books, articles, public talks, and an autobiography of Sherman. Sherman Minton, with the help of Madge, produced over 170 articles and books combining medicine, toxicology, and herpetology. Their two very successful popular books, Venomous Reptiles (1969) and Giant Reptiles (1973) are well written, scientifically accurate, and give a cultural perspective on these animals.
Ernie Liner (1925-2010), a pharmaceutical sales representative in Louisiana with E. R. Squibb and Sons for 33 years, contributed over 125 publications on the systematics, distribution, natural history, and ecology of reptiles and amphibians in the Southeastern United States, Texas, and northeastern Mexico. Liner was fascinated by snakes as a youngster and was able to forge relationships with professional zoologists at an early age. After joining the Marine Corps in 1943 following high school graduation, Liner was full of questions after finding a rattlesnake at Camp Pendleton boot camp near San Diego. He contacted the American Museum of Natural History and curator Chuck Bogert answered his letter. This began a life-long relationship with the professional staff at that museum. A decorated WWII soldier, Liner attended college on the GI Bill and ultimately found employment with Squibb and Sons in 1955. He was a dedicated full time employee at the company, but his nights and weekends were devoted to herpetological study. He held numerous positions in the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (ASIH) and the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles (SSAR), and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree from the University of Colorado in 1998. Besides his many contributions to professional societies, he will be remembered most for his cooking expertise as demonstrated in his book, The Culinary Herpetologist (2005). Several species and subspecies have been named in his honor, including the Texas Scarlet Snake, Cemophora coccinea lineri.
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