Memorial Wall for Fallen Heroes of Natural History

Over at strange behaviors, Richard Conniff has posted an interesting memorial list:

The Wall of the Dead

The list sets out to honor naturalists who have lost their lives in the field or during other natural history pursuits.  A lot of sad stories behind the names here, but a lot of epic ones too.  I would bet that a great many of these fallen naturalists died doing what they loved best.

One of the names on the list is Ken Miyata, a young anole biologist who passed away in 1983. Ken was a student of Ernest Williams at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology in the late 70s (Ph.D. 1980), and he conducted fantastic work on anoles and other reptiles and amphibians, primarily in Ecuador. Although many of us probably know him for the mark he made on tropical herpetology during his brief career, Ken was much better known as a world-class fly fisherman, and it was that passion that ultimately killed him (see a brief retrospective here; see also these recent mentions of Ken by his old friends Jerry Coyne and Greg Mayer on the blog Why Evolution is True).

A name that’s missing from this wall is Preston Webster, another seminal anole biologist who died too young in a 1975 car crash.  You can suggest additions to Conniff’s list in the comments of that blog, and he’ll add them.  Does anyone who knew Webster want to put a few words on this site?  I know very little about the man, but if there aren’t any takers, I’ll try to add him in a couple of days. I believe Webster was in the Dakotas when he died, and I don’t know if he was engaged in any ‘naturalist’s pursuits’ at the time (certainly not on anoles!).  But this probably doesn’t matter – there are other great biologists on the list who died early in unrelated accidents.

There are several other herpetologists mentioned.  Are there any other anole biologists missing from the list?

This entry was posted in Anole Annals Trivia, Anoles and Anolologists in the News, Classics from the Literature, Natural History Observations, uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Memorial Wall for Fallen Heroes of Natural History

  1. Rich Glor says:

    Several folks at the anole meetings were friends of Preston Webster. His tragic accident occurred somewhere out west, but I’m not exactly sure where. I think he had a position in Montana or Wyoming at the time.

  2. lukemahler says:

    I’ve learned a bit more about T. Preston Webster III, thanks mostly to Ray Huey, Ross Kiester, Greg Mayer, and Beryl Simpson. Webster had studied Emoia skinks while a Harvard undergrad, and during his Ph.D. he learned electrophoresis with Robert Selander at UT Austin (although he was a grad student with Ernest Williams at Harvard). In addition to working on anoles, Preston also worked on plethodontid salamanders with Richard Highton, who named one in his honor in 1979 (Brimleyana 1:31-36). Webster moved to Missoula in 1975 to start a job as an assistant professor at the University of Montana. Remembered by many as a bit of a fast driver, Webster was killed when he took a curve too fast and hit a tree while returning from a party at night on November 9, 1975.

    I’ve posted a brief note on Webster in the comments of the “Wall of the Dead”. We’ll see if they add his name to the list.

  3. Luke: I don’t see your comment on my strangebehaviors.com blog, but I don’t think Webster fits the list, because he did not die in the pursuit of wildlife discovery or conservation. No slight intended. Darwin isn’t on the list either, because he died at home, at an advanced age, of unknown causes. Other suggestions most welcome. Richard Conniff

  4. lukemahler says:

    That’s fair. Several us were uncertain of the circumstances of his death at first, which is what made me think of him. But further investigation revealed that he wasn’t actually in the field when he died in an accident. Nonetheless, by all accounts Webster was a pretty intrepid field biologist, and I figured I’d put the tale out there. Many thanks for the response!

  5. Anne Rock says:

    Preston was on his way back from day observing eagles feed on spawning salmon . . . the day after a party. There were three others in the car, one of whom also died.

    Anne Rock (Preston’s sister)

  6. lukemahler says:

    Hi Anne, thanks for the clarification.

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