In Memory of Robert Stebbins

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Dr. Robert C. Stebbins A Compilation of Memories Page 1 “[Professor Robert C.] Stebbins was the preeminent scholar studying amphibians and reptiles in North America, and was active professionally until his last year of life. From his first amphibian book in 1951 to his last book on Amphibians and Reptiles of California (2012, Univ. California Press) he was a productive and influential force. “He was also a superb artist, both of scientific illustrations and of portraits and landscapes. Throughout his career Bob Stebbins was a strong force in conservation biology and was very influential in the establishment of parks and reserves, particularly in the Mojave Desert. “He was an educator who contributed importantly to elementary and middle school science instruction, stressing involvement, and was an effective and influential university professor. It was his strong belief that the principal problem facing humans on this planet was over-population and all that flows from it. “Above all, Bob Stebbins was a wonderful human being, a true naturalist, and a compassionate and involved citizen. We celebrate the life of a very special friend and colleague.” Dr. David B. Wake Professor Emeritus and Emeritus Director Museum of Vertebrate Zoology (1971 - 1997) “I first met Bob Stebbins when I interviewed for a position at the MVZ and Zoology Department in the spring of 1967 – he took me to one of the lab sections of the natural history of vertebrates course, the famous course that Joseph Grinnell began in the 1910s and that has had such a profound influence on so many generations of Berkeley undergraduates, including those of today. The class exercise that afternoon was a functional demonstration of cryptic coloration – students were paired as “predators” trying to maximize the number of “prey” they could find in a fixed time-period – the “prey” were colored toothpicks scattered on the floor among cut-up pieces of colored paper. Each quickly learned a ‘search image,’ how easy it was to find the odd-colored toothpick, how difficult it was to find any of those whose color matched parts of the background, and how important it was to be ‘first’ in seeing a dwindling resource – in short, an easily demonstrable, visual lesson of a fundamentally important natural phenomenon, imprinted onto the brains of young scholars in such a way as to never be forgotten. How simple, yet how elegant. “I knew about Bob Stebbins, the scholar and artist, long before I came to Berkeley for that interview, as one of my
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A compilation of selected memories of Robert C. Stebbins, 1915 - 2013

Transcript of In Memory of Robert Stebbins

  • Dr. Robert C. Stebbins A Compilation of Memories

    Page 1

    [Professor Robert C.] Stebbins was the preeminent scholar studying amphibians and reptiles in North America, and was active professionally until his last year of life. From his first amphibian book in 1951 to his last book on Amphibians and Reptiles of California (2012, Univ. California Press) he was a productive and influential force. He was also a superb artist, both of scientific illustrations and of portraits and landscapes. Throughout his career Bob Stebbins was a strong force in conservation biology and was very influential in the establishment of parks and reserves, particularly in the Mojave Desert. He was an educator who contributed importantly to elementary and middle school science instruction, stressing involvement, and was an effective and influential university professor. It was his strong belief that the principal problem facing humans on this planet was over-population and all that flows from it. Above all, Bob Stebbins was a wonderful human being, a true naturalist, and a compassionate and involved citizen.

    We celebrate the life of a very special friend and colleague.

    Dr. David B. Wake Professor Emeritus and Emeritus Director

    Museum of Vertebrate Zoology (1971 - 1997) I first met Bob Stebbins when I interviewed for a position at the MVZ and Zoology Department in the spring of 1967 he took me to one of the lab sections of the natural history of vertebrates course, the famous course that Joseph Grinnell began in the 1910s and that has had such a profound influence on so many generations of Berkeley undergraduates, including those of today. The class exercise that afternoon was a functional demonstration of cryptic coloration students were paired as predators trying to maximize the number of prey they could find in a fixed time-period the prey were colored toothpicks scattered on the floor among cut-up pieces of colored paper. Each quickly learned a search image, how easy it was to find the odd-colored toothpick, how difficult it was to find any of those whose color matched parts of the background, and how important it was to be first in seeing a dwindling resource in short, an easily demonstrable, visual lesson of a fundamentally important natural phenomenon, imprinted onto the brains of young scholars in such a way as to never be forgotten. How simple, yet how elegant. I knew about Bob Stebbins, the scholar and artist, long before I came to Berkeley for that interview, as one of my

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    mentors in graduate school was Charles H. (Chuck) Lowe, the psychological and emotional polar opposite of Bob, yet a life long friend from their own graduate school days at UCLA. As fortune would have it, I came to the MVZ in early 1969, my wife and I rented the house next door to the Stebbinss, where I helped Bob dig a trench in the rain that winter to replace his sewer line, and was fortunate enough to co-teach the natural history course with him and Ned Johnson in the years before Bob retired in 1978. He was a remarkable scholar and teacher, but an even more remarkable human being engaging students with a passion, concerned as much for their own future as he was for the future of the natural world, and truly making a difference to everyone around him. The rest of us can only hope that we might leave behind even a small part of his wonderful legacy when it is our turn.

    Dr. James L. Patton Professor Emeritus and Emeritus Director

    Museum of Vertebrate Zoology (1997 2000) I first met Robert Stebbins when I was eleven years old. I was in the same 6th grade elementary school class as his son John. We both joined Boy Scout Troop 99 and Dr. Stebbins was one of the adults who took us on weekend camping trips. On these trips he took us on nature hikes and taught us how to noose lizards and find tree frogs at night by listening to their calls. When we were in the 7th grade, Dr. Stebbins and his friend Starker Leopold, a UC Berkeley professor in the

    School of Forestry and Conservation, took several of us on a spring break trip to the Mojave Desert and Anza Borrego State Park. This trip was my introduction to the study of natural history with an emphasis on amphibians and reptiles. I still have a near perfect memory of this trip 60 years later. The excitement of poking a small chuckwalla lizard out of a crack as Dr. Stebbins lifted up the rock, noosing a baby rattlesnake and walking up to Dr. Stebbins with the snake on the end of my noose and Dr. Stebbins saying Now Teddy, you shouldnt be catching rattlesnakes! Climbing with Dr. Stebbins up a canyon in the desert and looking under cap rocks for granite night lizards but instead finding a pair of leaf-toed geckos as he exclaimed Get those, Teddy, dont let them get away. I slapped my hands on the geckos and they both dropped their tails, but never the less I caught them. These were the first of the species that Dr. Stebbins had ever seen and they are now part of the MVZ collection. Through high school and college Dr. Stebbins guided me into my career as a herpetologist. I am honored to have been in his last cohort of Ph.D. students and I chose to honor him by naming a new species of California legless lizard after him this year. By the time I was in the 10th grade I had graduated in his mind from Teddy to just plain Ted, but I never called him Bob; he was always Dr. Stebbins.

    Dr. Theodore Papenfuss Researcher, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology

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    When the MVZ moved into its new space in the renovated Life Sciences Building, Robert Stebbins and I found ourselves assigned to halves of the same office at the southeast corner of the MVZ. This space at the end of the hall suited him: it was quiet and private, out of the mainstream of MVZ daily business. I remembered how in the old MVZ the door of his office had usually been shut. I was in the office several days a week but he this was in 1995, a couple of decades after his retirement - came in less often. He would come in several days in a row if he was working on something like the revision of his field guide. This work kept him making phone calls, acting on correspondence and arranging for the electronic conversion of handwritten text and hand-drawn illustrations. At home he would be tracking down and painting the specimens needed for the revision, telling me that his hand still seemed to be steady enough to do this fine work. He seemed to have decided the computer world was too difficult to take the time to learn himself, so he relied on others to deal with it for him. Even email at that time was not so user friendly and standardized as it is today, so mostly he stuck to the communicative methods he knew. I realized that this eventually contributed to a certain isolation, because much information was being exchanged and other people forgot that the non-user wasnt seeing it. It was much harder to keep in the loop. But this isolation also allowed less interruption and more time to focus and

    think about his work. At times I wonder how much time email saves us because of the much greater volume in the Inbox; perhaps he was resisting this overall speed-up of modern life. In the office he would sometimes talk about the problems on his mind, having to do with publication of manuscripts to current political news or ecological conditions at the global scale. He was determined to keep his field guides maps where they were placed, at the end of the book. He believed this allowed the user to more easily find other species in the area of interest. He had thought a lot about the human affect on nature, and he and I could rant away for minutes on end. His conclusion was always that human population size was out of balance with the natural systems it depends on. No matter how discouraging the situation, he had a drive to express his concerns to the biggest audience, which resulted in his last book. He believed that education was still the answer and that teaching young people to care about nature was crucial. To be with him in the field was to be irresistibly drawn to the amazing and beautiful creatures he found snakes, lizards, frogs. Coming across a ring-necked snake in the Berkeley Hills, he showed how it would curl into a defensive coil when it felt threatened. Many hundreds of students must have had that experience of delight with him, in which he conveyed awe and a deep respect for the wild critter in addition to scientific knowledge of its behavior and habitat.

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    Robert Stebbins passion and commitment were the hallmarks of his character, and the natural world benefited by having such a determined spokesman. He knew the worlds environmental problems were worsening over his lifetime, but he didnt let despair take a paralyzing hold on him. He looked pretty discouraged at times but came back with more effort. He will always be for me an incomparable example of a human being sustaining a lifelong passion for the well-being of the creatures of the earth, and for a tireless exertion for their benefit.

    Karen Klitz Former MVZ Archivist and Illustrator

    [Dr. Stebbins] was a kind and gentle person, and extremely influential during his lifetime. I think that there are very few people who have produced so many good things with their talents and energies like he did. His field guides will remain the standard of quality for the entire genre. And for many decades into the future his last revision of the Peterson guide will be THE book that western US naturalist kids and adults will refer to when trying to identify or learn more about a frog, lizard, or snake (or a salamanders, of course!) His conservation activities are not so visible to the public, as they don't have his name on them. But, the high environmental awareness of the Bay Area population has an important origin in the stands that he took on habitat preservation on the UC campus and in the surrounding

    region, and his Bay Area field guide. I hope that he realized all of this and accepted his ending with the contentment of a life well-lived. I have now added him to my, ever-lengthening, list of people who I specifically remember, by name and memory, every day when I go out for my exercise and look out over the beautiful lake where I live - and help to remind myself of the great luck that I

    have had in knowing so many outstanding people and seeing and living in so many great places. I won't have his contentment at a life well lived when my time comes, but at least I will be able to appreciate how good my own life has been, because of people like RCSHis successes seemed to have been accomplished without the envy, jealousy (and hate)

    Dr. Richard D. Sage Former Berkeley Undergraduate and MVZ

    Staff Bob Stebbins study of the Ensatina salamanders inspired a generation of students at Berkeley and elsewhere, myself included.

    His Field Guides with his matchless illustrations and thorough text, opened our amphibian and reptile faunas to a burgeoning population of professional and amateur naturalists.

    Dr. Richard Zweifel First Stebbins Ph.D. Student

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    Dr. Stebbins was probably one of the most important persons in my life. He was very critical of my work and in a most constructive manner. He was very understanding when I had difficulties and was like a father to me. I greatly enjoyed our field trips together and working with him on Ensatina. He will be badly missed.

    Dr. Chuck Brown Former Stebbins Ph.D. Student

    Dr. Stebbins had such an important influence on my life, even though I switched over to public health. I have used what he taught me since I left the MVZ many times over. These past months, I had thought quite a bit about him since I bought a copy of his recent book about Connecting with Nature. It is such a perfect reflection of his life and work! I am sad that I didn't have a chance to visit him in person and let him know how much I appreciated all he had given me.

    Dr. Kristine Tollestrup Former Stebbins Ph.D. Student

    Director of Public Health, University of New Mexico I had so many positive and wonderful experiences with Dr. Stebbins, who I still can't think of as Bob, even though he repeatedly asked me to call him Bob.

    Dr. Kristen Berry Former Stebbins Ph.D. Student

    U.S. Geological Survey

    [Dr. Stebbins] was a pillar of the MVZ for so many decades[he had a] kindness and interest in encouraging young minds. He had a profound impact on my life as I was corresponding with Dr Stebbins when a gangling teenager living in Marin Co., Calif. on the other side the S.F. Bay. I took a bus over and visited once. Not too many professors would bother listening or helping a herp freak boys. Others were Ted Papenfuss and David Morafka. Also, I corresponded with him through my undergrad years, and visited the MVZ a couple of times. Once, when we were MSc students at Sacramento State Univ., John Brode caught an odd Slender salamander in Tehachapi Mtns and I thought it deseved a look by RCS, so we took it to him. His eyes lite up and said: Gentlemen, I think you have a new species here. Later described as Batrachoseps stebbinsi. (If I recall correctly, Ted had captured one earlier and it was in the collection. Right?). Then, I convinced him to be my major professor. Besides his academic success, Stebbins fostered much interest in conservation and environmental issues through many undergrad and grad students. Almost typical of him, he seemed to prefer they be out on the front lines and take the credit. His advice and council was a guiding light.

    Dr. R. Bruce Bury Former Stebbins Ph.D. Student

    Emeritus Scientist, U.S. Geological Survey

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    I was very sad to hear that Robert Stebbins passed away. As you Probably know he was my favourite [sic] professor when I was an undergraduate at Berkeley and I worked for him in the herp collections at MVZ when I was there. We talked a lot about natural history and formal science and he has a very big influence on me. So Im very sorry to hear this

    Dr. John A. Endler Former Stebbins Undergraduate

    Deakin University, Australia

    "To an undergraduate that had used Dr. Stebbins field guide through childhood, he was everything I had expected him to be in person: enthusiastic, talkative, attentive to details, an excellent teacher, patient and always willing to entertain my questions. I assisted him in two of his books for 4 years and not only learned about his passion for all organisms and the environment, but his interest in all global issues. I consider myself a better-rounded individual because of his influence. One of my fondest memories of Dr. Stebbins was being at his house in Walnut Creek discussing the nasal cavity of desert lizards while he made me a cheese sandwich and a banana, I told him that he was a testament that you can succeed in academics and continue eating like a graduate student. He always carried a smile and lived surrounded by his passion his entire life (of which years-wise, he spent in retirement longer than he did as a faculty)."

    Dr. Raul E. Diaz, Jr. Former Stebbins Undergraduate

    Assistant Professor, La Sierra University Dr. Stebbins was my childhood idle [sic]. I grew up in Phoenix, chasing snakes and lizards in the deserts around Phoenix and elsewhere in Arizona. My first field guide was the Petersons series, A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians 1st edition by R. C. Stebbins (Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston 1966). I went around trying to identify and observe as many species as I could, checking them off with the letter A next to their accounts indicating that I observed them in the wild in Arizona. In 1985, while I was still in High School, I traveled to Palm Springs, CA for a herpetological symposium and book signing, where Dr. Stebbins was releasing the 2nd edition of his Field Guide. At the time, I spent all my savings getting there and could not actually afford to buy the 85 version, but I stood in a long line with many folks, much older than me, all holding their newly printed copies to be signed. When I reached the front of the line, Dr. Stebbins took my 66 version in hand and, with a faded picture of the Ensatina salamander on the cover, pages worn down at the edges, a large smile appeared across his face. He said, This book looks like its been around? Excitedly I said, Yes sir, all over Arizona and now parts of southern California! Years later, I transferred from Santa Monica College (SMC) to UC Berkeley (UCB) to complete my bachelors degree in Biology. I was eager to meet Dr. Stebbins again. My biology professor at SMC wrote a letter to help me get work-study at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology (MVZ), but also told me that Dr. Stebbins retired a long time ago

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    and there were now other herpetologists at the MVZ. That summer when I visited the MVZ, the other herpetologists were at meetings in Canada. While I was filling out a job application for the MVZ, Dr. Stebbins walked in and I re-introduced myself and asked if he could hire me. He asked me how are you with kids? And with maps? He was working on a garden-mapping project with local grade schools, trying to get young kids interested in nature and ecology. He hired me that fall semester and the first project was updating a hand-typed manuscript, with pencil markings that looked to be from several years of editing (the early version of Connecting with Nature: A Naturalists Perspective, Llumina Press, FL, 2009). Over the next few years I worked for Dr. Stebbins on various projects, including the 3rd edition to the Field Guideliterally a dream come true for me. I knew this was a privilege for an undergraduate; the advice I received from Dr. Stebbins was not only invaluable as a budding academic scientist, but also towards embracing nature and instilling this behavior in others. I was sad to hear that Dr. Stebbins recently passed away. However, I know that he truly lived a remarkable life and influenced many others to appreciate and preserve our natural world along his way.

    Dr. Daniel G. Mulcahy, PhD Former Stebbins Undergraduate

    Smithsonian Institution

    Steve and I were honored early last summer to have Bob (along with his caregiver) come over to our house to see some of the snakes and amphibians that we had on hand. He identified all of them, of course, and was in cheerful spirits. His wife thought that his visit would last about 5-10

    minutes, but he happily stayed for a full hour. It was such a treat, and definitely a pleasure to see his memory totally intact. In fact, Steve brought up the time that Bob got all the lab students (in an early Zo class) to climb up on their chairs. Then he: (a) brought in a rattlesnake and put it on the floor for the students to see how it moved, (b) took away the rattlesnake and brought in a king snake and put it on the floor, and then (c) took away the king snake and brought back the rattlesnake again. Then he asked the students what they had learned, and all of them knew immediately that king snakes could attack/eat rattlesnakes. I don't think current

    regulations would allow such a demonstration now, but what a powerful learning situation that must have been.

    Dr. Lynne D. Houck Former Wake Ph.D. Student

    Oregon State University, Corvallis I have fond memories of chats with [Dr. Stebbins] over the years. He was always very interested in talking with students about what they were doing.

    Dr. Nancy Staub Former Wake Ph.D. Student

    Professor, Gonzaga University

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    Dr. Stebbbins and I briefly shared working space, and we shared accomodation in the Mojave (Marlow's trailer) and many hours of conversation regarding the Desert plan and off-road vehicles. He was one of the greats and he will be missed on so many levels.

    Dr. Steve Busack Former Wake Ph.D. Student

    Emeritus Director of Research and Collections, North Carolina State Museum of Natural Sciences, Raleigh

    In the spring term of 1965, I took Zoology 113 (Natural History of the Vertebrates) from Professors Stebbins, Benson, and Johnson. I was premed at the time and had no real interest in the course, but 113 or the Invertebrate equivalent was required for the major. Little did I realize that 113 would change my life and convert me to biology. Every Saturday morning we had a field trip. Seeing band-tailed pigeons displaying in Strawberry Canyon, or mapping a woodrat nest, was always exciting and eye-opening. Most of us had no idea that so much wildlife was so close, or could be so much fun to watch. On these trips, students were split into small groups, and each group had either a Professor or a TA assigned as leader. One day in late spring, my group was lucky enough to have Dr. Stebbins as our leader, and our goal was to look for herps in Tilden. It was a beautiful sunny morning -- a perfect day for herping. Suddenly Dr. Stebbins told us to stop and listen. In the distance a ruby-crown kinglet (if memory serves) was singing. Dr. Stebbins said that this was his

    favorite bird and that we should all lie down on the grass and listen for a while. I remember initially being surprised that a herpetologist would stop looking for herps to listen to a bird, but soon realized why: Dr. Stebbins was a 'complete' naturalist who loved all nature.

    Dr. Raymond B. Huey Former Berkeley Undergraduate and Wake Post-Doc

    Professor, University of Washington

    Dr. Robert Stebbins was a meticulous scientist who also was a great artist whose paintings of lizards, salamanders and snakes made his book "A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians" a work of art as well as a key field guide still very much in use. His teaching at UC Berkeley was also popular with students, including the classes on field biology and herpetology. Dr. Stebbins also became active in efforts to protect rare and endangered species and their habitats. He filmed motorcycle races on the desert in order to get public attention to the damage they were doing, helping eventually to pass the California Desert Protection Act and many other important biological rules and laws. I worked with him and his graduate students to protect the last habitats of the Santa Cruz Long-toed Salamander, and spent many enjoyable hours with him as an undergrad at Berkeley.

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    We will miss him and his very personal approach to biology and to conservation.

    Mark J. Palmer Former Berkeley Undergraduate

    Earth Island Institute

    In the spring of 1967 I was Professor Stebbins' Teaching Assistant in Herpetology. (Among the members of that class was David Morafka). One day we drove out to Corral Hollow to catch lizards for the lab that was part of the course. On our way back we crossed over the mountains and came into the back side of Oakland. There, near the freeway, was a gigantic new LDS temple. Professor Stebbins took one look at it and said to me: "Ross, I wouldn't give a single baby Batrachoseps for that entire thing."

    Dr. Ross Kiester Former Berkeley Undergraduate

    Turtle Conservancy, Chelonian Center I was interested in and collected reptiles and amphibians as a child and teenager, using the Peterson Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians, by Dr. Robert C. Stebbins. This useful guide was illustrated by the author, who was a talented artist as well as an excellent herpetologist. As a result of this field guide, I admired Bob Stebbins, and asked to meet him in his office when I was in my teens. He kindly received me, which was a thrill for me. I grew to know him better when I was a graduate student in zoology at UC Berkeley. He was always cordial and soft-

    spoken. We stayed in touch after my graduation, discussing our mutual interests of herpetology and conservation. Dr. Stebbins was a dedicated conservationist. I had him over for dinner one night, and we had an interesting discussion into the night. Bob Stebbins was always engaging and interesting, and inspired me as well as many others. I, like many others, will miss him deeply.

    David Seaborg Former Berkeley Undergraduate

    Director, World Rainforest Fund Bob was amazing- taking herpetology from him, with Ted as my TA- well, you know what I'm saying, it was the experience of a lifetime for 20 year old Brad. Getting to know him, helping a bit with the new field guide for a couple of species, just being around the guy was so important, and so special.

    Dr. H. Bradley Shaffer Former Berkeley Undergraduate Director, UCLA La Kretz Center

    for California Conservation Science My wife and three boys all have fond memories of Bob, and suffice it to say they all grew up hearing about him on an almost daily basis (my wife and I were together as friends when I was visiting him in the early 70s, prior to my years at Cal). I even owe my first job--U of Maine--in part to my undergrad experience in Vert Nat Hist: as the chair of the search cmt was a Cal grad, and seeing I'd taken the

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    class (107), and would teach it in a similar fashion, sold everyone else on my suitability for the opening! I don't think I ever bored you with stories about what a big influence he was on me as kid growing up in the Bay Area, but I know I mentioned it to Marvalee [Wake] my first fall semester when she took me into her lab and treated me so kindly (1977). In any event, only last week I was going through all my old letters to/from Bob, preparing for an interview I have with an editor about exactly that subject...his influence on me (he's getting lots of coverage down here for his work on connecting kids to nature; this interview is for an Audubon Society pub, etc.). Over the yrs I met many that had been greatly encouraged by him as youngsters, just like me, and became herpetologists, in part, as a result (Pianka was one, for example; grew up in N Cal, etc., etc.; we talked a lot about it when I was at UT in the mid 80s). Here at ASU we are finally getting the entire vertebrate collection upgraded, updated, and moved into a new bldg. off campus, and I will be moving my collections of various materials there as the herpetological curator--besides the wet specimens, the fieldnotes section is the largest, and I like to think he'd be proud of that...

    Dr. Brian K. Sullivan Former Berkeley Undergraduate

    Professor, Arizona State University Like Bruce [Bury], I met Bob Stebbins when I was in high school and we stayed in touch until he moved to Oregon.

    The first book I purchased with my own money was Amphibians of Western North America. Bob was a remarkable role model, and he had a significant impact on me as a person and as a professional biologist. His contributions have been huge and I doubt he had any idea how many people he inspired to be biologist, or even be more knowledgeable about the biological world. He was a great man.

    Dr. Gary Fellers Former Berkeley Undergraduate

    U.S. Geological Survey

    My condolences on the loss of your colleague, Bob Stebbins. It felt like he would always be there, and I will miss having him call to ask about changes to status of NV herps. I'm not sure if all will appreciate how large is the loss because they are so used to him always being there, and I mourn both the loss of a very enjoyable friend

    Dr. C. Richard Tracy University of Nevada, Reno

    I first met Bob and was with him for more than a month during the 1964 UC expedition to the Galapagos. What a great guy! Soemwhere [sic] and I've often looked in vain for it -I have a photograph of Bob holding a marine iguana upside down by the tail and wielding an immense rectal thermometer to take the critters temperature! (He could be a very funnyman, and a great jokester too)

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    I remember writing too about his hilarious but full-hearted support of UC Santa Cruz students who were, if I recall, successfully saving the habitat of the Santa Cruz Long-Toed Salamander

    David Perlman San Francisco Chronicle Science Editor

    Some of my earliest memories are of thumbing through Stebbins's SF Bay field guide to reptiles and amphibians. We had a copy of this little brown book kicking around the house and seeing & being amazed by Stebbins's pictures of these creatures may have predated my seeing & catching them for myself. which I started doing when I was 6 or 7. I am convinced that the artwork made the difference. The realness of the facial expressions and poses was startling and compelling -- as if it were these pictures that were the blueprint for the real thing. Equally arresting was an illustration of two kids my age, wearing headlamps, staring down a frog. And a sketch of a field journal -- it's all there. A prescription for a life noosing lizards and flipping over rocks (which any Stebbins acolyte knew to put properly back in its place). I was lucky enough to spend my entire childhood and youth in Los Gatos, hometown to another famous herpetologist, John Van Denburgh -- though I didn't learn about that guy until I was in college. The reptile and amphibian fauna in the surrounding hills was diverse and intimately addressed in the Bay Area guide. To me, nature and Stebbins's interpretation of it were inseparable, a harmonious whole, as if neither could exist without the other. His place at the top of my personal

    pantheon of heroes remains unchallenged. He had a depth that provided increasing pleasure when I reached college age. The prose he used in his field notes -- see the Amphibians of Western NA for good examples -- was as good as any produced by any writer, ever. Thanks to MVZ for having the good taste to harbor such a beautiful soul, and thank you RCS for the service you rendered to nature and to us all.

    Michael Frederick Westphal Ecologist, Bureau of Land Management

    My deepest condolences for the passing away of Bob Stebbins. A great scientist and human being.

    Dr. Eviatar Nevo Professor, University of Hifa, Israel

    Bob was someone I have always thought the world of. His career was an amazing one and is obviously something to be celebrated. My most sincere condolences to the Berkeley community and to his family.

    Dr. Dant Fenolio San Antonio Zoo

    I just want you to know that I'm very sorry about [learning of Dr. Stebbins passing], he was such a great scholar and a person. I had the opportunity to meet him on a couple of my visits to MVZ.

    Dr. Oscar Flores-Villela University Autonoma de Mexico, Mexico City

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    The following is reprinted with permission from the American Society of

    Ichthyology and Herpetology.

  • Copeia, 2006(3), pp. 563572



    DR. ROBERT C. STEBBINS is a ProfessorEmeritus of Zoology and Curator Emeritusof Herpetology in the Museum of VertebrateZoology (MVZ) at the University of California,Berkeley. He is also an artist, a musician,a husband; a father, a teacher, and a whole lotmore. Perhaps he is best known among herpetol-ogists for his influential Field Guide to WesternReptiles and Amphibians in the Peterson FieldGuide series (Stebbins, 1966, 1985, 2003), withintricate details on natural history and the beautyof his hand-painted illustrations. There is, how-ever, a lot more to Robert Stebbins, whose closefriends and colleagues call him Bob, than manyseem to know. Bob Stebbins was raised on a farm,grew up during The Great Depression, andreceived his college education during WorldWar II. He studied biogeography before it wasunderstood that the continents move, and hestudied speciation during the time of theEvolutionary Synthesis. He established the her-petology program at the MVZ and retired at thedawn of the molecular era, before the computertechnological revolution. For many decades hehas struggled with unifying the ideals of evolu-tionary biology and religious beliefs, especiallywhen concerned with the problem of over-population. In particular, he views education asessential in re-establishing the human connec-tion with the natural world for our own physicalsustainmentRobert Cyril Stebbins (Fig. 1) was born 31

    March 1915 in Chico, Butte County, California.His parents were Cyril A. and Louise B. Stebbins,and Bob was the oldest of seven children. CyrilStebbins worked in farming and agriculture andwas Supervisor of Agricultural Nature Study andDirector of Rural School Extension at the ChicoState Normal School for Teachers. The Stebbinsfamily lived on a 15-acre ranch outside of Chicowhere they had small-scale prune and almondorchards, a horse, and a few sheep. When Bobwas about five years old, the family moved toa second ranch, about 20 acres in size and closerto town. Here the main crops were almonds,peaches, and watermelons, and the family lived

    in a converted almond-shelling shed. When Bobwas seven years old, the family moved to the SanFrancisco Bay area, although they continued tovisit the ranch until Bob was around eight. In theBay Area, Cyril Stebbins made educational filmsfocusing on agriculture and social values for theWyeth Corporation in San Francisco and workedin agriculture as an instructor at UC Berkeleywith the geneticist and plant breeder Ernest B.Babcock, who developed the Babcock Peach.Cyril Stebbins was strongly interested in agricul-ture and wrote a book entitled The Principles ofAgriculture for the School and Home Garden (1913).He also ran and organized a community gardenproject on the UC Berkeley campus where thelocal children grew fruits and vegetables toconsume and sell for profit. This developed intoa local community, participated in by thechildren, which had its own bank, mayor, andpolice. During World War I, Cyril was in theU.S. Garden Army, and he was in charge ofestablishing garden communities in schools inthree western states. The battle cry throughoutthe U.S. at the time was food will win the war,and the Garden Armys stationery was toppedwith rake and hoe.Bobs parents were a strong positive influence

    on him; his career, focusing on biology andeducation, mirrors that of his father. His fatherwas a biologist, an agriculturalist, and an evolu-tionist who also went to church. His mother wasmore religious, a fundamentalist Christian, andBob attended church with his parents from anearly age. The combination of these influencesled to Bobs interest in biology and the naturalworld, as well as concern for the well-being ofhumanity and the need for control of humanpopulation growth to prevent serious damage tothe natural environment. Bobs early experiencesin biology include learning the parts of theflower from his father at around age five. Hisfather also taught him how to identify birds, andone of his earliest treasured memories is seeinga Red-Shafted Flicker on the ranch in Chico. Bobonce climbed a tree to get close to a sleepingGreat Horned Owl and was reprimanded with

    # 2006 by the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists

  • a swat on the rear by his father for not watchingover his younger sister. Bobs mother, Louise,also encouraged his interest in the natural world.His first memory of a herpetological interactionwas when he caught a Western Pond Turtle ona family trip to the foothills of the Sierra Nevadawhen he was four or five years old. He still recallsthe feel of its shell and claws. The turtle was lostsomehow, but Bobs mother went to the streamand caught him another one.Bob attributes his artistic abilities to his

    mothers side of the family. Louise paintedpictures of fairy tales for Bob and his brotherHubert. Her beautiful paintings surely set thestage for his own interest in art. Two otherStebbins children also grew up with artistic skills.In addition to painting, Bob also enjoys playingthe violin, which he took up at age 12. CyrilStebbins loved music and wanted his children tohave musical abilities. Each child was assigned aninstrumentflute, viola, piano, and clarinetandeveryone played in the family orchestra. Boblater played the violin in the North HollywoodHigh School orchestra. Bob discovered that he

    had artistic talents when he was around 16 yearsold. The Santa Monica Mountains had very fewhouses when he was growing up there, andwildlife was often the subject of his drawings. Healso drew India-ink cartoons on the sweatshirts offellow high school students for 25 cents each. Hedid not have any formal art training until 1941,when it was more for the purpose of fine-tuninghis skills. Especially notable were 12 years offigure and portrait painting under the interna-tionally known Peter Blos of Berkeley, California.Many Blos paintings are found on the UCBerkeley Campus and a particularly stunningone of the nurse Alta Bates is on display in thehospital that bears her name. However, Bobs arthas focused mainly on natural landscapes andwildlife. He has participated in many art showsand for many years sold paintings at Contempo-rary Arts Gallery in Berkeley, California (nolonger in existence), and illustrated greetingcards produced by his sons company, WildlifeImpressions, in Eugene, Oregon.Thus, painting and art have been very impor-

    tant to Bob throughout his career. When he first

    Fig. 1. Bob Stebbins at age 38, on the set of the San Francisco Bay Area television show Science inAction, 1953. Photo courtesy of Bob Stebbins.

    564 COPEIA, 2006, NO. 3

  • arrived at UC Berkeley, he was in the midst ofillustrating the figures for his book Amphibians ofWestern North America (Stebbins, 1951) and wentto see Alden H. Miller, the director of the MVZ,about his painting. Bob was worried that the timeinvolved in painting and drawing, even forscientific purposes, would slow his researchprogress as compared with colleagues who didntdraw. For example, a drawing of a toad couldtake eight hours that perhaps would be moreprofitably spent keeping up with the scientificliterature. Much to his relief, Millers responsewas, Draw! Bob says that without this support,he might not have written and illustrated thefield guides. Looking back, he feels that the timespent on paintings and drawings did not impacthis professional advancement at all. He con-tinues painting today (age 91), and he notes thathis hand still remains steady and allows theaccurate detail he puts into his work. He can stillhighlight each scale as he did for the GilaMonster painted for the third edition of hisPetersons Field Guide to Western Reptiles andAmphibians (Stebbins, 2003). That painting tookabout 40 hours to complete. Bob finds the libraryresearch a more daunting task. When he firstbegan working on the field guides it was not toodifficult to keep up on the appropriate literature.He maintained filing cabinets with a folder foreach species covered in the field guide, with allthe relevant geographic distribution and naturalhistory information published to date. Whenpreparing the third edition of the Field Guide,given the large volume of recent publications inthe field, he worried about missing importantreferences.The Stebbins family moved to Pomona, Cali-

    fornia when Bob was nine and to Sherman Oaks,overlooking the San Fernando Valley, when hewas about eleven. After graduating from NorthHollywood High School in 1933, he enrolled inthe University of California, at Los Angeles(UCLA), in Civil Engineering. Looking backnow, Bob laughs at how inappropriate this courseof study was given his youth spent outdoors andhis strong interests in animals and the naturalworld. He admits pressure from his friends led tothis first career choice. After nearly flunking outand developing health problems, perhaps partlyassociated with unhappiness at the academicprogram he was following, he left college fora year and a half. When he returned to UCLA, hewas determined to major in Biology and eventu-ally graduated in 1940 with highest honors inZoology. Biology was clearly a better fit than CivilEngineering. Bob had a strong interest inteaching and obtained credentials at the juniorcollege level in 1942 and elementary and high

    school levels in 1943. He was hedging his bets sothat he would have a range of possibilities forfuture employment. In addition to the biologymajor, he minored in public speaking. This wasanother choice based on his goal of a career ineducation. He recognized that he had difficultyspeaking in front of people and the solution wasto work on improving himself in that area.Although Bob was destined to teach at some

    level, he was encouraged to continue his educa-tion and pursue a Ph.D. by professor Raymond B.Cowles, whom he assisted and helped preparemounted bird specimens for class use. So heentered the Ph.D. program, initially working withLoye H. Miller at UCLA, but later with Cowles ashis major advisor. Miller was an ornithologist andpaleontologist and had done well-known work onthe fossil birds of the La Brea tar pits. He was alsothe father of Alden H. Miller, an ornithologistand the second director of the MVZ at UCBerkeley. Bobs initial focus on ornithology wasderived from his early experiences with his fatherwho was a skilled ornithologist with publicationsin the field. Bob and his father Cyril publishedseveral books on birds, including the birds ofLassen and Yosemite National Parks (Stebbinsand Stebbins, 1941, 1942, 1974). Bob originallyplanned to study Roadrunners for his disserta-tion. At the time, he was living in the SantaMonica Mountains and was able to imitate manybirds of the area, including the Roadrunner. Hecould use calls to attract Roadrunners to withinclose range by hiding near clearings in the brush.He thought this would allow him to spray-markthe birds with paint or dye and study individualbehavior.Fully set on beginning his research career in

    ornithology, Bob went on a field trip to thedesert with Cowles, whose research interest was inherpetology. Cowles, along with Charles M.Bogert, his student at the time, was studyingbody temperature of desert snakes and lizards.The animals were kept in outdoor cages set up inthe dunes in the vicinity of what was then thesmall desert town of Palm Springs. Bobs experi-ences on this trip influenced him so much that itcaused him to switch his studies from ornithologyto herpetology, with the full approval of Miller.He did continue to publish on birds (Stebbins,1957a) and work with Miller (Stebbins andMiller, 1947). Bob admits that his switch waspartly because of his desire to find a career pathwith many opportunities for research. He sawornithology as a relatively crowded field, whileherpetology was very open, with much to do andnot as many researchers. However, the mainreason he chose to pursue research in herpetol-ogy was pure excitement about the subject. Bob


  • conducted his Masters and Ph.D. dissertationresearch on fringe-toed lizards (Uma) under thesupervision of Cowles. For his Masters degree,completed in 1942, he studied adaptations ofnasal passages in Uma (Stebbins, 1943a), and forhis Ph.D., finished in 1943, he worked on otheraspects of Uma ecology associated with dunehabitats, such as vision, the parietal eye, hearing,and locomotion (Stebbins, 1944a).Bob considers Cowles to be an important

    influence and model for his own research.Cowles, known as the Doc by his students,was a biologist and a naturalist with broadinterests; he particularly disliked being calledmerely a snake-catcher. He was strongly con-cerned with the problem of over-population andhuman-mediated damage to the environment,and Bob attributes his own interest in these issueslargely to Cowles early influence. Bob and theDoc remained close friends until Cowles deathin 1975. Stebbins wrote the forward to a book byCowles, where Bob expressed some of theirshared concerns about the future of the naturalworld, the human population, and our ability tosustain ourselves. The book, Desert Journal, isa collection of short stories based on Cowlesexperience in deserts around the world (Cowlesand Bakker, 1977). The book was publishedposthumously and was completed by Elna S.Bakkar, with illustrations by Gerhard Bakkar andtechnical assistance by Bob Stebbins.While in graduate school, Bob also attended

    the Yosemite Field School of Natural History in1940, and served as a Ranger-naturalist at LassenVolcanic National Park in the summers of 1941and 1942. The Ranger-naturalist position in-volved working closely with the public, givinglectures, and organizing campfire activities,which included leading groups in song. Whileworking in the Lassen Volcanic National Parkarea, he also conducted some classic studies onthe home range and territorial behavior of thelizard, the Mountain Swift, Sceloporus graciosus(Stebbins, 1944b, 1948a; Stebbins and Robinson,1946).Bob was not enlisted in the military during

    World War II, although many of his friends were.Instead, UCLA obtained a waiver for him toteach navy medical corpsmen preventative para-sitology and to translate German tapes concern-ing parasites of medical importance in thesoutheast Asian war theatre. Bob almost enteredthe U.S. Navy submarine service where his skillsas an illustrator were sought for technicaldrawing. He thought that he would be perform-ing his duties, including teaching through draw-ings, while on dry land. When he learned hewould have to go down in the submarines he

    decided not to enter. Being cooped-up ina very small space underwater did not appeal tothis man who loved the outdoors. Toward theend of the war, he nearly accepted an ArmyCommission as a parasitologist to work inSoutheast Asia, but two factors intervened. Atthis point he was older than most enlisted menwith a wife and two children, and he had beenoffered a job as Assistant Curator in Herpetologyat the MVZ. That title is misleading, as he was thefirst official curator of herpetology, but like otheruniversity academic positions, assistant wasa beginning rank.Thus, Bob Stebbins became the first herpetol-

    ogy curator at the MVZ, beginning in 1945.Although amphibians and reptiles were collectedon museum field expeditions, the main researchemphasis of the curators to that point was birdsand mammals. A few generalized vertebratenaturalists, such as Tracy I. Storer and Jean M.Linsdale, had contributed to the budding herpe-tology collection, but at that time it was managedby Alden Miller, an ornithologist and successorto Joseph Grinnell as the museums director(Rodrguez-Robles et al., 2003). Other candi-dates considered for the curator position wereHenry S. Fitch and Thomas L. Rodgers. Fitch didhis graduate work under Joseph Grinnell, thefirst director of the MVZ. Rodgers was a graduatestudent working under Alden Miller and wasActing Curator of Herpetology at the time(Rodrguez-Robles et al., 2003). Bob was hiredfor the position; he is still not sure why he wasselected, but says hes definitely happy with theoutcome.As the curator of herpetology at the MVZ, Bob

    continued the Grinnell-Miller style of naturalhistory and note taking in the herpetology pro-gram, standardized the preservation methods ofthe amphibian and reptile specimens for thecollection, and established a curriculum, coursehandbooks, and teaching collection for theherpetology and vertebrate natural history coursesin the Department of Zoology (now IntegrativeBiology) at UC Berkeley. Stebbins curated theherpetology collection at the MVZ for over twodecades until David B. Wake was hired in 1969.Stebbins and Wake curated the herpetologycollection together until 1978, when Bob passedhis duties over to Harry W. Greene. For a morecomplete history of the herpetology program atthe MVZ, see Rodrguez-Robles et al. (2003).During his tenure as curator in herpetology at

    the MVZ, Stebbins contributed substantially tothe academic community. He published ongeographic distributions (Stebbins and Reynolds,1947; Stebbins, 1948b, 1955), and his studiesranged from locomotion (Stebbins, 1947) and

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  • regulatory-processes (Stebbins, 1948c, 1960a,1970; Stebbins and Lowenstein, 1969), to naturalhistory (Stebbins, 1943b, 1954a), reproductivebiology (Stebbins, 1949a, b), and systematics(Stebbins, 1949c; Stebbins and Lowe, 1949,1951) of salamanders. He described two speciesthat occur in western North America: the JemezMountain salamander, Plethodon neomexicanus(Stebbins and Riemer, 1950) and the PanamintAlligator lizard, Elgaria panamintina (Stebbins,1958a). He also described two salamander sub-species, Ensatina eschscholtzii xanthoptica (Steb-bins, 1949c) and Rhyacotriton olympicus variegatus(Stebbins and Lowe, 1951), which was subse-quently elevated to species status (Good andWake, 1992). Two salamanders have been namedin his honor: the Tehachapi Slender salamander(Batrachoseps stebbinsi; Brame and Murray, 1968)and the Sonoran Tiger salamander (Ambystomatigrinum stebbinsi; Lowe, 1954).Bob and his wife, Anna-rose (Posie), have

    three children: Robert John, Melinda Louise,and Mary Anna-rose. Bob and Anna-rose met inSherman Oaks, California, through their churchactivities. They were married on the eighth ofJune, 1941, and as it turned out, they have beenessentially the only person for each other overtheir entire lives. Their relationship is foundedon many shared interests, particularly with re-spect to nature, and he describes her asa wonderful mother and wife. She hassupported his research over the years, in nosmall part by tolerating frogs, toads, andsalamanders in the refrigerator, and tortoiseson the sundeck and in the living room. WhenBob was studying the courtship of Ensatinaeschscholtzii (Stebbins, 1949a), he kept a pair ofsalamanders in a tank in their bedroom. He usedonly a red light so the animals would not bedisturbed and he covered the tank with diapers(they had a young child at the time). Keepingwatch through a narrow slot until odd hours ofthe night, he removed the diapers one at a timeuntil he had just enough illumination to observethe salamanders. When the animals reached theclimax of the courtship dance, the male strokingthe female with his tail while she picks up thespermatophore, Bob excitedly awoke Posie so shecould see. She looked briefly, said hmm, andwent back to sleep. Posie has said, and he fullyagrees, that their lives have always been filledwith love. Robert John their oldest child, isa businessman in Eugene, Oregon. Melinda isa high school teacher in Adelaide, in southernAustralia, and Mary, the youngest, is an elemen-tary school teacher in Vernon, British Columbia.All of their children love the outdoors and thenatural world.

    Bob Stebbins joined ASIH around the time hestarted at his position at Berkeley. Although helet his membership lapse because the MVZsubscribes to many herpetological journals, hecontinues to read Copeia, as well as otherherpetological journals, to keep up to date inthe field. Copeia was an important outlet for manyof his classic publications, such as courtshipbehavior in Ensatina (Stebbins, 1949a) andlocomotion in Hydromantes (Stebbins, 1947),each with original artwork drawn by Bob, andhis pinealectomy study of Sceloporus occidentalis(Stebbins, 1960a). Bob served as HerpetologyEditor for Copeia from 19561959 (Berra, 1984),with the initial encouragement of Fred Cagle(who served as Managing Editor 19561958).However, Bob didnt care for the society workbecause it kept him from his paintings; his wifestill remembers his complaints to that effect. Thefirst society meeting Bob attended was inGainesville, Florida, in 1954. This was one ofhis first airplane flights, and he was quite nervousso he asked a doctor to give him a sedative. Thepill was so effective that he slept in his hotelroom through a good portion of the meeting.Bob feels that his two most important research

    investigations were the ring-species complexof Ensatina eschscholtzii and his studies of thereptilian parietal eye (pineal gland). He was thefirst to document the ring-like geographicdistribution around the Central Valley of Cali-fornia of different color-patterns, each treated asa subspecies within E. eschscholtzii (Stebbins,1949c). He demonstrated sympatry (Stebbins,1957b) and hybridization (Brown and Stebbins,1965) in the two extreme forms of the Rassen-kreis. It was his work that revealed a break, nowknown to many as Bobs Gap, in the distribu-tion between large and small-blotched forms inthe Transverse Range of southern California. Hethinks that he lucked out by finding an animalthat does everything you could think of in anevolutionary sense. Indeed, the Ensatina com-plex continues to provide a natural system tostudy evolutionary processes (Moritz et al., 1992;Jackman and Wake, 1994; Wake, 1997; Highton,1998; Wake and Schneider, 1998) and hasliterally become a text-book example ofspeciation in evolutionary biology (Futuyma,1997; Ridley, 2004).When Bob worked on function of the parietal

    eye he asked his friend and colleague, UCBerkeley developmental biologist Richard M.Eakin, to join him on the project. His graduateadvisor Raymond Cowles was the first to point outthis interesting structure on Uma, and Bob didsome experiments involving the parietal eye forpart of his dissertation (Stebbins, 1944a). Some


  • of the parietal eye experiments Stebbins andEakin conducted on Sceloporus might be hard toget approved today. They involved cutting a smallflap of skin on the top of the head to expose thetiny third eye and exerting a small amount ofpressure on the head. The silvery membranelining the parietal eye would evert, popping outthe organ, but remained undamaged, protect-ing the cranial cavity. Bob notes that theseoperations were easy to perform in the fieldunder a dissecting microscope, and the impacton the lizards was negligible; they would some-times feed immediately afterwards. The resultswere that the surgically modified lizards becameactive much earlier in the day, spent more timein the sun, and remained active much later thansham operated control lizards (Stebbins andEakin, 1958; Eakin and Stebbins, 1959). Demon-stration of the role that the parietal eye plays inthe daily activity cycle of lizards was a break-through at a time when the phrase circadianrhythm was not a common part of the scientificlexicon. A later study by Bob and his friend andcolleague Dr. Nathan W. Cohen (Stebbins andCohen, 1973) demonstrated an influence on thereproductive cycle of lizards. Bob receiveda National Science Foundation (NSF) SeniorPostdoctoral Fellowship and other NSF funding(from 19561970) to work on the parietal eyeand pineal gland in reptiles (e.g., Stebbins,1958b, 1960a; Stebbins and Wilhoft, 1966).Bob Stebbins places his role as teacher among

    his greatest contributions to science. As a pro-fessor at UC Berkeley in the early 1960s, he wasa member of the University of California Ele-mentary School Science Committee, focused onimproving science in elementary schools usingexperimental approaches. He was involved ina test of this approach using animal colorationexercises in elementary schools in the East Bay(Stebbins et al., 1966). The resulting book waslater used as a textbook in elementary schools insouthern Australia. Bob recalls a time when hespoke to his daughter Marys fifth grade class andhow mortified she was at the prospect. When sheheard he was to speak she said Daddy, did youget the teachers permission? Bob has made twoeducational films (Stebbins, 1962, 1967), one ofwhich won a Bronze Award at the InternationalFilm and T.V. Festival in New York and anOutstanding Merit Award at the Chicago In-ternational Film Festival Incorporated. Bob co-authored general zoology textbooks (Storer etal., 1972, 1979) and taught courses in biology,zoology, herpetology, parasitology, embryology,and conservation throughout his career. At UCBerkeley, he was the first faculty member to teachherpetology and wrote the laboratory hand-

    books, complete with hand-drawn illustrations.The vertebrate natural history course was anoth-er of his primary teaching responsibilities, forwhich he also wrote and illustrated portions ofthe laboratory handbooks. Both of these coursesare still taught today and have been built uponthe original curricula. Bob was responsible forcoordinating the natural history course for manyyears as well as building the teaching collection,which gives students hands-on experience withspecimens (Rodrguez-Robles et al., 2003). Heacted as a major or co-graduate advisor for 29students, served on many graduate-student com-mittees, and supported undergraduate involve-ment (see Adler et al., 1989 and Rodrguez-Robles et al., 2003 for complete lists).Bob has traveled to many parts of the world to

    study amphibians and reptiles and to conductsurveys of biology teaching in secondary schoolsabroad. He traveled to Colombia (Fig. 2), SouthAmerica, in 1950 to study amphibians (Stebbinsand Hendrickson, 1959) and South Africa in195758, 1962, and 1972. In South Africa (195758), he studied changes in the pineal foraminawith the shift toward warm-bloodedness inmammal-like reptile fossils. The work was con-

    Fig. 2. Bob Stebbins in Colombia, South Amer-ica, with a Boa constrictor in 1950. Photo courtesy ofMuseum of Vertebrate Zoology, UC Berkeley.

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  • ducted at the University of Witwatersrand,Johannesburg, but was never published. Thefindings, extensively illustrated, are in theauthors file at MVZ. In south and southeastAsia, in 1963, he participated in a cross-culturalexchange program dedicated to improve teach-ing in secondary schools for the NationalAcademy of Sciences. Stebbins was a member ofthe University of California Scientific Expeditionto the Galapagos Islands in 1964, where hestudied characteristics of Lava lizards (Tropi-durus), including the parietal eye and aspects oftheir ecology (Stebbins and Wilhoft, 1966;Stebbins et al., 1967). For some 30 years he wentto Australia annually with Anna-rose to visit theirdaughter Melinda and her family. While inAustralia, he conducted some of the first-everradiotelemetric studies with reptiles (Stebbinsand Barwick, 1968).Bob has around 100 scientific publications,

    including films, books, book reviews, naturalhistory notes, and teaching guides, that aresubstantial contributions to the academic com-munity. He has around 75 peer-reviewed, scien-tific publications in such journals as: Science,Evolution, Ecology, Physiological Ecology, AmericanMidland Naturalist, and Systematic Zoology. TheUniversity of California Publications in Zoology andCopeia have also been important outlets for hiswork. He has written numerous natural historybooks and field guides, many focusing onamphibians and reptiles (Stebbins, 1951, 1954b,1960b, 1972), including the recent NaturalHistory of Amphibians (Stebbins and Cohen,1995). Most influential is undoubtedly his FieldGuide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians (Stebbins,2003). This book, now in its third edition as partof the Peterson Field Guide Series (Stebbins,1966, 1985), was preceded by Amphibians ofWestern North America (1951), still a valuablereference on amphibian natural history, andAmphibians and Reptiles of Western North America(1954b). His books are complete with detailedinformation regarding distribution and naturalhistory, as well as artistic illustrations, diagrams,and drawings, making older editions collectorsitems among herpetologists. Although ourknowledge of species distributions change, andtime must be allowed before new taxonomies areaccepted, the Stebbins Field Guide is morethan just a course reference to the herpetologystudent, a starting point for student researchideas, or a guide for the naturalist. This book isactually targeted towards the amateur naturalistand layperson. Bobs inspiring enthusiasm foramphibians and reptiles continues to elicita similar enthusiasm in many past, and, un-doubtedly, future generations.

    Stebbins became Professor Emeritus of Zoolo-gy and Curator Emeritus of Herpetology at theMVZ in 1978 when Harry W. Greene was hired.On his retirement, Bob received the BerkeleyCitation, the highest honor given by UC Berkeleyto faculty, in recognition of his achievements andinfluence with respect to teaching, research, andscientific illustration (Rodrguez-Robles et al.,2003). Some of Bobs other awards include a JohnSimon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fel-lowship in 1949 and NSF Senior PostdoctoralFellowships from 19581959. He is a Fellow ofthe California Academy of Sciences.Bobs field notes and specimen catalogs have

    been bound and are housed in the Grinnell-Miller Library in the MVZ at UC Berkeley.However, Bobs most recent notes are stillunbound as he continues to collect specimens,record natural history observations, and paint(Fig. 3). Current plans of the MVZ are to makeall field notes and journal accounts availablefrom the museums website, and Dr. Stebbinsare among the first being processed. The speci-mens he collected, including vouchers for thefield guide paintings, have been catalogued inthe herpetology collection, and several of hislandscapes and other artwork, including a paint-ing of a Roadrunner feeding its offspring entitledToo Soon Off the Nest, are displayed on thewalls of the MVZ. Bob has remained activefollowing his official retirement, focusing on hisPeterson Field Guide (two revisions since; Steb-bins, 1985, 2003) and on conservation andeducation. Theodore J. Papenfuss, his last Ph.D.student, encouraged him to include Baja Cali-fornia in the 1985 edition of the Field Guide, a taskhe says he wouldnt have taken on otherwise. Tedassisted him in distributional information andcollected specimens for the new paintings. Bobhas been active in seeking protection for thesouthern California Deserts (Stebbins and Co-hen, 1976; Stebbins et al., 1977) and received theUniversity of Californias Environmental SpiritAward in 1995. Stebbins has greatly shaped andcontinues to influence the herpetology researchprogram at UC Berkeley; he is not only discussedin a brief summary of the history of herpetologyat the MVZ, the publication was dedicated to him(Rodrguez-Robles, et al., 2003). He has pre-pared, with the help of East Bay Municipal UtilityDistrict (EBMUD) staff, guidelines for biologicalsurvey studies for the EBMUD (Guidelines I andII, Jan. 1996, published by the District) and withhis former student Samuel M. McGinnis iscurrently revising his book California Amphibiansand Reptiles (Stebbins, 1972).Bob considers one of his most important

    public service contributions to be his involve-


  • ment in protection of California deserts. Thedesert has been his favorite teaching and re-search area and his most cherished environment,first entered in 1926 when he was eleven yearsold and much of it was a true wilderness. In thelate 1960s, Bob became alarmed by the expand-ing damage inflicted on the desert by off-roadvehicles (ORVs; dirt bikes, all terrain vehicles,dune buggies, etc.). He was joined by geologistDr. Howard Wilshire and his close friend Dr.Nathan Cohen in a petition to the then newly-elected President Jimmy Carter to issue anexecutive order to increase control over therapidly growing ORV menace to the desert.Carter acted quickly, but the order was soonchallenged by off-road enthusiasts, and it re-sulted in a minimal decrease in the continuingdamage to the desert environment.The Stebbins, Wilshire, and Cohen team

    responded by organizing the scientific commu-nity to gather information on the growingimpactsdestruction of wind-resistant soil pro-tective crusts, spread of weeds, and widespreaddestruction of native animals and plant life as

    well as impairment of benign uses of the desertby home owners, campers, school groups, natureenthusiasts, scientists, picnickers, artists, andsightseers. Bobs major involvement in thisproblem began in 1973 and lasted until 1980,with many conservation and public interestgroups, including the Sierra Club, also joiningthe cause. Senator Alan Cranston was an impor-tant champion both in the field and in Congress.All these efforts resulted in the landmarkCalifornia Desert Protection Act, narrowly ap-proved by congress in 1994. Regrettably, thebattle continues, but some of the positive out-comes were the creation of the East MojaveNational Scenic Area and the enlargement andelevation of Death Valley and Joshua TreeNational Monuments to National Park status(see Stebbins, 1990; Latting and Rowlands, 1995;Wheat, 1999).Bob Stebbins views his art, music, natural

    history, science, and his work with children andteaching as interlocking components of hiscareer. Concerned with human populationgrowth and our ability to sustain ourselves as

    Fig. 3. Bob Stebbins at his residence studio in Kensington, Alameda Co., CA, in 2004. Photo taken byCharles Brown.

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  • part of the Earths natural ecosystem, he seesa tremendous disconnection between humansand nature and views the solution almost akin tohow many people hold religious beliefsthat wemust cherish and revere our natural world. Heunderstands the pervasiveness of the situation inwhich two areas of human concern, ethics andscience, appear antagonistic, but feels that theyshould be viewed as complementary and that weshould not separate ourselves from evolution andour reliance on the natural world as an ecosys-tem. For several decades, Bob has worked onwhat may be his epic publication. He has recentlycompleted a book manuscript, entitled Connect-ing with Nature: A Naturalists Perspective, in whichhe explains the importance of maintaining ourconnection with nature, and our essential re-liance on the natural ecosystems of the world forour own sustainment.


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