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A Brief History of the Invertebrate Zoology Department

by Dr. Fenner A. Chace Jr.


The Invertebrate Zoology Department is one of the older scientific units in the Smithsonian Institution. In 1856 – just 10 years after the belated founding of the Institution and 23 years before the first Congressional mention of the United States National Museum – Smithsonian's Assistant Secretary Spencer F. Baird established the "Department of Invertebrates" as headquarters for William Stimpson on the latter's return from the North Pacific Exploring Expedition.

That department was subsequently called the Department of Marine Invertebrates of the Smithsonian Institution. Charles D. Walcott, who was appointed Acting Assistant Secretary of the Smithsonian in charge of the United States National Museum in 1897, proposed a reorganization of that Museum into just three departments – Anthropology, Biology, and Geology – with F.W. True, a marine mammalogist, as Head of the Department of Biology. With the overworked Walcott's resignation in the following year (1898) and his replacement by Richard Rathbun, the tripartite reorganization of the Museum was temporarily suspended.

Eventually, however, the Department of Marine Invertebrates became a division of the Department of Biology. The nominal Curator of that Division was Richard Rathbun, but his younger sister, Mary Jane Rathbun, whose formal education had not extended beyond high school and who had been hired as a "copyist" in 1886, was in virtual charge of the unit for more than 25 of its formative years, even though James E. Benedict – with masters and doctors degrees from Union College in Schenectady and four years as resident naturalist on the R/V Albatross – was appointed assistant curator of the Division in 1899.

Not until the year before her voluntary retirement in 1914 (to provide for the appointment of Waldo L. Schmitt in her place), was Miss Rathbun accorded the title of Assistant Curator, after her retirement she subsequently earned a doctorate from George Washington University.

Dr. Schmitt was appointed Assistant Curator of the Division in 1915 on the recommendation of Leonard Stejneger, who had been appointed Head Curator of Biology in 1911. The Division of Marine Invertebrates was purported to encompass all marine and freshwater invertebrates, as well as related terrestrial groups other than insects, but it eventually spawned two important satellite divisions: the Division of Mollusks (including stony corals and parasitic worms), with Paul Bartsch as Curator, and the Division of Echinoderms, curated by Austin H. Clark. Dr. Schmitt's tenure as Curator of the parent division lasted until 1946, when he succeeded Dr. Stejneger as Head Curator of Biology.  Mildred S. Wilson assumed part of the administrative responsibility for the Division when Dr. Schmitt was in the field, reportedly on covert military surveys during the later years of World War II.

In 1946, Dr. Fenner A. Chace, Jr., was appointed to the curatorship of the Division. Immediately upon his appointment as Head Curator, Dr. Schmitt accomplished the establishment of the Department of Botany. Schmitt retired as Head Curator of the Department of Zoology in 1957 and was succeeded by Herbert Friedmann, who resigned in 1961 to assume the Directorship of the Los Angeles County Museum. Dr. Friedmann was replaced, on temporary assignment for less than a year, by Fenner Chace, who who then became senior scientist.

The last Head Curator and subsequently first Chairman of the Department of Zoology was Horton H. Hobbs, Jr., who served from 1962 through 1964. On July 1, 1965, the study of invertebrates and vertebrates was separated at the Smithsonian, and the Department of Invertebrate Zoology was re-established. The first chairman of the new Department of Invertebrate Zoology was Donald F. Squires, who was appointed Deputy Director of the National Museum of Natural History in the following year. Joseph Rosewater succeeded Dr. Squires as Acting Chairman. In 1967, Raymond B. Manning became Chairman of the Department, to be succeeded by David L. Pawson in 1971; by W. Duane Hope in 1975, by Clyde F.E. Roper in 1981; by Roger Cressey, Jr., in 1985; by C.W. Hart, Jr. in 1988; by Brian Kensley in 1991; by Kristian Fauchald in 1995; by David Pawson in 2001; by Robert Hershler in 2003; by Jonathan Coddington in 2004; by Rafael Lemaitre in 2005; by Stephen Cairns in 2008; and by Jon Norenburg in 2011.

Former Staff

Ahearn, Cynthia (1952 – 2008), Museum Specialist, Echinodermata

Bayer, Frederick (1921 – 2007), Research Zoologist, Octocorallia

Ferrari, Frank, Research Zoologist, Copepoda

Hope, Duane, Research Zoologist, Nematoda

Kornicker, Lou, Research Zoologist, Ostracoda

Nickens, Tyjuana (1952 – 2012), Museum Specialist, Collections and Mollusca

Gallery of Carcinologists: Selected Biographical Sketches


image of Jerry Laurens Barnard
Jerry Laurens Barnard

Jerry Laurens Barnard
(27 February 1928 - 16 August 1991)

Senior Research Zoologist, Department of Invertebrate Zoology, National Museum of Natural History. Developed interest in amphipod crustaceans while working at the Allan Hancock Foundation, Los Angeles. His research and bird-watching hobby led him to field work around the world. His enthusiastic efforts resulted in comprehensive faunal monographs from Hawaii, Micronesia, Australia, and New Zealand. His studies made possible the use of amphipods as indicator organisms in pollution studies of the California coast. He published more than 225 papers on all aspects of amphipods, including benchmark syntheses of the group: "The Families and Genera" (1969, 1991), and "Freshwater Amphipoda of the World" (1983), and described 890 species, 242 genera, and 14 families. He also had a passion for fire engines and trains.



image of James Everard Benedict
James Everard Benedict

James Everard Benedict
(1854 - 1940)


Assistant curator, Division of Marine Invertebrates, U.S. National Museum. Published important contributions on crustaceans, most dealing with anomuran decapods such as hermit crabs, galatheids, hippids, and albuneids. He was resident naturalist on the R/V Albatross during four years.









image of Thomas Elliot Bowman III
Thomas Elliot Bowman III

Thomas Elliot Bowman III
(21 October 1918 - 10 August 1995)

Curator, Department of Invertebrate Zoology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. Produced 163 papers on isopods, copepods, amphipods, mysids, and mictaceans. His mastery of crustacean comparative anatomy and morphology led him to produce classic, provocative studies such as on structural homology of the telson and on the evolution of stalked eyes.











image of Fenner Albert Chace Jr.
Fenner Albert Chace, Jr.

Fenner Albert Chace, Jr.
(5 October 1908 - 30 May 2004)

Born in Fall River, Massachusetts. Obtained his Ph.D. in 1934 from Harvard University. He was Assistant Curator of Invertebrates (1934-1942) and Curator of Crustacea (1942-1946), at the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University. Chace joined the staff of the U.S. National Museum in 1946 where he worked until his retirement in 1978. He then completed his 7-part study of the caridean shrimps from the R/V Albatross Philippines expeditions (1907-1910), published in Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology between 1983 and 1997. His interests centered primarily on caridean shrimps, and he is considered by his peers one of the most influential and respected specialists on caridean shrimps in the latter half of the 20th century.







image of Horton H. Hobbs Jr.
Horton H. Hobbs, Jr.

Horton H. Hobbs, Jr.
(29 March 1914 - 22 March 1994)

Born in Alachua County, Florida, he matriculated to the University of Florida, Gainesville in 1931, intending to study music. A session dissecting crayfish began a lifelong pursuit of knowledge about them. Hobbs obtained his Ph.D. in 1940 and was a full professor at the University of Virginia. From there, he commuted to work with crayfish at the Smithsonian long before being named in 1960 Head Curator of Zoology at the U.S. National Museum, a post in which he was also a skilled administrator. By the end of his career in 1994, he had built the largest collection of crayfishes in the world— (25,000 lots and 1500 type lots). In his more than 200 publications, he contributed immeasurably to our knowledge of caridean shrimps, ostracods, and freshwater crabs, but is especially remembered for having described 42% of the known species and subspecies of cambarids. He established the male first pleopod of crayfishes as a key structure in their identification, a method still unchallenged today. He was Director of the Mountain Lake Biological Station, University of Virginia, founding member of The Crustacean Society, and of the International Association of Astacology. Affectionately known as "crawdaddy," he was the classic Southern Gentleman.

image of Paul Louis Illg
Paul Louis Illg

Paul Louis Illg
(23 September 1914 - 10 May 1998)

Professor of Zoology, University of Washington, had an illustrious career in life sciences, and contributed to making his University’s Seattle campus and Friday Harbor Laboratories, one of the leading institutions in the world for studying marine zoology, especially invertebrates. Published prodigiously for more than 50 years on parasitic copepods, particularly those living in ascidians. His research on microscopic ascidicolous copepods greatly extended biological and taxonomic knowledge, and illuminated evolutionary processes in these extremely complex parasitic crustaceans. His work is without equal in the systematics literature.







image of Brian Frederick Kensley
Brian Frederick Kensley

Brian Frederick Kensley
(19 April 1944 - 19 January 2004)

Curator and Research Zoologist at the National Museum of Natural History. Born in Cape Town, South Africa, obtained his M.S. from the University of Stellensbosch (1969), and Ph.D. from the University of Cape Town. Arrived at the Smithsonian in 1977 on a postdoctoral fellowship, and then hired in 1978 as Associate Curator in the Department of Invertebrate Zoology, where he also served as Chairman (1991-1995). His was a fierce defender of the National Collections, and a tireless collector. His broad research interests included systematics of isopods and decapod crustaceans, and Plio-Pleistocene invertebrates from southern Africa. During his 35 year career published 150 papers on copepods, amphipods, marine and terrestrial isopods, fossil mysidaceans, tanaidaceans, leptostracan, caridean and penaeoid shrimps, thalassinids, crabs and hermit crabs, and also Quaternary mollusks. Key works were his guides to “Marine Isopods of southern Africa” (1978), and “Marine Isopods Crustaceans of the Caribbean” (1989), the latter co-authored with his longtime assistant Marilyn Schotte. His work with I. Pérez-Farfante on “Penaeoid and Sergestoid Shrimps and Prawns of the World” (1997) had great impact on the classification and evolutionary concept of this group of shrimps. Produced the widely used worldwide web “List of Marine, Freshwater and Terrestrial Isopod Species” with over 10,000 species, and was editor of the “Isopod Newsletter”. He was very active in student training, a member of many professional societies, and scientific adviser to government agencies and international organizations. Served as member of the Board of Trustees of the Seychelles Islands Foundation from 1984 until his death. A talented pianist, artist, and knowledgeable gardener.



image of Raymond Brendan Manning
Raymond Brendan Manning

Raymond Brendan Manning
(11 October 1934 - 18 January 2000)

Senior Zoologist, Department of Invertebrate Zoology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. Manning earned his BS (1956), MS (1959), and PhD (1963) from the University of Miami. He published 278 papers on stomatopods and decapods, including landmark monographs and other studies on West African crabs, Indo-pacific dorippids, commercial geryonids, cave shrimps, and callianassids. Above all, he was a master in the systematics of stomatopods, and increased the known species from a handful to nearly 500 worldwide. In all, he named 279 species, 138 genera, 5 subfamilies, 19 families, and 3 superfamilies  of extant decapods and stomatopods, and at least 15 genera and 27 species of fossil decapods. A tireless collector, he obtained more than 50,000 decapod and stomatopods for the Museum and other institutions. Manning was one of the founders, and first President (1981-1983) of The Crustacean Society, from which he received in 1999 the Excellence in Research Award.


image of Isabel C. Perez Farfante
Isabel C. Pérez Farfante

Isabel C. Pérez Farfante
(24 July 1916 - 20 August 2009)

Carcinologist Emeritus, U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service, Systematics Laboratory. Born in Havana, Cuba, she received her Ph.D. from Radcliffe College (1948). She was professor and researcher at the University of Havana; director of the Cuban Centro de Investigaciones Pesqueras; and associate in Invertebrate Zoology, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University. She has authored zoology textbooks, and numerous papers on the systematics of penaeoid shrimps, most notably landmark studies of the commercial genus Penaeus. She is senior author of the book Penaeoid and Sergestoid Shrimps and Prawns of the World (1997). (Married name: Isabel C. Canet).




image of Mary Jane Rathbun
Mary Jane Rathbun

Mary Jane Rathbun
(11 June 1860 - 14 April 1943)

Rose from "copyist" to assistant curator in charge of the Department of Marine Invertebrates, U.S. National Museum. She was prodigiously productive and considerably advanced in knowledge of fossil and Recent decapod crustaceans of the world, describing 1147 new species, 63 genera, and 5 higher categories. Best known for her unparalleled, monumental 4-volume monograph of New World brachyuran crabs, and a treatise on freshwater crabs. She is considered to be the first woman carcinologist in modern times. (Sister of Richard Rathbun).





image of Richard Rathbun
Richard Rathbun

Richard Rathbun
(25 January 1852 - 16 July 1918)

Received his early education in Buffalo schools and entered Cornell University in 1871. At age 16 he acquired an interest in fossils that turned up in his father's quarries, and before he was 19 founded the collection of paleontology at the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences. From 1873-1875, he went to Cambridge, Massachusetts to study A. Agassiz's rich fossil collection. Was then appointed assistant in zoology at the Boston Society of Natural History and under Spencer F. Baird participated in the U.S. Fish Commission coastal explorations at Wood Hole. As a geologist, he joined the Geological Commission of Brazil, where he studied Devonian and Cretaceous brachiopods and lamellibranchs, coal deposits, and coral reefs. He was Chief Executive Officer and was in charge of the scientific work of the Commission. He held posts as Assistant in Zoology at Yale, and in 1880 was named curator of the Department of Marine Invertebrates, U.S. National Museum. He was influential in preparing international laws for the protection of marine fisheries during the Paris Fur Seal Tribunal (1893). Was named Assistant Secretary of the Smithsonian in 1897 and head of the U.S. National Museum in 1898. He was instrumental in the planning and construction of the "new museum," now the National Museum of Natural History. Spent the last 20 years of his career building and exhibiting the Museum's collections, and promoting scientific research. He studied parasitic copepods and economic aspects of crabs and lobsters, and made significant contributions to the economic aspects of marine biology, history and methods of fisheries. For the Tenth Census he published a noteworthy account of the fishing grounds of North America and a survey of the ocean temperatures of the eastern coasts of the U.S. (Older brother of Mary J. Rathbun).




image of Harriet Richardson
Harriet Richardson

Harriet Richardson
(9 May 1874 - 28 March 1958)

Known as the First Lady of Isopods, she is one of the earliest women carcinologists. She obtained her B.A. (1896) and Master's (1901) degrees from Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, and her Ph.D. (1903) from Columbian University (now George Washington University), Washington, D.C. She began her association with the U.S. National Museum in 1896, and from then until 1922 published 80 papers mostly on isopods. She was appointed Collaborator in the Division of Marine Invertebrates (1901), and Research Associate (1952). Her best known work was "A Monograph on the Isopods of North America" (1905, reprinted 1972), an excellent overview of isopod systematics, literature, distributions, and habits of all the species. She described about 70 new genera and 300 new species of isopods and tanaids. She married William D. Searle in 1913 and thereafter dramatically slowed her publication output, apparently due to having to care for her handicapped son born in 1914. She was a member of the Biological Society of Washington, and the Washington Academy of Sciences and was a very active member of the Daughters of the American Revolution where she was Regent of Captain Molly Pitcher Chapter (1914-15).


image of Henry Bardt Roberts
Henry Bardt Roberts

Henry Bardt Roberts
(1 September 1910 - 14 March 1979)

Curator and research associate, Wagner Free Institute of Science, Philadelphia. Roberts joined the U.S. National Museum (now National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution) as museum aide, first in the Division of Invertebrate Paleontology and Paleobotany, and later in the Division of Marine Invertebrates. His research dealt with fossil and Recent marine crabs, their morphology and phylogeny. His accomplishments in spite of having virtually no formal training, and his broad knowledge of museum procedures, made him well known within the carcinological community. A man for all seasons, he was a scholar, musician, athlete, and teacher who also had a passion for baseball.







image of Waldo LaSalle Schmitt
Waldo LaSalle Schmitt

Waldo LaSalle Schmitt
(25 June 1887 - 5 August 1977)

Head curator, Department of Zoology, U.S. National Museum and succeeded M. J. Rathbun. His tireless collecting efforts during numerous expeditions worldwide led to the immense holdings of the national collections. His dedication to the advancement of invertebrate systematic zoology contributed to the unmatched growth and international recognition of the Department. He was author of numerous taxonomic studies on decapods and stomatopods, and the popular book "Crustaceans" (1st printed 1931).







image of William Stimpson
William Stimpson

William Stimpson
(14 February 1832 - 26 May 1872)

Was one of America's foremost invertebrate zoologists, and first curator of the Department of Invertebrates, Smithsonian Institution. He also was director of the Chicago Academy of Sciences. At age 21, Stimpson was appointed Naturalist of the North Pacific Exploring Expedition (1853-1856), and sailed on the sloop "Vincennes" (right). A brilliant and tragic figure who lost much of his lifetime work in the great Chicago fire of 1871. His most famous work is the classic 8-part "Prodromus" (1857-1860, in Latin). In a career that spanned a mere 24 years he named 950 species, of which 582 were crustaceans. He is credited as a pioneer in methodical dredging of the Atlantic coast.







image of Austin Beatty Williams
Austin Beatty Williams

Austin Beatty Williams
(17 October 1919 - 27 October 1999)

Was Research Scientist, Systematics Laboratory, National Marine Fisheries Service, based at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. He obtained his Ph.D (1951) at the University of Kansas, studying Ozark crayfishes. His numerous publications covered the taxonomy, systematics, biogeography, and evolution of various decapod groups, both Fossil and Recent. He is best known for his invaluable and widely used "Marine Decapod Crustaceans of the Carolinas" (1965), and its later expanded version "Shrimps, Lobsters, and Crabs of the Atlantic Coast of the Eastern United States" (1984). He was co-founder and president (1983-1985) of the Estuarine Research Federation, and was an active member of The Crustacean Society, and the Biological Society of Washington, among others.






image of Mildred S. Wilson
Mildred S. Wilson

Mildred S. Wilson
(25 April 1909 - 06 August 1973)

Born in Seaside, Oregon.  She obtained her B.A. with honors from University of California, Berkeley in 1938 and joined her husband in Washington, D.C.  With a letter from her professor, S. F. Light, she was introduced to Waldo L. Schmitt at the U.S. National Museum where she continued her work on freshwater copepods.  Her studies of C. Dwight Marsh's collections as well as her own resulted in major publications on the revision of North American diaptomids.  At the U.S.N.M. she was appointed Assistant Curator (1944-46) during World War II and was in charge of the Division of Marine Invertebrates.  In 1946, she moved to Alaska with her husband and became Territorial Entomologist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but continued her freshwater copepod works and association with the U.S.N.M. as honorary Collaborator in Copepod Crustaceans, and in 1960 she was appointed Research Associate, Division of Crustacea.  In her publications, she contributed greatly to knowledge of the genus Diaptomus, harpacticoids, and caligoids, among others.  She was a woman of remarkable talent and strength of character who had to endure much hardship and physical disadvantages due to poor health.

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