Biology Reference
In-Depth Information
Henry Fitch in 1991, trim and fit at age eighty-one, examining a common gartersnake, Fitch Nat-
ural History Reservation, Douglas County, Kansas. (Photo: V. Snider)
On the K.U. campus that night, Henry sat in the front row for my lecture titled “Her-
oes, Theories, and Organisms as the Central Focus of Biology.” I held aloft his fifty-year
study, AKansasSnakeCommunity, and summarized the man's phenomenal legacy of an-
imals marked and measured, stomach and scat contents tallied, and papers published. 13
Henry had bridged the descriptive natural history of Wallace and Darwin, I explained,
in what amounted to three careers, counting the San Joaquin Experimental Range, K.U.
Natural History Reservation, and tropical expeditions. In fact, although best known as
a herpetologist, he'd made contributions to mammalogy exceeding those of many nom-
inal mammalogists. During my talk, to exemplify the importance of field observations
for generating new research opportunities, I described island cottonmouths feeding on
fish regurgitated by seabirds, 14 and afterward he asked about their litter size. Then,
with head tilted down and a slight swing of the chin, he added with a chuckle, “Oh, and
thanks for the plug!”
A prairie moon glowed through low, heavy fog as I drove back to town after taking
Henry home; orange lightning flashed over fields and hedgerows while I wondered
anew, What makes him tick? Years ago, when I'd complained about scarce funding,
he replied, “I've always spent time on whatever interested me most—with or without
grants—and have greatly enjoyed all my projects, especially the fieldwork.” More re-
cently he told the author of a topic on Kansas personalities, “I wouldn't change a thing.
People who work with animals in the field, whether snakes or birds or rodents or mon-
keys, find it deeply satisfying and wouldn't trade it for any other career—even though
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