Some Biogeographers, Evolutionists and Ecologists:
Chrono-Biographical Sketches

Noble, G(ladwyn) K(ingsley) (United States 1894-1940)
herpetology, experimental biology

The early death of G. K. Noble robbed herpetology of the talents of an individual who might otherwise have been destined to become its greatest twentieth century figure. Industrious and focused, Noble was a rarity among naturalists: a man who was equally adept as a field worker, taxonomist, experimentalist, and science administrator. His Ph.D. dissertation, published as The Phylogeny of the Salientia in 1922, showed that he well understood how to draw evolutionary conclusions from body structure; in 1931 he expanded on this start with his classic book The Biology of the Amphibia, which quickly became the standard overall work on these animals. Noble took an early interest in animal behavior--of birds, lizards, snakes and fish as well as amphibians--and explored this subject in depth through a combination of field studies and laboratory-based experimental work. In the latter arena he became a pioneer, linking behavior to physiology, endocrinology, and neurology. Meanwhile, he was serving as the curator of herpetology at the American Museum of Natural History, supporting the efforts of others; his collaborations included work on materials collected in, among other places, Peru, the Belgian Congo, Colombia, and Nicaragua. Noble's stature as an experimentalist enabled him to convince the American Museum of Natural History to open up a new experimental biology department; he became curator there while maintaining his curatorship of herpetology. Noble became a central figure in a notorious event in the history of evolutionary biology when in 1926 he debunked Paul Kammerer's claims of having induced newly inheritable traits in lab animals: the famous "midwife toad incident."

Life Chronology

--born in Yonkers, New York, on 20 September 1894.
--1914-1916: as an undergraduate accompanies natural history expeditions to Guadalupe, Newfoundland and Peru
--1917: A.B., Harvard University
--1918: A.M., Harvard University
--1918-1919: serves in the U.S. Navy
--1919-1922: assistant curator of herpetology, American Museum of Natural History (AMNH)
--1922: Ph.D., Columbia University; publishes his The Phylogeny of the Salientia
--1922: leads AMNH expedition to Santo Domingo
--1922-1924: associate curator of herpetology, AMNH
--1924-1940: curator of herpetology, AMNH
--1927: supervises the opening of the hall of living amphibians and reptiles, AMNH
--1928-1940: curator of the department of experimental biology, AMNH
--1931: publishes his The Biology of the Amphibia; visiting professor of zoology at the University of Chicago
--1937: leads AMNH collecting expedition to western Cuba
--1937: publishes "The Sense Organs Involved in the Courtship of Storeria, Thamnophis and
Other Snakes" in the Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History
--1939: publishes "The Rôle of Dominance in the Social Life of Birds" in Auk
--1939: publishes "The Experimental Animal from the Naturalist's Point of View" in American Naturalist
--1939: publishes "The Social Behavior of the Jewel Fish, Hemichromis bimaculatus Gill" in the Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, with B. Curtis
--dies at Englewood, New Jersey, on 9 December 1940.

For Additional Information, See:

--National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol.31 (1944).
--Dictionary of Scientific Biography, Vol. 18 (1990).
--Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. 22 (Supplement 2) (1958).
--Science, Vol. 93(2401) (1941): 10-11.
--Copeia, (4) (1940): 274-275.
--American Philosophical Society Year Book for 1941 (1942): 393-397.
--Isis, Vol. 84(4) (1993): 637-661.

*                 *                 *                 *                 *

Copyright 2005 by Charles H. Smith. All rights reserved.

Return to Home/Alphabetical Listing by Name
Return to Listing by Country
Return to Listing by Discipline