Thomas Barbour

Thomas Barbour (August 19, 1884 – January 8, 1946) was an American herpetologist. From 1927 until 1946, he was director of the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ) founded in 1859 by Louis Agassiz at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.[1]

Thomas Barbour, Ph.D.
ThomasBarbour BSNH 1930
BornAugust 19, 1884
Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
DiedJanuary 8, 1946 (aged 61)
Boston, Massachusetts
NationalityUnited States
Alma materHarvard University
Known forNaturalist, author, professor, & director of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University
Spouse(s)Rosamond Pierce
Parent(s)Colonel William Barbour & Julia Adelaide Sprague
RelativesSenator William Warren Barbour (R NJ) (Brother)
Thomas Barbour Memorial 1
Thomas Barbour Memorial in Ballard Park, Melbourne, Florida

Life and career

Barbour, the eldest of four brothers, was born in 1884 to Colonel William Barbour, and his wife, Julia Adelaide Sprague. Colonel Barbour was founder and president of The Linen Thread Company, Inc., a successful thread manufacturing enterprise having much business in the United States, Ireland, and Scotland. Although born on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, where the family was spending the summer, Barbour grew up in Monmouth, New Jersey, where one of his younger brothers, William Warren Barbour, entered the political arena, eventually serving as U.S. Senator from New Jersey from 1931 to 1937 and again from 1938 to 1943.

At age fifteen, Thomas Barbour was taken to visit Harvard University, which, entranced by its Museum of Comparative Zoology, he later attended. At Harvard, he studied under Alexander Agassiz, son of Louis Agassiz. Having received his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. from that university, Barbour joined the faculty in 1911 when his doctoral dissertation was published, and he took on the position of curator of reptiles and amphibians at the Museum of Comparative Zoology. Eventually he became the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology and, in 1927, director of the museum. Although primarily interested in reptiles and amphibians, he also studied birds and insects, particularly butterflies. His biological interests, however, were remarkably diversified, and he is considered to be one of the last of a dying breed: a general naturalist.

His scientific travels took him through Africa, Asia, North America, South America, and Central America, among other regions. He particularly enjoyed Panama, Costa Rica, and Cuba, which he visited at length on at least thirty occasions beginning in 1908, generally staying in Soledad at the Harvard Botanical Gardens. Barbour served as custodian of these gardens from 1927 until his death in 1946.[2] In his book, Naturalist in Cuba, Barbour writes, "I suspect that I am the only living American naturalist who has visited all parts of the island again and again, for I am not only a Cuban by adoption, but a devoted friend of the land and its people." In addition to the expected scientific discussion of the island's flora and fauna, Barbour provides a description of Cuban society and culture.

He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1916.[3] In 1923 and 1924, he was one of the scientists and financial benefactors who founded the Barro Colorado Island Laboratory in Panama, location of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. The island, originally a hilltop, sits in the middle of Gatun Lake, which was created when the Chagres River was dammed during the Panama Canal building project.

Along with better than 400 scholarly articles, Barbour wrote several books including the autobiographical Naturalist at Large (1943), Naturalist in Cuba (1945), A Naturalist's Scrapbook (1946), and That Vanishing Eden (1944), which explores the natural world of a remote, undeveloped Florida.

In 1906, Barbour married Rosamond Pierce of Brookline, Massachusetts.[1] A two-year honeymoon took them through remote reaches of the Dutch East Indies, India, Burma, Java, China, and New Guinea with Barbour's wife helping him to photograph animals and collect specimens. Their union resulted in six children and eleven grandchildren. The family home was on Clarendon Street in Boston's Back Bay, with summers spent in Beverly Farms, Massachusetts.

In 1927 Barbour was made director of the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology and, in 1931, organized and sent an expedition to Australia for the dual purpose of procuring specimens - the museum being "weak in Australian animals and...desires[ing] to complete its series" - and to engage in "the study of the animals of the region when alive."[4] The Harvard Australian Expedition (1931–1932), as it became known, was a six-man venture led by Harvard Professor William Morton Wheeler, with the others being Dr. P. Jackson Darlington, Jr. (a renowned coleopterist),[5][6] Dr. Glover Morrill Allen and his student Ralph Nicholson Ellis,[7], medical officer Dr. Ira M. Dixon, and William E. Schevill (a graduate-student in his twenties and Associate Curator of Invertebrate Palaeontology).[8][4][9] Barbour said at the time "We shall hope for specimens' of the kangaroo, the wombat, the Tasmanian devil and Tasmanian wolf," and the mission was a success with over 300 mammal and thousands of insect specimens returning to the United States.[10][8]

During the last two years of his life he was in failing health, following a blood clot that had developed while he was in Miami. He was at the Museum of Comparative Zoology as usual on January 4, 1946, and in happy mood at home in Boston that evening. But he was stricken later in the night with cerebral hemorrhage, and died on January 8, without regaining consciousness.[1]

Frog drop experiment

For many years, Barbour and Darlington had friendly arguments about Barbour's advocacy of faunal dispersion by land bridges versus Darlington's advocacy of exreme-wind-borne dispersal of small animals over isolated islands. To test his ideas, Darlington dropped several live frogs from a window on the fifth floor of the Museum. Barbour and a crowd of spectators observed the experiment. The dropped frogs were stunned and remained still for a few seconds, but almost immediately they started to recover and in a few minutes were hopping normally.[11]


Thomas Barbour is commemorated in the scientific names of the following species and subspecies of reptiles.[12]

Also, the street he grew up on was named after him, Thomas Barbour Drive, in Melbourne, Florida; the street on which Ballard Park is located.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Bigelow, Henry B. (1952). "Thomas Barbour, 1884–1946" (PDF). Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences. 1952: 13–45.
  2. ^ Barbour 1946. Dustjacket back flap.
  3. ^ "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter B" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved May 17, 2011.
  4. ^ a b Gardiner, J. Stanley (1931). "The Harvard Museum expedition to Australia" (PDF). Nature. 128 (3228): 457–458. doi:10.1038/128457c0.
  5. ^ Capinera, John L. (2008). "Darlington, Jr., Philip J". Encyclopedia of Entomologists. pp. 1153–1154.
  6. ^ Hangay, George & Roger de Keyzer (April 2017). A Guide to Stag Beetles of Australia. Csiro Publishing. p. 139. ISBN 978-1-4863-0209-3.
  7. ^ "Ralph Ellis archives, 1898-1972".
  8. ^ a b About the Exhibits by Elizabeth Hall and Max Hall (Museum of Comparative Zoology "Agazziz Museum" Harvard University. Third Edition, Copyright 1964, 1975, 1985, by the President and Fellows of Harvard College
  9. ^ Annual report of the director of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard College, to the president of Harvard College for 1932-1933. Cambridge, U.S.A.: Printed for the Museum p.54-58 [BHL -]
  10. ^ Capinera, John L. (2008). "Darlington, Jr., Philip J". Encyclopedia of Entomologists. pp. 1153–1154.
  11. ^ Ball, George E., ed. (1985). Taxonomy, Phylogeny and Zoogeography of Beetles and Ants: A Volume Dedicated to the Memory of Philip Jackson Darlington, Jr. 1904–1983. Springer.
  12. ^ Beolens, Bo; Watkins, Michael; Grayson, Michael (2011). The Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. xiii + 296 pp. ISBN 978-1-4214-0135-5. ("Barbour", p. 16).
  • Barbour, Thomas. Naturalist at Large. Little, Brown and Company; Boston, Massachusetts, 1943.
  • Barbour, Thomas. That Vanishing Eden: A Naturalist's Florida. Little, Brown, and Company (An Atlantic Monthly Press Book); Boston, Massachusetts, 1944.
  • Barbour, Thomas. A Naturalist in Cuba. Little, Brown and Company; Boston, Massachusetts, 1945.
  • Barbour, Thomas. A Naturalist's Scrapbook. Harvard University Press; Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1946.
  • Barbour, Thomas and Charles T. Ramsden. The Herpetology of Cuba (with an introduction by Rodolofo Ruibal). Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles; Missouri, 2003. ISBN 0-916984-61-3.
  • Barbour, Thomas (nephew of Thomas Barbour). Our Families (Volumes 1 & 2). Self-printed. 1983.
  • Weeks, Edward. In Friendly Candor. Little, Brown and Company; Boston, Massachusetts, 1959.
Antigua least gecko

The Antigua least gecko (Sphaerodactylus elegantulus) is a gecko endemic to the island nation of Antigua and Barbuda in the Caribbean Lesser Antilles, where it is found on both main islands.

Atelopus certus

Atelopus certus, the Darien stubfoot toad or Toad Mountain harlequin frog, is a species of toad in the family Bufonidae endemic to Panama.

Benjamin Shreve

Benjamin Shreve (1908–1985) was an American amateur herpetologist. He was from a wealthy family of jewellers and worked at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology as a volunteer. He was trained by Arthur Loveridge to deal with materials from elsewhere than Africa. Shreve described many species from the West Indies together with Thomas Barbour. In these papers, Shreve is said to have done the "spadework" while Barbour wrote "florid" introductions.

Conraua alleni

Conraua alleni or Allen's slippery frog is a species of frogs in the Conrauidae family found in the Ivory Coast, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests, subtropical or tropical moist montane forests, and rivers.

It is threatened by habitat loss.

Cyclura pinguis

The Anegada ground iguana or stout iguana (Cyclura pinguis) is a critically endangered species of lizard of the genus Cyclura belonging to the family Iguanidae. The species can be found exclusively in the islands of Anegada and Guana. Historically, it inhabited the islands of Puerto Rico and Saint Thomas, however, the animal's original range has been greatly diminished.

Eleutherodactylus inoptatus

Eleutherodactylus inoptatus (common name: Diquini robber frog) is a species of frog in the Eleutherodactylidae family endemic to Hispaniola; it is found both in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. With female snout–vent length of about 88 mm (3.5 in), it is the largest eleutherodactylid frog.Eleutherodactylus inoptatus is a common frog found in mesic hardwood forests. It can also live in coffee and banana plantations as long as there are trees and shade. It is impacted by habitat loss.

Eleutherodactylus orientalis

Eleutherodactylus orientalis is also known as Oriental robber frog,is a species of frog in the Eleutherodactylidae family endemic to Cuba. Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests.

It is threatened by habitat loss.


Goniurosaurus is a genus of geckos, containing 17 species. Members are known by various names including ground geckos, tiger geckos, leopard geckos, and cave geckos Members of this genus are found in China, Japan, and Vietnam. For this reason they are known commonly as Asian geckos. They belong to the family Eublepharidae.

Griswold's ameiva

Griswold's ameiva (Pholidoscelis griswoldi) is a species of lizard in the family Teiidae. The species is endemic to Antigua and Barbuda, where it is found on both islands. It is also known as the Antiguan ameiva or the Antiguan ground lizard.

Guadeloupe ameiva

The Guadeloupe ameiva (Pholidoscelis cineraceus) was a species of Teiidae lizards that was endemic to Guadeloupe. It is known from specimens collected by early European explorers. The fossil record shows that it once ranged across Guadeloupe, La Désirade, Marie-Galante, and Îles des Saintes, but in most recent times it was restricted to Grand Ilet, just offshore of Petit-Bourg. It was last recorded in 1914. Its extinction likely occurred when this area was decimated by a hurricane in 1928. The Guadeloupe ameiva was reported as a ground-dwelling lizard. It fed on plants and carrion (including dead individuals of its species).

Leptopelis parkeri

Leptopelis parkeri is a species of frog in the family Arthroleptidae. It is endemic to Tanzania and known from the Eastern Arc Mountains. Specifically, it has been recorded from Uluguru, Udzungwa, East and West Usambara, Nguru, and South Pare Mountains. Common names Parker’s tree frog and Parker’s forest treefrog have been coined for it. It is named after Hampton Wildman Parker, a British zoologist and herpetologist from the Natural History Museum, London.


Noblella is a genus of frogs in the family Craugastoridae. They are found on the eastern slopes of the Andes and in the Amazon Basin in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and western Brazil. The name refers to Gladwyn K. Noble, who described the first species.


Parhoplophryne is a monotypic frog genus in the family Microhylidae. The sole species is Parhoplophryne usambarica, sometimes known as the Usambara black-banded frog or Amani forest frog. It is endemic to the East Usambara Mountains in Tanzania. It is only known from one specimen collected in the 1920s and is feared to be extinct.


Pelophryne (common name: flathead toads or dwarf toads) is a genus of true toads, family Bufonidae. The genus occurs in the Philippines, Borneo, Malaya including Singapore, and Hainan (China). Molecular data suggest that Pelophryne is the sister taxon of Ansonia.

Sphaerodactylus difficilis

Sphaerodactylus difficilis, also known as the Hispaniolan eyespot sphaero or difficult least gecko, is a species of lizard in the family Sphaerodactylidae . It is endemic to Hispaniola.

Sphaerodactylus scaber

Sphaerodactylus scaber, also known as the double-collared sphaero or Camaguey least gecko, is a small species of gecko endemic to Cuba.

Thomas Barbour (Virginia)

Thomas Barbour (1735 – May 16, 1825) was a prominent landowner and member of the Virginia House of Burgesses.

Thomas Barbour was born in 1735 in Orange County, Colony of Virginia, the son of James Barbour, 1707-1775. His elder brother James Barbour (burgess) represented Culpeper County, Virginia in the House of Burgesses from 1761-1765. Barbour married Mary Pendleton Thomas, a first cousin of Edmund Pendleton, in 1771. They had ten daughters and five sons. Their sons who likewise held offices included James Barbour (18th Governor of Virginia and 11th United States Secretary of War) and Philip Pendleton Barbour (U.S. Congressman from Virginia and an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court).Barbour served as Justice of the Peace for Orange County, from 1768 until his death. From 1769 until 1776 (although the prorogued house had no quorum after June 24, 1775), Barbour represented Orange County in the Virginia House of Burgesses. Thomas died at his son James Barbour's plantation, Barboursville in 1825.

Zapata sparrow

The Zapata sparrow (Torreornis inexpectata) is a medium-sized grey and yellow bird that lives in the grasslands of the Zapata Swamp and elsewhere on the island of Cuba. Measuring about 16.5 centimetres (6.5 in) in length, it is grey and yellow overall with a dark reddish-brown crown and olive-grey upperparts.

The Zapata sparrow is confined and endemic to Cuba. It was discovered by Spanish zoologist, Fermín Zanón Cervera in March 1927 around Santo Tomás in the Zapata Swamp and formally described by American herpetologist Thomas Barbour and his compatriot, ornithologist James Lee Peters in 1927.Barbour had been accompanied by Cervera on his previous visits to Cuba, and on hearing of the strange birds to be found in the Zapata area, he sent the Spaniard on a series of trips into the region, eventually leading to the finding of the sparrow. Two other populations have since been discovered, on the island of Cayo Coco in Camagüey Province and in a coastal region in Guantánamo Province. As the species is no longer confined to Zapata the alternative name of Cuban sparrow is sometimes suggested.

Each population is assigned to a different race due to differences in plumage and ecology. The nominate race T. i. inexpectana at Zapata is found in extensive sawgrass savannahs, the similarly-plumaged Cayo Coco race T. i. varonai is found in forests and shrubbery and the duller eastern race T. i. sigmani frequents arid areas of thorn-scrub and cacti.

Zapata wren

The Zapata wren (Ferminia cerverai) is a medium sized grayish-brown bird that lives in dense shrubs of the Zapata Swamp, Cuba. It is the only member of the monotypical genus Ferminia.

Measuring about 16 centimetres (6.3 in) in length, it is brown overall, though striped with black and with grayish underparts. Its tail is long.

The Zapata wren is confined and endemic to the Zapata Peninsula of southern Cuba. It was formally described by American herpetologist Thomas Barbour, who gave it the specific name cevererai in honour of the wren’s discoverer, Fermín Zanón Cervera, a Spaniard who had stayed on after the Spanish–American War and become a professional naturalist.

Barbour had been accompanied by Cervera on his previous visits to Cuba, and on hearing of the strange birds to be found in the Zapata area, he sent the Spaniard on a series of trips into the region, eventually leading to the finding of the wren.The bird's song is similar to that of the house wren, in that it is high-pitched and loud, described as a "musical warble preceded by guttural note, given in series of three or four phrases."

The Zapata wren's habitat is typically freshwater marsh and lowland savanna with scattered bushes and low trees. It feeds on insects, spiders, small snails, lizards and berries. The wren typically makes its nest in sawgrass tussocks. It is thought to breed between January and July.

Typical threats are fires in the dry season, drainage of the wetlands, destruction due to agriculture, and predation by introduced mongooses and rats.

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