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by Nicole Elmer and the Ichthyology Collection in the Biodiversity Center

Hubbs Cropped

Dr. Clark Hubbs (March 15, 1921 - February 3, 2008) had a long and illustrious career in Ichthyology, more than 50 years of it at the University of Texas at Austin. He was not only a deeply-influential educator and researcher here, but he founded the university’s fish collection, now the Ichthyology Collection in the Biodiversity Center.

Hubbs was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the second child to noted naturalists Carl L. Hubbs and Laura C. Hubbs. His parents encouraged their children’s early interest in science, especially that of fishes, by paying them for collecting specimens. One dollar was paid for a new taxon, and five dollars for a new genus. In the 1930s, this was quite a bit of money, with one dollar in today’s standards being around $20, and $5 just shy of $100. Although Clark was surely naturally interested in this work, one can only imagine the enthusiasm he and his sister and brother had!

 HubbsIn Army
 Private First Class Hubbs during World War II.

Hubbs received his B.A. in Zoology in 1942 from the University of Michigan. Shortly after, he was drafted into the army to serve in World War II, in the G-2 (intelligence section) of the 96th Infantry Division Headquarters. His division partook in the invasions of Leyte, an island in the Philippines, and Okinawa, a small island to the east of mainland Japan. The Battle of Leyte would launch the liberation of the Philippines from Japanese Occupation. The Battle of Okinawa was the largest amphibious assault during the Asia-Pacific War, with Hubbs’ division suffering 20,000 casualties.

In 1946, Hubbs was honorably discharged. With the GI Bill that provided education to service members, he could further his studies and received his Ph.D. from Stanford in 1952. It was on a trip with the Stanford Natural History Club that he met his wife, Catherine. They would have three children and be married for 58 years until his death.

Clark and graduate students in 1979 working to repair habitat for the federally endangered Clear Creek Gambusia Gambusia heterochir.

At UT Austin in 1949, he took a job as instructor of Zoology. He became Assistant Professor in 1952, Associate Professor in 1957, full Professor in 1963, and Professor Emeritus in 1991. He supervised a total of 46 Masters students, Ph.D. candidates, and postdoctoral fellows. From 1974 to 1976, he served as Chair of the Division of Biological Sciences, what Integrative Biology used to be called. It was a time he recalls as being frustrating, according to his personal webpage, due to struggles many in academia can empathize with: implementing efficiency on bureaucracy. He would go on to serve as Chair of the Department of Zoology from 1978 to 1986.

Hubbs had an enormous impact in the world of Ichthyology, through research, teaching, publishing, mentorship, conservation, and specimen collection. He served on the board or as President of numerous organizations, was editor of several academic publications, and obtained many awards and honors. He also published more than 300 articles, primarily on fishes.

Hubbs’ research included taxonomic revisions, hybridizations, geographic distributions, and gynogenetic reproduction. He founded the Biodiversity Center’s fish collection and provided the core of its growth between 1950-1980. According to the Fishes of Texas project, he made nearly twice as many fish specimen collections in Texas than has anyone else.  

Field notes from Clark’s first collection of Clear Creek Gambusia. Originally thought to be Gambusia affinis, in 1957 he described it as a new species – Gambusia heterochir

Clark was heavily involved with conservation efforts for the preservation of aquatic ecosystems and prevention of species extinctions. He worked with landowners to raise awareness of responsible habitat management. Hubbs also served as an expert witness in the litigation of the Edwards Aquifer to protect spring flows for endangered species. He reserved a special love for West Texas, as desert fish endure challenging environmental realities such as extreme temperatures, salinity, droughts and floods.

Clark was largely responsible for the first, and several subsequent lists of fishes in the Texas Threatened and Endangered Species list. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department recognized that his knowledge of the fishes and their status was far superior to that of any others at the time. The standard statement, when anyone asked why a certain species was listed, was “because Clark said so”.

Colleagues and students noted Hubbs’ relentless energy, starting his mornings at 4 a.m., and his grittiness, wading in waters without boots, or sleeping on the ground in the open. His students felt he had an unwavering commitment to quality scientific work. He also was the thesis advisor for the first African American Ph.D. in UT Zoology, Exalton Delco. Hubbs also had an affinity for collecting all items of clothing with images of fish. It was not uncommon to see him wearing a shirt, tie or socks depicting diverse fishes.

One example of the admiration and respect his students had for him was the tribute of the Clark Hubbs Symposium held at the 1993 annual meeting of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists on the UT campus (that sort of symposium was a first for the society).  A t-shirt designed especially for the symposium held a special place for Clark who had it signed by not only his former students, but also by over 1,000 of his colleagues and professional friends.

Clark in 2003 relaxing after a day of fish collecting with Texas Parks & Wildlife biologists at Dolan Falls on the Devils River.

Hubbs’ love of his work could be no more evident than in the fact that he was still collecting field data in January 2008, just a month before his death. To honor his work, the Hubbs Ichthyological Society was established to promote his legacy.  



List of Hubbs' specimen contributions to the Texas Natural History Collections

Information about the Hubbs' archive at the Texas Natural History Collections

 Hubbs at work11