CEB Committe on Evolutionary Biology

Robert Inger, 1920 - 2019: Founding Member of CEB

Curator Emeritus Robert Inger passed away Friday, April 12, 2019 at age 98. Bob was born in St. Louis, and first developed his interest in reptiles from visits to the St. Louis Zoo. A fortuitous meeting with the zoo’s curator of birds led to a decision to attend the University of Chicago for graduate work, diving right into the world of Asian herps.

Over time, Bob focused his research on the systematics and ecology of reptiles and amphibians of Southeast Asia, with a special emphasis on Sabah and Sarawak, Malaysian states in the Island of Borneo Over the course of his long career, Bob authored or co-authored over 130 peer-reviewed papers and 11 books. He described more than 75 species new to science, and over 40 new species have been named after him by other scientists. 

Characteristically, after his ostensible retirement in 1994, Bob continued his research, and came to his Field Museum lab almost every weekday for years. In recent months he reduced it to once a week, but still—for the last six or so years he had been working with Research Associate Jim Koeppl (former head of Computing at FMNH) analyzing the detailed ecological data that Bob collected at Nanga Tekalit, which had been sitting for decades (and which, thanks in large part to Jim, will eventually become publicly available for any student of tropical ecology to access).

Bob was active outside of the lab as well, as a teacher, administrator, and conservation advocate. He was a Lecturer at the University of Chicago from 1958 until his retirement; when the Committee on Evolutionary Biology was formed at U of C in 1968, Bob served on its Executive Committee. He was appointed Assistant Director for Science and Education at the Field from 1970—stepping away from research—and returned to his role as Curator from 1979.  At various times during his career he served as president of the Society of Systematic Zoology, the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, and the Herpetologists’ League, and served on many editorial boards. He was also an active member of the Illinois Chapter of the Nature Conservancy (TNC), serving on its board from 1990 to 2010, and was a member of its Science Advisory Committee until 2015.