Born 14 July 1924, in Longview, Texas. Childhood in southern Georgia and Virginia. Father a professor of Wildlife Management and a lifelong bird-watcher.
I grew up being a bird-watcher and supposed I would become a professional ornithologist, but in the summer between high school and college I fell in with an expedition from the University of Michigan, collecting mammals in the Southern Appalachians. I realized my dream of discovering and naming new species could come true with mammals, but not with birds. What I wanted to do had mostly been done already with birds. I was born two hundred years too late.
I got my bachelors degree at Va. Tech, but had to defer graduate school while I walked from Holland to Berlin as an infantry rifleman. When I returned from Europe after WWII, Alexander Wetmore, then Secretary of the Smithsonian, hired me to collect birds and mammals on an icebreaker expedition to the arctic. Wetmore had taken me under his wing at age nine as a promising young ornithologist, and when I went to the Smithsonian it was as a curator of birds. Between expeditions to the arctic, Labrador, and Guatemala, I took my masters and PhD in mammals at the University of Michigan. From the arctic expeditions I described new taxa of varying lemmings and arctic hares and became a curator of mammals at the Smithsonian.
There followed a seven month expedition to the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa with anthropologists studying stone-age Bushmen, and annual expeditions for the next ten years to inventory the mammals of Panama. On my first trip to Panama an ornithologist friend gave me some mistnets and I have been catching and naming new species of bats ever since. Ornithologists who had rigged mist nets to catch birds up to 30 meters in the forest canopy near Belem, Brazil, let me use their daytime birdnets to capture bats at night. That feat, and a paper I published in 1967 describing bats of the canopy, have not been duplicated to this day.
In 1965-1968, the Defense Department contracted me to conduct a monstrous inventory of mammals, their ectoparasites, and their viruses in Venezuela. I am still naming new species from the 40,000 specimens of mammals collected by the SVP. Soon followed the ten year Barro Colorado Island Bat Project, in which I recorded 35,000 marks and 15,000 recaptures. Nine expeditions to the islands of Bocas del Toro, in the Caribbean off the NW coast of Panama, revealed them to be a hotbed of evolution. We have named a new bat and are naming a new sloth, armadillo, and agouti.
In 1990 I met Elisabeth Kalko, a graduate student at a German university. She was equipped with the world's most sophisticated, custom-made, electronic instruments for recording the ultrasounds of bats and she was a master at its use. She needed my knowledge of tropical American bats, so I turned my interests to echolocation and foraging behavior of bats. Now Elisabeth and I have long running studies of bat communities in Panama, Venezuela, and Brazil; still frequently turning up new undescribed species.