Libbie Hyman and the Invertebrates

Today we celebrate the birthday of Libbie Henrietta Hyman (6 Dec 1888 – 3 Aug 1969), the US zoologist who was responsible for one of the most important zoological reference works, ‘The Invertebrates’ – an amazingly comprehensive, 6 volume labour of love covering most phyla, and still used today. The sixth and final volume was completed at the age of seventy eight, by which time Hyman was suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

An earth worm, just one of many, many, many, many invertebrate animals.(© All Rights Reserved)
An earth worm, just one of many, many, many, many invertebrate animals.
(© All Rights Reserved)

What makes a reference work addressing the subject of invertebrates so daunting, is that something like 97% of all animal species fall in this category. Basically, invertebrates are all animal species that do not develop a vertebral column. Which means, it’s all animals except the vertebrates (reptiles, fish, amphibians, mammals and birds). Invertebrates include insects, worms, spiders, mollusks, sponges and more.

The classification of ‘Invertebrates’ is so wide that no single characteristic describes them all. While they all lack a vertebral column, they are otherwise very dissimilar, with widely varying body plans from fluid-filled hydrostatic skeletons (jellyfish, worms) to shell-like exoskeletons (insects, crustaceans).

Given this diversity, Libbie Hyman’s achievement of incorporating so many invertebrates into her six reference volumes seems even more impressive. She was certainly no spineless academic!