April 20, 2012
Avila University biology professor Bob Powell, Ph.D., has had his work honored in many ways over his 40-year academic career, but never quite like this.
A new species of lizard from the West Indian islands of Anguilla and St. Bart’s was named after him in a massive study of Caribbean skinks by S. Blair Hedges and Caitlin E. Conn of Penn State University. The Anguilla Bank Skink, Spondylurus powelli, has a head-body length of about 70 mm (about 2 ¾ inches) and a pattern of pale tan and dark brown stripes that fade away before reaching mid-body. According to the paper published in the journal, Zootaxa, “The species name (powelli) is in honor of Robert Powell for his contributions to West Indian herpetology.”
Although currently abundant on both Anguilla and St. Bart’s, these lizards are threatened by invasive predators and alterations of their habitats. Based on criteria established by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) for their Red List of Threatened Species, Hedges and Conn classified the Anguilla Bank Skink as “vulnerable,” meaning that it is vulnerable to extinction if any of the current threats are exacerbated.
“Having a namesake species is a bit of immortality,” Powell said. “I was certainly honored to be recognized in this fashion. That it is an attractive little lizard found one of my favorite islands is icing on the cake.”
Just last year, Powell received the Meritorious Teaching Award in Herpetology in honor of his years of guiding undergraduate students in the study of amphibians and reptiles. The award, sponsored by the American Society of Ichthyologists & Herpetologists, The Herpetologists’ League and the Society for the Study of Amphibians & Reptiles, was in recognition of his superior teaching effectiveness, mentoring of students and significant contributions to herpetological education – essentially the same achievements that led to this species of skink being named after him.
Avila University is a private, co-educational, values-based liberal arts institution founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, offering undergraduate, graduate, and adult degree programs. Avila University is located at 119th and Wornall Rd in southwest suburban Kansas City, Mo.