MEARNS, Edgar Alexander

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Edgar A. Mearns (1856-1916)

MEARNS, Edgar Alexander (1856-1916), New York-born graduate of the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University in 1881, Mearns was a surgeon in the medical corps of the U.S. Army for 25 years. Mearns maintained a lifelong interest in natural history and ornithology in particular.

August 22-29, 1894 he visited San Clemente Island with mammalogist Alfred Webster Anthony as a part of the International Boundary Commission. They accessed the island via the U.S. revenue cutter, Wolcott.


“1894. Edgar Alexander Mearns. The late Col. Edgar Alexander Mearns, U.S. Army, while attached to the International Boundary Commission as a medical officer and zoologist, made extensive collections of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fishes, plants, and other specimens of natural history in Lower California between march and July, 1894. His investigations included an exploration of the Lower Colorado River and the lower part of the Salton River from March 23 to early May, and trips to Nachoguero Valley from June 1 to 7, to the San Isidro range from June 28 to July 3, and to the Tijuana Valley, July 9 to 20, besides incidental work conducted south of the boundary line at various other points. Some of the results of this work are published in Part I of Col. Mearns's report of the mammals of the Mexican boundary. The collections resulting from this work are in the United States National Museum.” [Nelson 1921]


Specimens collected by Mearns are located in a number of institutions, including the Smithsonian, Washington, D.C., American Museum of Natural History, New York, and Field Museum, Chicago. In 1909 Mearns accompanied Theodore Roosevelt on the Smithsonian African Expedition. Mearns died on November 1, 1916 at age 60 at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. Mearns’ papers (1871-1916) are on deposit in the Smithsonian Institutions Archives [SIA RU007083].

Many plant and animal taxa are named for Mearns, including Acacia mearnsii, native to Australia, and listed as one of the world's most invasive species. Mearns collected it from a cultivated specimen in East Africa when he was a naturalist on Theodore Roosevelt's 1909 expedition.

Directory of Members, Cooper Ornithological Club, May 1914:

  • Maj. Edgar A. Mearns. U.S. National Museum, Washington, D.C. 1905.


Palmer, T. S. Nomenclature of California Birds in Condor 30(5):267-268 September-October 1928:

MEARNS, Edgar Alexander “Born at Highland Falls, New York, September 11, 1856; died at Washington, D.C., November 1, 1916. One of the most active, energetic and enthusiastic field naturalists of this country. During his long service as army surgeon he made large collections in ornithology, mammalogy, botany and ethnology, especially in Arizona, Minnesota, along the Mexican boundary, in the Philippines and on two trips to East Africa. A genus pf Philippine birds has been names Meaernsia, by Ridgway, in his honor. Several species of birds have also been named for him in recognition of his work in the Southwest These are: Cytronyx m. mearnsi, Junco h. mearnsi, Toxostoma c. mearnsi, Melopelia a. mearnsi, and Colaptes c. mearnsi. Of these the last two occur in California. One of the last species he described, only a few months before his death, was the Least Tern of southern California which he named Sterna a. brownii after his old friend E. J. Brown, who had accompanied him on several collecting trips.”





Island Collections~

San Clemente Island

8/25/1894 UC plants; NMNH plants


ISLAND COLLECTOR INSTITUTION DATE NUMBER SPECIMEN
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 23, 1894 USNM-134782 Carpodacus mexicanus clementis Birds
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 23, 1894 USNM-134815 Empidonax trailii brewsteri Birds
San Clemente Island unknown A. W. Anthony? or E. A. Mearns? USNM August 1894 USNM-21543 Uta stansburiana elegans Herps
San Clemente Island unknown A. W. Anthony? or E. A. Mearns? USNM August 23, 1894 USNM-21878 Uta stansburiana elegans Herps
San Clemente Island unknown A. W. Anthony? or E. A. Mearns? USNM August 23, 1894 USNM-21879 Uta stansburiana elegans Herps
San Clemente Island unknown A. W. Anthony? or E. A. Mearns? USNM August 23, 1894 USNM-21880 Uta stansburiana elegans Herps
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 24, 1894 USNM-60674 Urocyon littoralis clementae Mammals
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 24, 1894 USNM-61106 Peromyscus maniculatus clementis Mammals
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 24, 1894 USNM-61107 Peromyscus maniculatus clementis Mammals
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 24, 1894 USNM-61108 Peromyscus maniculatus clementis Mammals
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 24, 1894 USNM-61109 Peromyscus maniculatus clementis Mammals
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 24, 1894 USNM-61110 Peromyscus maniculatus clementis Mammals
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 24, 1894 USNM-61111 Peromyscus maniculatus clementis Mammals
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 24, 1894 USNM-63149 Urocyon littoralis clementae Mammals
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 24, 1894 USNM-61672 Peromyscus maniculatus clementis Mammals
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 24, 1894 USNM-134776 Salpinctes obsoletus obsoletus Birds
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 24, 1894 USNM-134783 Carpodacus mexicanus clementis Birds
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 24, 1894 USNM-134786 Carpodacus mexicanus clementis Birds
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 24, 1894 USNM-134788 Carpodacus mexicanus clementis Birds
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 24, 1894 USNM-134811 Eremophila alpestris insularis Birds
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 24, 1894 USNM-134812 Eremophila alpestris insularis Birds
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 24, 1894 USNM-134818 Arenaria melanocephala Birds
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 24, 1894 USNM-134833 Heteroscelus incanus Birds
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 24, 1894 USNM-134836 Heteroscelus incanus Birds
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 24, 1894 USNM-135456 Corvus corax Birds
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 25, 1894 USNM-134777 Thyromanes bewickii leucophrys Birds
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 25, 1894 USNM-134784 Carpodacus mexicanus clementis Birds
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 25, 1894 USNM-134785 Carpodacus mexicanus clementis Birds
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 25, 1894 USNM-134820 Arenaria melanocephalus Birds
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 25, 1894 USNM-134821 Arenaria melanocephalus Birds
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 25, 1894 USNM-135457 Corvus corax Birds
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 25, 1894 USNM-135458 Corvus corax Birds
San Clemente Island unknown A. W. Anthony? or E. A. Mearns? NMNH August 25, 1894 USNM-21544 Uta stansburiana elegans Herps
San Clemente Island unknown A. W. Anthony? or E. A. Mearns? NMNH August 25, 1894 USNM-21545 Uta stansburiana elegans Herps
San Clemente Island unknown A. W. Anthony? or E. A. Mearns? NMNH August 25, 1894 USNM-21546 Uta stansburiana elegans Herps
San Clemente Island unknown A. W. Anthony? or E. A. Mearns? NMNH August 26, 1894 USNM-21547 Uta stansburiana elegans Herps
San Clemente Island unknown A. W. Anthony? or E. A. Mearns? NMNH August 26, 1894 USNM-21548 Uta stansburiana elegans Herps
San Clemente Island unknown A. W. Anthony? or E. A. Mearns? NMNH August 26, 1894 USNM-21549 Uta stansburiana elegans Herps
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 26, 1894 USNM-61112 Peromyscus maniculatus clementis Mammals
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 26, 1894 USNM-61113 Peromyscus maniculatus clementis Mammals
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 26, 1894 USNM-61114 Peromyscus maniculatus clementis Mammals
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 26, 1894 USNM-61115 Peromyscus maniculatus clementis Mammals
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 26, 1894 USNM-61116 Peromyscus maniculatus clementis Mammals
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 26, 1894 USNM-61117 Peromyscus maniculatus clementis Mammals
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 26, 1894 USNM-134778 Thyromanes bewickii leucophrys Birds
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 26, 1894 USNM-134779 Thyromanes bewickii leucophrys Birds
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 26, 1894 USNM-134787 Carpodacus mexicanus clementis Birds
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 26, 1894 USNM-134835 Heteroscelus incanus Birds
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 26, 1894 USNM-135573 Ardea herodias herodias Birds
San Clemente Island unknown A. W. Anthony? or E. A. Mearns? NMNH August 27, 1894 USNM-21550 Uta stansburiana elegans Herps
San Clemente Island unknown A. W. Anthony? or E. A. Mearns? USNM August 27, 1894 USNM-21551 Uta stansburiana elegans Herps
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 27, 1894 USNM-61118 Peromyscus maniculatus clementis Mammals
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 27, 1894 USNM-61119 Peromyscus maniculatus clementis Mammals
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 27, 1894 USNM-61120 Peromyscus maniculatus clementis Mammals
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 27, 1894 USNM-61121 Peromyscus maniculatus clementis Mammals
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 27, 1894 USNM-61122 Peromyscus maniculatus clementis Mammals
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 27, 1894 USNM-134780 Thyromanes bewickii leucophrys Birds
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 27, 1894 USNM-134781 Lanius ludovicianus mearnsi Birds
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 27, 1894 USNM-134822 Arenaria melanocephala Birds
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 27, 1894 USNM-134827 Arenaria interpres interpres Birds
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 27, 1894 USNM-134828 Charadrius semipalmatus Birds
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 27, 1894 USNM-134830 Calidris mauri Birds
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 27, 1894 USNM-60673 Urocyon littoralis clementae Mammals
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 27, 1894 USNM-61681 Myotis californicus californicus Mammals
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 28, 1894 USNM-61123 Peromyscus maniculatus clementis Mammals
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 28, 1894 USNM-61124 Peromyscus maniculatus clementis Mammals
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 28, 1894 USNM-60673 Urocyon littoralis clementae Mammals
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 28, 1894 USNM-134775 Vermivora celata sordida Birds
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 28, 1894 USNM-134809 Eremophila alpestris insularis Birds
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 28, 1894 USNM-134810 Eremophila alpestris insularis Birds
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 28, 1894 USNM-134813 Eremophila alpestris insularis Birds
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 28, 1894 USNM-134814 Eremophila alpestris insularis Birds
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 28, 1894 USNM-134823 Arenaria melanocephala Birds
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 28, 1894 USNM-134824 Arenaria melanocephala Birds
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 28, 1894 USNM-134825 Arenaria melanocephala Birds
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 28, 1894 USNM-134826 Arenaria melanocephala Birds
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 28, 1894 USNM-134831 Calidris minutilla Birds
San Clemente Island E. A. Mearns NMNH August 28, 1894 USNM-134834 Heteroscelus incanus Birds
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH August 28, 1894 USNM-135459 Corvus corax Birds
San Clemente Island Edgar A. Mearns NMNH [1894] USNM-19631 Phalacrocorax penicillatus Birds



In the News~

September 5, 1894 [LAH]: “At San Clemente Island. Experiences of two naturalists in search of specimens. San Diego Union: “Give way! Gie Way there lively!” There was need of this emphatic order from Lieutenant West of the revenue cutter Wolcott, as his crew in the long boat attempted to land Dr. Edgar A. Mearns, U.S.A., and Prof. Brandegeee through the tremendous surf which was pounding the shore of San Clemente Island last week. The blue jackets did their duty. The scientists were landed in safety.

The long boat is not a good surf boat, and Lieutenant West displayed excellent seamanship in landing without mishap. The effort to return to the ship resulted disastrously. Running the boat seaward on a receding wave the hardy seamen were repeatedly repulsed by incoming seas. The huge breakers rolled boat and men over and over like peas in a pot of boiling water, spoiling the good clothes of the landsmen and severely trying the genial temper of Lieut. West. After working hard for several hours the boat was launched and the party returned to the Wolcott, a mile off shore.

Next day the effort was made to land the scientists and their camp outfit. It was exciting work. Invariably the boats were upset. The breakers seemed to delight in their frolic with the white men. It is wonderful that there were no serious casualties. Dr. Mearns was thrown into the boiling sea. He clung to a chest of material needed in his scientific work as a miser clings to gold. The waves enjoyed having a scientific landsman to play with. One moment Dr. Mearns was on top of his chest and the next instant the chest was on top of the doctor. Chest and man finally reached shore. After the boats, coats, hats, oars, boxes and other flotsam and jetsam had been collected from the beach, the scientists settled down to the serious work of the expedition, and for several days collected specimens of birds, mammals and plants which will go to enrich the collections of the Smithsonian Institution at Washington.

Both Dr. Mearns and Prof. Brandegee were gratified in securing specimens both of mammals and plants which are entirely new to scientists. Among other curious specimens is that of a miniature fox. It is a full-grown animal, with a tail something like that of a beaver. This San Clemente Reynard is but little larger than a big rat. It reminds one of the animal records of prehistoric times, when fully developed horses roamed the western plains which were no larger than a wolf.

Dr. Mearns shot a leopard seal. As the animal was sinking, the doctor grasped it with the tenacity of an enthusiastic collector. Then the waves grasped the doctor and his victim and toyed with them. The doctor clung to his prize. At one time he plowed shoreward on the crest of an incoming wave, actually astride the corpse of the seal, only to be thrown high on the sand, while the deceptive undertow carried the seal out to sea.

Professor Brandegee secured, among other things, a specimen related to the wild cucumber family which resembles a huge turnip. It made a load for two men and was big enough to almost swamp a small boat.

Before returning to this port last Wednesday morning, the party visited Catalina, where a San Diegan captured a 453-pound jewfish and an angler from the East did some fancy work in landing a 65-pound shark with a five-ounce rod. He beat the rod and reel record for thus landing big fish by 10 pounds. The landsmen of the party are positive that waves through which they landed on the shores of San Clemente were fully 20 feet high.”