WKU professor bares his bones in new book

Andrew Critchelow

Readers will have the opportunity to visit the bone yard in a new book written by a WKU professor. The book, titled “The Skeleton Revealed: An Illustrated Tour of the Vertebrates,” was written by Steve Huskey, associate professor of biology.

The book compiles almost 200 photographs taken by Huskey of vertebrate skeletons he has rebuilt over the years.

“Everybody finds bones intriguing,” Huskey said. “So, once I spent 20 years building skeletons, it was a no-brainer to put it into something that a lot of people would potentially appreciate.”

The 360-page book, published by John Hopkins University Press, features descriptions written by Huskey of each of the animal skeletons featured. Vertebrate skeletons featured in the book include piranha, barracuda, rattlesnake, guinea pig, owl, cobra and many more.

“Steve Huskey feeds our fascination with the vast diversity of animals through beautiful photographs of skeletons he meticulously prepared,” George V. Lauder, Harvard biology professor, wrote in an editorial review of the book. “Accompanied by informative and up-to-date descriptions of the animals and their lives, this book reveals the remarkable evolutionary variety in animal body plans.”

Huskey received his bachelor’s degree from Western Michigan University, his doctorate from Florida Tech and his post-doctorate degree at the University of California, Davis. Over the years, Huskey specialized in functional morphology: the study of the structure of organisms and their relationship to the function of their various parts.

“It’s really the underlying tenant of animal performance,” Huskey said. “How is an animal capable of doing whatever it is: running, flying, digging, jumping, burrowing, swimming?  Functional morphology provides the answers for how those things are possible.”

Huskey, who began teaching at WKU in 2003, teaches several Biology courses including Introductory Biology, Marine Biology and Animal Form and Function. Huskey said his interest in Biology spawned from participating in outdoor activities such as camping and fishing at a young age.

“I had an interest in the outdoors,” Huskey said. “It just became a passion rather than just a hobby.”

Many of the skeletons Huskey has rebuilt over the years are on display at various venues across the country including the Miami Museum of Science and Planetarium, the Harvard Museum of Natural History and the California Academy of Sciences.

Huskey teaches the process of rebuilding animal skeletons in his Animal Form and Function class. Quinn Rockrohr, a former student and lab assistant in Huskey’s classes, said  Huskey’s approach to teaching is ideal for learning functional morphology.

“His honesty and frank approach to teaching is refreshing, especially if you don’t like fluff,” Rockrohr said. “Functional morphology is absolutely best dealt with in this manner; beating around the bush will get you nowhere.”

In addition to his book, Huskey’s work has also been featured in scientific journals, magazines and lab manuals. Due to the decades of preparation that went into rebuilding the skeletons compiled in The Skeleton Revealed, Huskey said that it may be some time before he publishes another book of its caliber.

“It’d be cool to eventually have enough to do a volume two,” Huskey said. “But we’re talking another two decades from now.”

Now in his fourteenth year of teaching at WKU, Huskey said that he has taught a variety of students in his teaching career.

“It’s a relatively diverse population as far as interests go,” Huskey said. “We have a large cohort of students with pre-professional interests like med school, but there’s also a large cohort of students who really want to get their hands dirty in the lab and get involved in research. So, I’ve involved a lot of students in those skeletal processes and I’m sure they’ll appreciate the book as well.”

Rockrohr said though Huskey’s book will interest those fascinated by functional morphology, it also has an appeal that extends beyond biologists.

“There is so much to be learned from structures of creatures past and present, and Dr. Huskey’s book does a brilliant job highlighting the beauty in the practical,” Rockrohr said. “I think that would strike a chord with anyone looking to find answers about life, the universe and everything.

Correction: In a previous version of this article, Steve Huskey was reported to have started teaching at WKU in 2013 and is in his fourth year at the university. The article has been changed to reflect his actual start in 2003 and that he is in his fourteenth year at WKU. The Herald regrets the error and encourages readers to report mistakes in order to remain accurate and responsible.

Reporter Andrew Critchelow can be reached at 270-745-6288 and [email protected].