Karl Heinz Stephan

Karl Heinz Stephan

Karl, November 1990, demonstrating the latest in sifter technology (photo, H. W. Robison)

Obituary and Dedication

Christopher E. Carlton, Donald S. Chandler, Richard A. B. Leschen, Edward G. Riley, and Paul E. Skelley 2005.
Obituary and Dedication: Karl Heinz Stephan 1931-2005. The Coleopterists Society, 59(3): 277-283. Abstract 

Excerpts (with links added):

     This issue [and website are] dedicated to the memory of Karl Heinz Stephan, from the small town of Red Oak in Latimer County, Oklahoma, who passed away in June 2005 of an apparent heart attack. Almost everyone active in Coleoptera taxonomy in North America and many in other parts of the world knew of Karl as an extraordinary beetle collector, naturalist, and author of a number of important beetle monographs. 

     Karl's career path was in engineering. His work on beetles was heavily influenced by that background and by his talents as a resourceful and practical problem solver. He was quite possibly the most skilled beetle collector of modern times. Though he employed or cleverly customized a large number of collecting methods, his true talent was knowing exactly where and how to collect specimens of reputedly rare species. He had an uncanny ability to capture some of the rarest and most obscure beetle species in North America by doing nothing more than walking into his front yard and rustling a patch of moldy hay into a pan or flipping rocks during just the right conditions. He would explain that the new species of Arianops (Staphylinidae: Pselaphinae) and Anillinus (Carabidae) from a particular hillside could only be taken beneath large rocks during or just following a torrential downpour. To this day he is probably the only parson who has collected specimens of those species, and how he figured these things out in the first place is simply remarkable. [When asked how he collected so many of a rare colydiine zopherid, he said "Well, first you get up in the morning and go to the woods. Using your beating sheet, gently pick up small, fallen branches and beat them over the sheet. Keep doing this and by the end of the day you'll have 2 or 3."] He was also a cunning opportunist. For a number of years prior to his retirement in 1996, Karl was the "rural water man" for Latimer County. The white, columnar water towers that dot the landscape of Latimer County needed to be serviced periodically. Karl understood local  weather dynamics and knew when these towers would be covered condensation due to temperature fluctuations. As he would explain, when they were wet they functioned like huge flight intercept traps, with small beetles sticking to their white-colored surfaces where they could be easily harvested. ... His 30 years in rural Latimer County were spent collecting, which has made this county one of the most thoroughly documented pieces of real estate in the U.S. for beetle diversity. At last count, he had recorded 3,516 species based on ~52,500 specimens that comprised one of his last donations to the Texas A&M Insect Collection. [Karl donated a partial synoptic set of his beetles to the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History (SNOMNH). Link to info and list of 3,500 beetle species Karl Stephan collected in Latimer County, OK.]

     While his collection consisted of all of the local taxa, it included many rare taxa, including species of general that had not been previously collected in the United States. ... Though primarily a taxonomist, he also became involved with ecology, conservation, and education, including instruction at the nearby community college and presentations to various school groups. He became nationally famous for a time when the endangered American burying beetle, Nicrophorus americanus Oliver, was starting to become the focus of conservation groups, and he had the only recently collected specimens from west of the Mississippi.

     Karl was a wonderful mentor to fellow coleopterists, especially those just beginning their careers, and displayed all the generosity towards his guests he could muster. Karl's place was a naturalist's Mecca in the form [of] a 2-story country house outside Red Oak on a large tract of land covered mainly by oak/hickory forest.

     Karl was also a bit of an academic who had an appreciation for minutia. He would study specimens in every detail with a microscope that gave most people an immediate headache, and yet discover characters overlooked in the past. He also collaborated on various projects and while he lived in Arizona he was asked by John Lawrence to come to Harvard to work on beetles. He declined, opting for a workingman's' lifestyle and keeping beetles as a hobby.

     In addition to the aforementioned donations to Texas A&M, many thousands of specimens from Latimer County and almost his entire pre-Oklahoma collection from Arizona and Canada (45,000 specimens, ~8,600 species) are housed in the Florida State Collection of Arthropods. The staphylinids and histerids from this early material are in the Field Museum of Natural History. Karl discovered a great many new species, many of which are named after him. At last count he had 22 published patronyms in 13 families by 24 authors, mostly based on his material from Arizona and Oklahoma. Karl authored or co-authored five genus-group names and 57 species spread among five beetle families. ... Karl's 50-yr. legacy of beetle collecting, and his friendly and collegial attitude towards colleagues form a fitting testimonial to the value of avocational entomology to systematic and biodiversity research.

Amazingly, the 3,516 species of beetles that Karl documented from one county in Oklahoma 
is nearly twice the number of butterflies (1827) documented from all of Mexico (Warren et al. 2006)

Karl's total also exceeds the total number of birds (3,342) recorded from South America (Remsen et al. 2014)

List of 22 published patronyms in 13 families by 24 authors from 1972 to 2005


Gymnoganascus stephani Werner, 1990


Notoxus stephani Chandler, 1978


Malthodes stephani Fender, 1972


Anillinus stephani Sokolov & Carlton, 2004
Harpalus stephani Ball, 1972


Zabrotes stephani Kingsolver, 1990


Brachiacantha stephani Gordon, 1985


          Pediacus stephani Thomas, 2004


Heterelmis stephani Brown, 1972 


Rhymbomicrus stephani Pakaluk, 1987 


Agathidium stephani Miller & Wheeler, 2005
Colenis stephani Peck, 1998
Leiodes stephani Baranowski, 1993
Liocyrtusa stephani
 Daffner, 1989


Mordellistena stephani Downie, 1987


Ataenius stephani Cartwright, 1974


Allobrox stephani Grigarick & Schuster, 1977
Arianops stephani Carlton, 1989
Deinopsis stephani
 Klimaszewski, 1992
Rhexius stephani Chandler, 1990
Scaphisoma stephani 
Leschen & Löbl, 1990
Sepedophilus stephani
 Campbell, 1976

 Publications of K. H. Stephan:

Bowles, D.E., K.H. Stephan, and M.L. Mathis. 1990. A new method for collecting adult phryganeid caddisflies (Trichoptera: Phryganeidae). Entomological News 101: 222–224.

Lawrence, J.F., and K.H. Stephan. 1975. The North American Cerylonidae (Coleoptera: Clavicornia). Psyche 82: 131–166.

Leschen, R.A.B., I. Lobl, and K.H. Stephan. 1990. Review of the Ozark Highland Scaphisoma (Coleoptera: Scaphidiidae). Coleopterists Bulletin 44: 274–294.

Lobl, I., and K.H. Stephan. 1993. A review of the species of Baeocera Erichson (Coleoptera, Staphylinidae, Scaphidiinae) of America north of Mexico. Revue Suisse de Zoologie 100: 675–733.

Peck, S.B., and K.H. Stephan. 1996. Revision of the genus Colon Herbst (Coleoptera; Leiodidae; Coloninae) of North America. Canadian Entomologist 128: 667–741.

Stephan, K.H. 1968. Notes on additional distribution and ecology of Euxestus punctatus LeC. (Coleoptera: Colydiidae). Coleopterists Bulletin 22: 19.

Stephan, K.H. 1968. Observation on Pelecotoma flavipes Melsheimer (Coleoptera: Rhipiphoridae). Coleopterists Bulletin 22: 30.

Stephan, K.H. 1989. The Bothrideridae and Colydiidae of America north of Mexico (Coleoptera: Clavicornia and Heteromera). Occasional Papers of the Florida State Collection of Arthropods 6: xii + 65 pp. Full PDF

Stephan, K.H. 1992. Book Review. Bousquet, Y. (editor). 1991. Checklist of beetles of Canada and Alaska. Agriculture Canada Publ. 1861 vi + 430 pp. Coleopterists Bulletin 46: 208.

Triplehorn, C.A., and K.H. Stephan. 1994. Notes on Centronopus opacus LeConte (Coleoptera: Tenebrionidae). Coleopterists Bulletin 48: 148.

19 July 2011  © Mike Quinn / entomike@gmail.com / Texas Entomology / Texas Beetle Information