"And such illogical opinions can on occasion build up a head of pressure that cannot be resisted. Thus, there are many medium-sized streams, lakes and reservoirs on this continent that would benefit from a small net fishery but are wholly reserved for angling. As a result, fine stocks of whitefish and ciscoes go unused, suckers and buffaloes flourish, and even species like crappies may be greatly underutilized."
In bestowing its medal, the society noted, as an afterthought, that Ricker had a "sideline interest" in aquatic insects. This was like saying that Leonardo dabbled in painting. Ricker was then the world's leading authority on the insect order Plecoptera (stoneflies), an important food for trout. In the 1940s he completely rearranged some parts of the classification of this order, mainly on the basis of the evolutionary development of the genitalia. "Ricker smashed the old chaotic order of stoneflies," says Dr. Sandy B. Fiance, a stonefly specialist, "and what he built from the wreckage was a thing of beauty and simplicity that made evolutionary sense."
Ricker's stature in stonefly and fisheries research has been so outstanding that some scientists automatically assume that two experts working in two different fields happen to have the same name and middle initial. They are surprised to learn, as I have found, that there is only one William E. Ricker and that he is the expert in both fields.
Amazingly enough, Ricker first took up the study of stoneflies as a hobby. As far as he is concerned, anyone could become interested in them, and he cites the example of Raymond A. Hays, who began sending Ricker stoneflies for identification some years ago. Hays was a custodian in Bozeman, Mont., but he had a good reference library at hand because he happened to mop the floors in the zoology building at Montana State. He read voraciously, collected stoneflies from Hyalite Creek near the campus and corresponded with Ricker. "Hays was as good or better than I was," Ricker says.
Hays made Hyalite Creek perhaps the most studied stonefly stream in North America, if not the world. He collected a record 55 different species from it, including one previously unknown, which Ricker named Isocapnia hyalita. In honor of the energetic custodian, Ricker named a new stonefly species found in Yellowstone National Park Nemoura haysi, and when he collaborated with several other entomologists on a study. The Stoneflies (Plecoptera) of Montana, published by The American Entomological Society in 1972, Ricker saw to it that Hays was listed as one of the authors.
Although Ricker sometimes writes letters to friends in Latin, he doesn't necessarily use the customary Latin or Greek to name new species of stoneflies. "The classical languages have been rather thoroughly ransacked," he says. "Scientific names proposed for organisms should preferably be distinctive, euphonious and descriptive, in that order of importance," he says. Ricker prefers to use Spanish, native American Indian or Russian words for scientific names; he's familiar with, if not fluent in, these languages. But he says, "My only claim to linguistic virtuosity is that I can sing at least one song in English, French, German, Russian, Spanish, Italian, Latin and Japanese." He is the author of the Russian-English Dictionary for Students of Fisheries and Aquatic Biology and has translated about 100 Russian scientific papers into English. The species name usa, as in Alloperla usa, a stonefly that Ricker named, comes from the Russian word usy (mustache). He chose it because of the patch of hairs on the stonefly's behind. Zapada chila, another stonefly named by Ricker, is both Russian and Spanish. The generic name Zapada comes from the Russian zapad (west)—because the genus occurs mainly in western North America—while chila comes from the Spanish for red pepper. Ricker thought this particular insect was "a red-hot discovery" because it was the first one found in the East. He gave a specimen of Allocapnia the species name of aurora "because it suddenly dawned on me that this must be a new species."
In his spare time—what there is of it—Ricker golfs, trolls for salmon and does a bit of fly-fishing. "I was probably at my peak when I was in my 40s," he says. "Still, I suppose a biologist goes downhill more slowly than a mathematician or chemist because the accumulated background tends to make up for declining analytical powers. I'm not as strong as the young fellows, but I know the tricks a lot better."