Horton was born in Alachua County, Florida, on March 29, 1914. In 1931 he entered the University of Florida at Gainesville with the intention of studying music. Fortunately, during his freshman year he was required to study the anatomy of the crayfish. When Horton was assigned a specimen that was too decomposed to show its internal structures, he solved the problem by going to a local creek and catching his own specimens. One was dissected and a few remaining individuals were placed in a jar and left on his desk pending release. Serendipitously, a male and female were present. They soon mated and the female deposited eggs, which subsequently hatched. As the semester progressed, and the drama of crayfish life history unfolded, Horton became more and more interested, and by the end of the semester, he had decided to work on crayfishes rather than music. Music’s loss was zoology’s gain!
After earning his BS degree in 1934 at Gainesville, Horton stayed there to continue his studies, receiving his MS degree in 1936 and his PhD degree in 1940. He began teaching at the University of Florida in 1937, continuing until 1946 when he became a faculty member at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. While at the University, Horton also found time to serve as director of the Mountain Lake Biological Station from 1956 until 1962. In 1962, he departed Charlottesville to become head curator of zoology at the United States National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. In 1964, Horton was appointed senior zoologist to ease his workload, a change required by chronic heart disease. He retired from the National Museum of Natural History in 1984, but continued on for some years as senior zoologist emeritus.
Horton was always considered an excellent teacher, receiving awards at the University of Virginia and working actively with graduate students at the masters and doctoral levels. He also was an able administrator and world-class researcher. It was as a researcher that he left his greatest mark, a mark that would be very difficult for any scientist to match today. His first project was the Florida crayfishes, at the time thought to include only a handful of species, but by the time he published his classic treatment in 1942, Horton had increased the knowledge of the known fauna to 42 species and subspecies, 28 of which he described himself. Horton published 211 papers and abstracts, including a number of monographs and other book-length works. In these publications, which span a period of over 50 years, he established our modern system of crayfish systematics and made enormous advances in our knowledge of their distribution and evolution. Although the crayfishes were his primary research topic, Horton published numerous papers on the entocytherid ostracods (largely commensals of crayfishes), with a scattering of significant papers on other decapod crustaceans (shrimps and crabs). In his six decade career Horton described 286 species, 38 genera and subgenera, and one new family.
Horton was a dedicated “field man” who collected extensively in surface and subterranean waters. It is doubtful that anyone knows how many specimens he personally collected, but when he came to the Smithsonian Institution in 1962 he brought with him his own collection, which included some 80,000 specimens!
Horton never lost his love of music; he frequently played in his home and for many years was organist at his church. He also was an accomplished artist, and did much of the scientific illustration for his numerous publications. Horton somehow found time to cook and bake (he has a recipe in a published cookbook), and took many photographs. He supported and participated the activities of many professional societies, and was always available to students and researchers who needed help or had a jar of specimens in hand. Horton also was a very competent botanist.
Horton passed away on March 22, 1994, after dealing with severe heart disease for over 30 years. His legacy of research is extraordinary. Horton was a southern gentleman in the truest sense. He fundamentally affected the course of research on the crayfishes and entocytherid ostracods of North American and the world. Zoology would have lost a guiding light had that young student not put some crayfishes in a jar at the University of Florida all those long years ago.
Horton was elected to the Washington Biologists’ Field Club in 1963.