William Bemis

Professor Faculty Curator of Ichthyology, Cornell University Museum of Vertebrates


I am Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University and Faculty Curator of Fishes for the Cornell University Museum of Vertebrates (CUMV). I received my B.A. in Biology from Cornell University (1976), M.S. in Zoology from the University of Michigan Ann Arbor (1978), Ph.D. in Zoology from the University of California Berkeley (1983), and spent two years as an instructor and postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Organismal Biology at the University of Chicago. I served 20 years as Professor of Biology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where I taught comparative anatomy, embryology, ichthyology, trained doctoral students in vertebrate biology, and served as director of zoological collections. I have traveled extensively for research and worked with specimens in more than 50 natural history collections on six continents. From 2005 to 2013, I served as Kingsbury Director of Shoals Marine Laboratory at Cornell. In 2013, I returned to the faculty of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, where I conduct research in comparative anatomy, train undergraduate and graduate research students. My research is based on direct study of specimens, and I often collect new materials to be catalogued into the CUMV. I routinely use photography, dissection, skeletal preparations, histology, scanning electron microscopy, and micro-CT of unstained and DICE specimens to study vertebrate anatomy. My courses emphasize vertebrate biology, anatomy, paleontology, and evolution; I also helped develop a course to train students to use micro-CT methods in their own research. My introductory course is BIOEE 2470 - The Vertebrates: Comparative Anatomy, Function, Paleontology and Evolution. I am lead developer of an edX Massive Open Online Course on the biology of sharks, available free to anyone in the world with an Internet connection.

Research Focus

I study the anatomy, development and evolutionary relationships of fossil and living fishes including sharks, lungfishes, coelacanths, bowfins, sturgeons and paddlefishes.


  • Sharks to Hagfish: Studying a diverse array of vertebrate species with Dr. Willy Bemis. Beyond Jaws: Exploring Shark Science and Conservation podcast (November 2022).
  • Pough, F. H., W. E. Bemis, B. McGuire, and C. Janis. (2022). Vertebrate Life. 11e. Sinauer Associates/Oxford University Press, New York.
  • Galbraith, J. K., K. E. Bemis, W. E. Bemis, H. Cook, and M. J. Wuenschel. (In Press) Identifications, distributions, and life history of four species of Seriola (Carangiformes: Carangidae) in the western North Atlantic based on contemporary and historical data. NOAA Professional Papers 22.
  • Rice, A. N., S. C. Farina, A. J. Makowski, I. M. Kaatz, P. S. Lobel, W. E. Bemis, and A. H. Bass. (2022) Evolutionary patterns in sound production across fishes. Ichthyology & Herpetology 110 (1): 1–12.
  • Bemis, K.E., J. C. Tyler, E. J. Hilton, and William E. Bemis. (2021) Overview of the Anatomy of the Ocean Sunfishes (Molidae: Tetraodontiformes). Pp. 55-71 in: Biology of Ocean Sunfishes. Edited by T. Thys, G. Hays, and J. Houghton. CRC Press.
  • Farina, S. C., M. L. Knope, K. A. Corn, A. P. Summers, and W. E. Bemis. (2019) Functional coupling in the evolution of suction feeding and gill ventilation of sculpins (Perciformes: Cottoidei). Integrative and Comparative Biology, icz022. https://doi.org/10.1093/icb/icz022
  • Bemis, K. E., S. M. Burke, C. A. St. John, E. J. Hilton, and W. E. Bemis. (2019) Tooth development and replacement in the Atlantic Cutlassfish, Trichiurus lepturus, with comparisons to other Scombroidei. Journal of Morphology 280: 78–94. https://doi.org//10.1002/jmor.20919
  • Fox, C. H., A. C. Gibb, A. Summers, and W. E. Bemis. (2018) Benthic walking, bounding, and maneuvering in flatfishes (Pleuronectiformes: Pleuronectidae): New vertebrate gaits. Zoology 130: 19-29. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.zool.2018.07.002
  • Bemis, K. E, B. Marcy-Qua, J. Galbraith, M. J. Wuenschel, P. J. Sullivan, and W. E. Bemis. (2018) Deep-water dragonets (Teleostei: Callionymidae: Foetorepus) of the Mid Atlantic Bight: A little-known genus from the edge of the continental shelf. Copeia 106, No. 1, 2018, 188–198. https://doi.org//10.1643/ci-17-662
  • Bemis, K. E., J. C. Tyler, W. E. Bemis, K. Kishor, R. S. Rana, and T. Smith. (2017) A gymnodont fish jaw with remarkable molariform teeth from the early Eocene of Gujarat, India (Teleostei, Tetraodontiformes). Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 37(6): e1369422. https://doi.org//10.1080/02724634.2017.1369422
  • Bemis, W. E. (2016) Species and the fossil record of fishes. In: Species and Speciation in the Fossil Record. W. D. Allmon and M. M. Yacobucci, eds. University of Chicago Press, Chicago. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/310934344_Species_and_the_Fossil_Record_of_Fishes
  • Leigh, K.L., J.P. Sparks and W. E. Bemis (2016) Food preferences of Atlantic Hagfish, Myxine glutinosa, assessed by experimental baiting of traps. Copeia 104.
  • Moyer, J.K. and W.E. Bemis (2016) Shark teeth as edged weapons: Serrated teeth of three species of selachians. Zoology.
  • Moyer, J.K. and W.E. Bemis (2016) Tooth microstructure and replacement in the Gulper Shark, Centrophorus granulosus (Squaliformes: Centrophoridae). Copeia 104.
  • Farina, S.C. and W.E. Bemis (2016) Functional morphology of gill ventilation of the goosefish, Lophius americanus (Lophiiformes: Lophiidae). Zoology DOI: 10.1016/j.zool.2016.01.006
  • Bemis, K.E. and W.E. Bemis (2015) Functional and developmental morphology of tooth replacement in the Atlantic Wolffish, Anarhichas lupus (Teleostei: Zoarcoidei: Anarhichadidae). Fishes and Morphology Today, G. Arratia and D. Johnson, eds. Copeia 103: 886-901. http://dx.doi.org.proxy.library.cornell.edu/10.1643/OT-14-141
  • Bemis, W.E., M. Riccio, and J.K. Moyer (2015) Homology of lateral cusplets in the teeth of lamnid sharks (Lamniformes: Lamnidae). Fishes and Morphology Today, G. Arratia and D. Johnson, eds. Copeia 103: 961-972. http://dx.doi.org.proxy.library.cornell.edu/10.1643/CG-14-109
  • Moyer, J.K., N.D. Hamilton, R.H. Seeley, M.L. Riccio, and W.E. Bemis (2015) Identification of shark teeth (Elasmobranchii: Lamnidae) from a historic fishing station on Smuttynose Island, Maine, using computed tomography imaging. Northeastern Naturalist 22: 585-597. http://dx.doi.org.proxy.library.cornell.edu/10.1656/045.022.0313
  • Moyer, J.K., M. Riccio, and W.E. Bemis (2015) Development and microstructure of tooth histotypes in the Blue Shark, Prionace glauca (Carcharhiniformes: Carcharhinidae) and the Great White Shark, Carcharodon carcharias (Lamniformes: Lamnidae). Journal of Morphology. DOI: 10.1002/jmor.20380
  • Farina, S.C., T.J. Near, and W.E. Bemis (2015) Evolution of the branchiostegal membrane and restricted gill openings in actinopterygian fishes. Journal of Morphology. DOI: 10.1002/jmor.20371
  • McGuire, B. and W.E. Bemis (2015) Behavioral comparisons of male and female pups of Prairie Voles (Microtus ochrogaster) and Meadow Voles (M. pennsylvanicus). Developmental Psychobiology. DOI 10.1002/dev.21287
  • Hilton, E.J., W.E. Bemis and L. Grande (2014) Hiodontidae: Mooneyes. Chapter 9 IN: Warren, M.I., Jr. and B. Burr (eds.) Freshwater Fishes of North America. Johns Hopkins Press. pp. 299-312.
  • McGuire, B., W.E. Bemis, and F. Vermeylen (2014) Parental behaviour of prairie voles (Microtus ochrogaster) and meadow voles (M. pennsylvanicus) in relation to sex of offspring. Behaviour 151:535-553.

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