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Dictionary Definition

Haeckel n : German biologist and philosopher; advocated Darwinism and formulated the theory of recapitulation; was an exponent of materialistic monism (1834-1919) [syn: Ernst Heinrich Haeckel]

Extensive Definition

Ernst Heinrich Philipp August Haeckel (February 16, 1834August 9, 1919), also written von Haeckel, was an eminent German biologist, naturalist, philosopher, physician, professor and artist who discovered, described and named thousands of new species, mapped a genealogical tree relating all life forms, and coined many terms in biology, including phylum, phylogeny, ecology and the kingdom Protista. Haeckel promoted Charles Darwin's work in Germany and developed the controversial recapitulation theory ("ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny") claiming that an individual organism's biological development, or ontogeny, parallels and summarizes its species' entire evolutionary development, or phylogeny.
The published artwork of Haeckel includes over 100 detailed, multi-colour illustrations of animals and sea creatures (see: Kunstformen der Natur, "Artforms of Nature"). As a philosopher, Ernst Haeckel wrote Die Welträthsel (1895-1899, in English, The Riddle of the Universe, 1901), the genesis for the term "world riddle" (Welträthsel); and Freedom in Science and Teaching to support teaching evolution.
In the United States, Mount Haeckel, a 13,418-ft (4,090 m) summit in the Eastern Sierra Nevada, overlooking the Evolution Basin, is named in his honor, as are another Mount Haeckel, a 2,941-m (9,649-ft) summit in New Zealand; and the asteroid 12323 Häckel.
The Ernst Haeckel house ("Villa Medusa") in Jena, Germany contains a historic library.


Ernst Haeckel was born on February 16, 1834, in Potsdam (then part of Prussia).
In 1852, Haeckel completed studies at Cathedral High School (Domgymnasium) of Mersburg.
From 1866 to 1867, Haeckel made an extended journey to the Canary Islands and during this time, Haeckel met with Charles Darwin, Thomas Huxley and Charles Lyell.

"First World War"

Haeckel was the first person known to use the term "First World War". Shortly after the start of the war Haeckel wrote:
The "European War" became known as "The Great War", and it was not until 1931, with the beginning realization that another global war might be possible, that there is any other recorded use of the term "First World War".


Haeckel was a zoologist, an accomplished artist and illustrator, and later a professor of comparative anatomy. Although Haeckel's ideas are important to the history of evolutionary theory, and he was a competent invertebrate anatomist most famous for his work on radiolaria, many speculative concepts that he championed are now considered incorrect. For example, Haeckel described and named hypothetical ancestral microorganisms that have never been found.
He was one of the first to consider psychology as a branch of physiology. He also proposed many now ubiquitous terms including "phylum", "phylogeny", "ecology" ("oekologie"),
Haeckel advanced the "recapitulation theory" which proposed a link between ontogeny (development of form) and phylogeny (evolutionary descent), summed up in the phrase "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny". His concept of recapitulation has been disputed in the form he gave it (now called "strong recapitulation"). "Strong" recapitulation hypothesis views ontogeny as repeating forms of the ancestors, while "weak" recapitulation means that what is repeated (and built upon) is the ancestral embryonic development process. He supported the theory with embryo drawings that have since been shown to be oversimplified and in part inaccurate, and the theory is now considered an oversimplification of quite complicated relationships. Haeckel introduced the concept of "heterochrony", which is the change in timing of embryonic development over the course of evolution.
Haeckel was a flamboyant figure. He sometimes took great (and non-scientific) leaps from available evidence. For example, at the time that Darwin first published On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859), no remains of human ancestors had yet been found. Haeckel postulated that evidence of human evolution would be found in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), and described these theoretical remains in great detail. He even named the as-of-yet unfound species, Pithecanthropus alalus, and charged his students to go find it. (Richard and Oskar Hertwig were two of Haeckel's many important students.)
One student did find the remains: a young Dutchman named Eugene Dubois went to the East Indies and dug up the remains of Java Man, the first human ancestral remains ever found. These remains originally carried Haeckel's Pithecanthropus label, though they were later reclassified as Homo erectus.

"Infamous" embryo drawings

It has been claimed (Richardson 1998, Richardson and Keuck 2002) that some of Haeckel's embryo drawings of 1874 were fabricated.
There were multiple versions of the embryo drawings, and Haeckel rejected the claims of fraud but did admit one error which he corrected. It was later said that "there is evidence of sleight of hand" on both sides of the feud between Haeckel and Wilhelm His, Sr.. The controversy involves several different issues (see more details at: recapitulation theory).
Some creationists have claimed that Darwin relied on Haeckel's embryo drawings as proof of evolution
to support their argument that Darwin's theory is therefore illegitimate and possibly fraudulent. This claim ignores the fact that Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, and The Descent of Man in 1871, whereas Haeckel's famous embryo drawings did not appear until 1874 (8 species). In The Descent of Man Darwin used only two embryo drawings, neither taken from Haeckel.
It has been claimed that Ernst Haeckel sent a letter to the January 9 1909 publication of "Münchener Allgemeine Zeitung" (translated: "Munich general newspaper") which reads, translated: "a small portion of my embryo-pictures (possibly 6 or 8 in a hundred) are really (in Dr Brass’s sense of the word) 'falsified' — all those, namely, in which the disclosed material for inspection is so incomplete or insufficient that one is compelled in a restoration of a connected development series to fill up the gaps through hypotheses, and to reconstruct the missing members through comparative syntheses. What difficulties this task encounters, and how easily the draughts- man may blunder in it, the embryologist alone can judge."


Haeckel's literary output was extensive, working as a professor at the University of Jena for 47 years, and even at the time of the celebration of his sixtieth birthday at Jena in 1894, Haeckel had produced 42 works with nearly 13,000 pages, besides numerous scientific memoirs and illustrations.
Haeckel's monographs include: As well as several Challenger reports:
  • Deep-Sea Medusae (1881)
  • Siphonophora (1888)
  • Deep-Sea Keratosa (1889)
  • Radiolaria (1887)- illustrated with 140 plates and enumerating over four thousand (4000) new species.
Among his many books, Ernst Haeckel wrote:
  • General Morphology (1866)
  • Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte (1868) - in English, The Natural History of Creationa reprinted 1883
  • Freie Wissenschaft und freie Lehre (1877), in English, Freedom in Science and Teaching, a reply to a speech in which Virchow objected to the teaching of evolution in schools, on the grounds that evolution was an unproven hypothesis.
  • Die systematische Phylogenie (1894) - "Systematic Phylogeny", which has been considered as his best book
  • Anthropogenie (1874, 5th and enlarged edition 1903) - dealing with the evolution of man
  • Die Welträthsel (1895-1899), also spelled Die Welträtsel ("world-riddle") - in English The Riddle of the Universe, 1901
  • Über unsere gegenwärtige Kenntnis vom Ursprung des Menschen (1898) - translated into English as The Last Link, 1808
  • Der Kampf um den Entwickelungsgedanken (1905) - English version, Last Words on Evolution, 1906
  • Die Lebenswunder (1904) - English "Wonder of Life", a supplement to the Riddle of the Universe
Books of travel:
  • Indische Reisebriefe (1882) - "Travel notes of India"
  • Aus Insulinde: Malayische Reisebriefe (1901) - "Travel notes of Malaysia"), the fruits of journeys to Ceylon and to Java
  • Kunstformen der Natur (1904) - Artforms of Nature, with plates representing detailed marine animal forms
  • Wanderbilder (1905) - "Travel Images", with reproductions of his oil-paintings and water-color landscapes.



  • Ernst Haeckel, Freedom in Science and Teaching (1879), reprint edition, University Press of the Pacific, February 2004, paperback, 156 pages, ISBN 1-4102-1175-4.
  • Ernst Haeckel, The History of Creation (1868), translated by E. Ray Lankester, Kegan Paul, Trench & Co., London, 1883, 3rd edition, Volume 1.
  • Ernst Haeckel, Kunstformen der Natur ("Artforms of Nature"), 1904, (from series published 1899-1904): over 100 detailed, multi-color illustrations of animals and sea creatures.
  • Richard Milner, The Encyclopedia of Evolution: Humanity's Search for Its Origins, Henry Holt, 1993.
  • Michael K. Richardson, "Haeckel's embryos continued" (article), Science Volume 281:1289, 1998.
  • Richardson, M. K. & Keuck, G. (2001) "A question of intent: when is a 'schematic' illustration a fraud?," Nature 410:144 (vol. 410, no. 6825, page 144), March 8, 2001.

Further reading

  • Art Forms from the Ocean: The Radiolarian Atlas of 1862, by Ernst Haeckel, Prestel Verlag, 2005, ISBN 3-7913-3327-5.
  • .
  • Richardson, Michael K., "Haeckel, embryos, and evolution," Science Vol. 280, no. 5366 (May 15, 1998) p. 983, 985-986.

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