From recent articles published via premier scientific journals to monumental volumes marking the beginning of our study of the natural world, the Biodiversity Heritage Library‘s collections include information about species from every corner of the globe and ecological niche. They also include works authored by some of the most influential men and women scientists in history.
Born in 1834 in Potsdam, Germany (then Prussia), Ernst Haeckel served as a professor of comparative anatomy and director of the Zoological Institute at the University of Jena, named and described several thousand new species of marine invertebrates, and was a member of more than 90 learned societies during his lifetime. He studied an array of zoological topics but is widely remembered for his work on many invertebrate groups, including marine organisms like radiolarians, poriferans (sponges), and cnidarians (jellyfish, anemones, and corals). He had a deep personal interest in evolution, becoming the preeminent proponent of Darwinism in Germany (though some of his evolutionary ideas did diverge from Darwin’s theories) and helping to popularize this theory throughout Europe. He also served as a consultant on the Challenger expedition – the first non-commercial exploration of the deep-sea environment – that revolutionized the field of oceanography. The author of over 40 works and thousands of drawings, one of Haeckel’s most iconic publications is Kunstformen der Natur.
|Semaeostomeae Jellyfish: Desmonema Annasethe. Named after Haeckel’s first wife, Anna Sethe. Haeckel, Ernst. Kunstformen der Natur (1904). http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/47387998.|
While much of it is stylized for artistic effect, the exquisitely drawn, detailed plates exhibiting Art Nouveau techniques alongside commentary accessible to even the general public made Kunstformen der Natur an instant success and helped popularize science and many little-known marine organisms. Indeed, while Kunstformen der Natur covers a wide range of biological diversity, a majority of the illustrations depict marine life.
The timelessness and accuracy of Haeckel’s illustrations are evident even today. Just last year, an Atlas of the larval stages of all crustaceans worldwide, co-written by Joel W. Martin, Curator of Crustaceans at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (a BHL Affiliate), featured one of Haeckel’s exquisite illustrations on the cover.
Learn more about Ernst Haeckel and Kunstformen der Natur in this online exhibit from The MBLWHOI Library. View the book in its entirety for free on the Biodiversity Heritage Library, digitized by Smithsonian Libraries, and browse all of the amazing illustrations in Flickr.
Radiolarians. Haeckel, Ernst. Kunstformen der Natur (1904). http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/47388339.
|Siphonophorae. Haeckel, Ernst. Kunstformen der Natur (1904). http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/47388273.|
Siphonophorae is an order of marine animals in the phylum Cnidaria (the same phylum containing jellyfish). Although they superficially resemble jellyfish, each siphonophore specimen is actually a colony of many genetically-identical individuals, called zooids. Each zooid is specialized to serve a particular function within the colony, so much so that most cannot survive alone. The infamous and venomous Portuguese man o’ war is a member of this order. Certain siphonophore species can emit light. A species in the Erenna genus found off of the coast of Monterey, California has stinging cells that glow red, probably to attract the small fish upon which it preys. This species is only the second life form known to produce a red light, the first being the scaleless dragonfish Chirostomias pliopterus.
|Rhizostomae Jellyfish. Haeckel, Ernst. Kunstformen der Natur (1904). http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/47388103.|
Haeckel was inspired by nature to create not just stunning illustrations but decorative pieces for home interiors as well. Haeckel discovered a species of rhizostomae jellyfish in Bellagemma, Ceylon, in December 1881. He was so impressed with the form that he used it as a model for ceiling decorations in his Villa Medusa home in Jena. Today, all jellyfish species fished on a commercial basis for human consumption are from the rhizostomae order, which are typically dried and/or salted before eating. China is the first documented country to eat jellyfish, with the practice dating back to at least 300 CE.
|Nudibranchs. Haeckel, Ernst. Kunstformen der Natur (1904). http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/47388185.|
Nudibranchs (often casually called sea slugs) are soft-bodied, marine snails that have lost all trace of an external shell. The name “nudibranch” translates from the Latin as “naked gills.” Consisting of about 3,000 species, some have developed impressive defensives, including the ability to synthesize toxic compounds (such as sulfuric acid) or the ability to “hijack” and repurpose the stinging cells of the cnidarians (jellyfish, anemones, and, corals) that some of them eat.
More World Oceans Day Resources
- Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and this blog all this week as we explore marine biodiversity and awesome related publications in BHL.
- Check out some monumental publications in historic and present-day marine bioscience research in our BHL collection.
- Browse a selection of marine biodiversity illustrations in Flickr and Pinterst