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Farewell to My Teacher, Gerhard Mickoleit 

Photo: Gerhard Mickoleit, by Günter Bechly.

Overnight between Sunday and Monday of this week the German entomologist Dr. Gerhard Mickoleit passed away peacefully at age 92. He was the teacher at my alma mater, the University of Tübingen, who most strongly influenced me and certainly was the most brilliant and most knowledgeable biologist I have ever met. 

He was one of the earliest followers of Willi Hennig, the founder of cladistics. He was a polymath like the classic naturalists of the long-gone era of the 19th century. He also was a truly unique fellow and highly entertaining with his countless anecdotes told with his distinctive East Prussian accent. He will be greatly missed and fondly remembered and admired by his former students, who just called him Mick. 

A Rather Secret Christian

His legacy will be the scientific publications and the many well-known biologists he shaped. After his retirement and after my own “coming out” as a proponent of intelligent design, he told me to my great surprise that he had rather secretly always been a devout Protestant Christian and that he too had some doubts about the causal adequacy and sufficiency of neo-Darwinism.

He was born on March 26, 1931, and died on April 30, 2023. He was a specialist in mecopteran insects but knew more about almost all groups of organisms than most experts. For many years he taught advanced courses on vertebrate and insect morphology, systematics, and phylogenetics at Tübingen, and was head of the zoological collection and museum of the university.

Author of a Monumental Textbook

Well-known scientists who were taught and strongly influenced by him include Professor Rolf Beutel (entomologist), Dr. Ralf Britz (ichthyologist), Professor Martin S. Fischer (mammologist), Dr. Eberhard “Dino” Frey (vertebrate paleontologist), Dr. Frank Torsten Krell (coleopterologist), Professor Rainer Schoch (vertebrate paleontologist), Dr. Arnold Staniczek (entomologist), and myself.

His magnum opus is a monumental German textbook on vertebrate phylogeny (here, reviewed here). He is pictured above, in a photo I took, on the occasion of the celebration of Willi Hennig’s 100th birthday at the Natural History Museum in Stuttgart, April 20, 2013. RIP