Otto Kraus (1930 - 2017)


By Peter Decker, Peter Jäger, Petra Sierwald & Rüdiger Bieler

Prof. Dr. Otto Kraus, scientist and university lecturer, died on 24 October 2017 in Hamburg at the age of 87. Prof. Kraus was born in Frankfurt am Main on 17 May 1930. From 1950 to 1955 he studied zoology, botany, geology/palaeontology and geography at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt. At the same time, he was already working as a volunteer at the Senckenberg Research Institute in the zoological department, where his dissertation was written in 1955 under the guidance of Robert Mertens, the director at that time. The dissertation dealt with Myriapoda and Araneae from El Salvador, two animal groups that, along with other Arachnida, were to accompany his scientific work for most of his career. In 1965, Kraus wrote his habilitation treatise on the Odontopygoidea, a superfamily of diplopods and - ground-breaking - discussed the homology concepts for the individual components of gonopods.

In 1969, Prof. Otto Kraus accepted a call for a professorship at the University of Hamburg. Among the many zoological courses that he taught there over the decades, it was above all the "General Zoology", extremely popular with students, with which he inspired generations of future biologists. As mentor and doctoral supervisor of numerous students, not only his own enthusiasm for zoological diversity and evolutionary biology, but also his strong focus on the subtleties of comparative and functional morphology, the importance of museum collections, nomenclatural guidelines and visual presentation methods from technical drawing to macrophotography, transferred to the next generation of zoological researchers.

In the 1950s to 70s Prof. Otto Kraus shaped the field of myriapodology in Germany. During the first International Myriapodological Congress in Paris in 1968 he was co-founder of the Centre International de Myriapodologie. Today the Society has almost 200 members and still promotes the worldwide exchange of myriapodologists. In 1975 he hosted the 3rd International Congress of Myriapodology in Hamburg and thereby drew attention to this animal group especially in Germany.

With his numerous taxonomic and faunistic works he created an important basis for the knowledge of biodiversity and distribution of the diplopods and chilopods of Peru and El Salvador. In addition to the neotropic myriapods, the Central and East African myriapods also aroused his interest. His monograph on the Afrotropical Odontopygoidea from 1966 is still today the most comprehensive compendium for this group of animals. In the 1990s and 2000s, Prof. Otto Kraus was mainly concerned with the relationship between the Myriapoda and the insects as well as the Palaeozoic giant arthropods, the Arthropleurida. In addition to taxonomy, biogeography and phylogeography have always been important elements of his work.

The work of Prof. Otto Kraus comprises many facets, as many as it is rare today in a time of specialization. Half of his approximately 200 publications dealt with the morphology and systematics of various groups of arachnids and myriapods (several of them together with his wife, Dr. Margarete Kraus). He described many new taxa including from the Araneae (85): 2 genera, 83 species, the Diplopoda (531): 45 genera, 467 species, 19 subspecies, the Chilopoda (27): 1 genus, 26 species, and the Gastropoda (3): 1 subgenus, 2 species. The majority of the material he worked on and described is now in the collections of the Senckenberg Research Institute and Nature Museum in Frankfurt. As befits a systematic zoologist, taxa were also named after him, e.g. 7 species of Diplopoda, 4 species of Chilopoda and 7 species of spiders. Thus we will always be reminded of Prof. Otto Kraus as a great zoologist and systematist, as an advocate of detail and the big picture!
Copyright © 2014-2022, Centre International de Myriapodologie.