by Piter Kehoma Boll
Once more our featured scientist is in part related to my beloved land planarians, although his most important contributions occurred in the field of entomology.
Josef Müller, also known as Giuseppe Müller, was born on 4 April 1880 in Zadar, Croatia, at that time part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His regular school years included the study of classical languages and the scientific method, which made him acquire an interest for the natural world. Thus, in 1898, he moved to Graz, Austria, and studied natural history at the faculty of philosophy.
In 1900, still as a student, he published a study on the anatomy of the roots of exotic orchids and, due to this work, won the University of Graz’s Unger Prize. At this time he met many Austrian entomologists, including Ludwig Ganglbauer. He graduated in 1902 with a dissertation on the morphology of land planarians. At this time he was already interested in insects, especially beetles, and from there on focused his attention on this particular group.
Moving to Trieste, Italy, Müller started to teach natural history at the Trieste High School and joined the Società Adriaca de Scienze Naturali. He also founded an entomology club with other entomologists and, through the work program developed by the club, started to study the arthropod fauna found in caves around Trieste. He presented his results at the International Congress of Zoology in Graz, which made him become known in larger circles and start many scientific cooperations during the following years. One of the most remarkable works was a monography of blind ground beetles, published in 1913, for which he was awarded the Ganglbauer Prize.
When World War I started, Müller was forced to abandon his work and joined the military service. His entomological knowledge soon proved to be valuable in the control of diseases transmitted by insects. He spent one year at an anti-malaria station in Albania and later moved to the bacteriological laboratory in Vienna. There, he studied the body louse Pediculus humanus humanus and proved that it was the responsible for transmitting the bacterium Rickettsia prowazekii, known to cause epidemic typhus. The results of this study were published after the war ended, in 1919.
Back to Trieste, Müller became the conservator of the city’s natural history museum, the Civico Museo di Storia Naturale di Trieste. In 1928, he was promoted to director of the museum and of the botanical gardens.
In 1932, he planned the construction of an aquarium of marine lifeforms in Trieste. The aquarium was opened in 1933 and included many coral fish from the Red Sea.
From 1934 to 1935, he was in charge of organizing an expedition to Eritrea for the capture of venomous snakes. He used this opportunity to collect beetles in this country and, during the following years, traveled several times to North Africa to collect more specimens, especially of the family Histeridae.
In 1946, at the age of 66, Müller left the museum due to his age. He was able to continue his studies because he was appointed director of the Centro Sperimentale Agrario e Forestale di Trieste. He died in 1964 in Trieste, aged 84.
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Civico Museo di Storia Naturale. La Storia. Available at <
http://www.museostorianaturaletrieste.it/la-storia/ >. Access on 23 April, 2019.
Wikipedia. Josef Müller. Available at <
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josef_M%C3%BCller_(entomologist) >. Access on 23 April 2019.