Émil Goeldi

Émil Goeldi bigraphy, stories - Zoologists

Émil Goeldi : biography

August 28, 1859 – July 5, 1917

Émil August Goeldi (var. Göldi, var. Emílio Augusto Goeldi) (August 28, 1859 – July 5, 1917 in Bern), was a Swiss-Brazilian naturalist and zoologist. He was the father of Oswaldo Goeldi, a noted Brazilian engraver and illustrator.


Goeldi was primarily a zoologist and described many new Brazilian species of birds and mammals. Some of the species which bear his name are:

  • Goeldi’s Antbird – Myrmeciza goeldii
  • Goeldi’s Marmoset – Callimico goeldii
  • Goeldi’s Frog – Flectonotus goeldii

Several other species were named in honour of Émil Goeldi, such as:

  • Acropyga goeldii, Camponotus goeldii, Azteca goeldii, Pachycondyla goeldii, Crematogaster torosa goeldii, Mycocepurus goeldii, Procryptocerus goeldii, Acanthoponera goeldii, Brachymyrmex goeldii, Dorymyrmex goeldii dubius, Paratrechina goeldii, Megalomyrmex goeldii, Myrmelachista goeldii, Neivamyrmex goeldii, Solenopsis goeldii, Pheidole goeldii and Cephalotes goeldii, all species of South American ants described by Forel;
  • Protambulyx goeldii, a moth;
  • Dubioniscus goeldii, a garden pillbug (isopod);
  • Rio Big-Tooth Frog, Megalelosia goeldii, a frog
  • Trichomycterus goeldii, a pencil catfish;
  • Cynopotamus goeldii, a Characidae fish;
  • Goeldi’s Pimelodid, Duopalatinus goeldii, a Pimelodidae freshwater fish;
  • Goeldi’s Hemiodus, Hemiodus goeldii, a Hemiodontidae freshwater fish.
  • Cheirocerus goeldii, also a catfish;
  • Simulium goeldii, a blackfly from the Amazon Rainforest;
  • Philodendron goeldii, a philodendron plant.

In other scientific fields

Goeldi was also recognized as an important early figure in public health and epidemiology in Brazil, because he studied the mechanism of transmission of yellow fever and advocated the importance of fighting the mosquito as the vector of the disease, several years before Oswaldo Cruz did so. His extensive scientific research on the geography, geology, flora, fauna, archeology, ethnography and socio-economical conditions of the present day region of Amapá was very important to end the Contestado territorial litigation between France and Brazil, ceding the territory to Brazil on December 1, 1900, by the international decision of the court of Bern.


Goeldi studied zoology in Jena, Germany with Ernst Haeckel, and in 1884 he was invited by Ladislau de Souza Mello Netto, the influential director of the Brazilian "Museu Imperial e Nacional," to work at that institution. Goeldi arrived in Rio de Janeiro in 1885 to work in the National Museum (now the Museu Nacional do Rio de Janeiro. In May 1890, he was fired, due to political circumstances related to the proclamation of the Republic and the exile of his principal benefactor, Emperor D. Pedro II.

He was then invited by the governor of the state of Pará, Lauro Sodré, to reorganize the Pará Museum of Natural History and Ethnography, in Belém, which had been founded in 1866 by Domingos Soares Ferreira Penna. He arrived on 9 June 1894 in Belém. In his pioneering work, Goeldi was helped by several other foreign researchers, such as the Swiss botanist Jacques Huber (1867–1914), zoologist Emilie Snethlage (1868–1929), geologists Friedrich Katzer (1861–1925), and Alexander Karl von Kraatz-Koschlau (1867–1900), and Adolpho Ducke (1876–1959), entomologist, ethnographer and botanist.

In 1902, the "Museu Paraense de História Natural e Ethnography" was renamed in his honor. It is now called the Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi. In 1905 Émil Goeldi renounced his post, due to ill health, and returned to Switzerland where he died in Bern, in 1917, at the age of only 58. Hüber, then Snethlage and Ducke succeeded him as general directors of the Goeldi Museum in Belém.