Theodore Dru Allison Cockerell (1866 - 1948)



Growing up near London, England, Cockerell fostered a love for natural history by visiting museums, reading, and investigating the natural world with his father and brother. He was described as a sickly child, and after developing tuberculosis at age 20 he sailed to America in search of a climate that would cure his illness. He settled in Colorado where he pursued many aspects of entomology, botany, and zoology in general.

After three years he returned to England to work in the British Museum. There he was greatly influenced by many great naturalists including Alfred Russell Wallace. Soon he was appointed curator of the Public Museum in Kingston, Jamaica, where he moved in 1891. It was there that he first became interested in scale insects. After several years in Jamaica the tuberculosis reappeared, so Cockerell returned to the U.S. where he took a position at the New Mexico College of Agriculture at Las Cruces as Entomologist of the Experiment Station and Professor of Entomology and Zoology.

Cockerell is perhaps best known for his work on North American bees, but he contributed greatly to other areas of entomology as well. He wrote over 3,000 articles and notes on bees, scales insects, fossil plants, fossil insects, biography, geology, and other subjects. He found coccids especially interesting because of their economic importance and also because of the way they exemplified evolution through reduction, suppression, and the modification of parts.

Cockerell eventually moved to Colorado where he was Curator of the Museum at Colorado College, Colorado Springs, and then a professor of Zoology and Entomology at the University of Colorado at Boulder until his retirement in 1934. Even after retiring from the university, Cockerell pursued his interest in the natural history of all organisms, and continued to publish numerous notes and articles until his death at his home in San Diego in 1948.

Theodore Dru Alison Cockerell (1866-1948) was an American zoologist, born at Norwood, England, and brother of Sydney Cockerell. He was educated at the Middlesex Hospital Medical School, and then studied botany in the field in Colorado in 1887-90. Between 1891 and 1901 he was curator of the public museum of Kingston, Jamaica, professor of entomology of the New Mexico Agricultural Experiment Station. In 1900-03 he was instructor in biology at the New Mexico Normal University; in 1903-04 curator of the Colorado College Museum; and in 1904 he became lecturer on entomology and in 1906 professor of systematic zoology, at the University of Colorado. Cockerell was author of more than 2200 articles in scientific publications, especially on the Hymenoptera, Hemiptera, and Mollusca, and on paleontology and various phases of evolution, plus some 1700 additional authored works, including treatises on social reform and education. He was one of the most prolific taxonomists in history, publishing descriptions of over 9,000 species and genera of insects alone, some 6,400 of which were bees, and some 1,000 mollusks, arachnids, fungi, mammals, fish and plants.[1] This includes descriptions of numerous fossil taxa, such as the landmark study, Some Fossil Insects from Florissant, Colorado (1913)

At CU-Boulder, there is a residence hall named after former UCB biology professor Theodore Dru Allison Cockerell, an English naturalist who holds a place in history as one of the pre-eminent bee specialists of the 20th century.

For more than 50 years, the study of Cockerell and his work has been the passion of another UCB biology professor, William Weber, who retired from the environmental, population and organismic biology department in 1990 after a 44-year career at UCB. Ten years later, Weber is still an active botanist and scholar -- in February he released a new collection of Cockerell's autobiographical writings, titled The American Cockerell: A Naturalist's Life, 1866-1948.. During a recent interview with S&GR, Weber glowed as he described Cockerell's experiences -- and how the two naturalists' paths crossed briefly in the 1940s.

Cockerell, who was born in 1866 in Norwood, England, first came to America in 1887 to seek relief from his mild case of tuberculosis, and he ended up in Colorado. According to Weber, Cockerell spent three years in Westcliffe, in the Wet Mountain Valley south of Salida, where he began collecting specimens of the area's flora and fauna. Because of his interest in nature, Cockerell had become acquainted with several naturalists in England, and he began shipping his discoveries overseas to his more knowledgeable friends. "He sent them butterflies and slugs, to find out what they were," Weber said. "He'd collect beetles and flies and everything under the sun."

Cockerell earned his keep in Westcliffe by doing odd jobs and chores for a local family. He also shared his artistic talents, drawing valentines for the town's children and teaching art to the local ladies, Weber said. During his three-year stint in Colorado, Cockerell wrote scores of letters to Annie Fenn, the girl he had fallen in love with in England. Those letters were addressed to Annie's brother Frederick, who secretly slipped them to his sister because their father disapproved of Annie's relationship with Cockerell -- a socialist who had tuberculosis and no house or reputable career. To keep her father from discovering Cockerell's letters, Weber said, Annie transcribed them into notebooks.

After relatives determined that he was well enough to come home, Cockerell returned to England in 1890 and, after Annie's father begrudgingly gave his blessing, married Annie the following year. Cockerell got his first job in 1891 as curator of a museum in Kingston, Jamaica, Weber said, but when his TB came back, he and Annie moved to Mesilla Park (later renamed Las Cruces), N.M., where Cockerell was a professor of entomology and zoology for several years at the New Mexico Agricultural College (now New Mexico State University). Annie died in 1893 while giving birth to their second child.

Cockerell's path continued north toward Colorado in 1900, when he got a job teaching at New Mexico Normal University (now Highlands University) in Las Vegas. He married his second wife, Wilmatte Porter, that same year, and in 1903, the two came to Colorado Springs, where Cockerell had secured a job as curator of a museum at The Colorado College. They settled in Boulder in 1904. The couple taught at the Boulder Preparatory School, and Cockerell lectured on entomology in the CU-Boulder biology department for $200 a year. He became a zoology professor at CU in 1906.

As a member of an elite English family (his younger brother was the noted scholar Sir Sydney Cockerell), Cockerell's quaint English mannerisms stuck out a bit in Boulder, and neither the university nor his colleagues gave the talented researcher and teacher the respect he deserved, Weber said. In 1920, he unsuccessfully appealed to the Board of Regents for the creation of a zoology department. Weber also noted the irony of the fact that one criticism of Cockerell's teaching style was that he involved "immature and unprepared" students in research, a practice that would probably be better received in today's higher education environment. Cockerell was also criticized by his colleagues because he taught from experience instead of using a book.

By 1920, Cockerell was earning $2,100 a year (the same amount Weber received when he started teaching at CU 26 years later). Cockerell traveled extensively, taking expeditions to Russia, Japan, Africa, Australia and Argentina. But like Weber, who has published several books about the flora of Colorado and the Rocky Mountains, Cockerell focused much of his research and writing on Colorado -- he collected fossils at the Florissant fossil beds and authored Zoology of Colorado in 1927. As the greatest bee specialist of his time, Cockerell catalogued more than 900 species of bees in Colorado alone -- and by the late 1930s, he had documented the names and descriptions of 5,480 new species and subspecies. According to Weber, he was also a talented writer -- the Cockerell-penned Life and Habits of Bumblebees was so well-written that it was included in a collection of essays for English composition courses.

Cockerell retired from CU in 1936. When Weber started at CU in 1946, two years before Cockerell's death, the two naturalists were acquainted for a short time. Weber speaks fondly of his meetings with Cockerell, although he said the two did not get to know each other well because Cockerell moved to California soon after Weber was hired.

But as it turned out, Weber did get to know Cockerell better over the ensuing years -- if not in person, then through his writings, drawings and collected specimens. After Cockerell died in 1948, the CU biology department preserved his office exactly how he had left it. But in the early 1960s, Weber discovered workers dismantling Cockerell's office and throwing away all of his materials. Weber rescued what he could. "I even got his upper plate -- his dentures," he said with a grin.

Weber also recovered a vast collection of Cockerell's letters and drawings -- including Annie's notebooks containing the transcriptions of Cockerell's letters from the late 1880s. Those letters, edited and published by Weber in 1976, represent one of the only detailed accounts of the life and natural environment of the Wet Mountain Valley from that era, Weber said.

Most of the materials salvaged by Weber are now stored in the archives of the UCB libraries, although much of Cockerell's work is found in museums around the world. While he was a founder of the CU Museum, Weber explained, Cockerell did not have much faith that the museum would receive enough university support to survive in the long-term. So Cockerell often sent specimens to other museums around the country and the world; Weber has traveled widely to see them.


Much of the pioneering work on fossil ants at Florissant was done by English entomologist T.D.A. Cockerell, who came to Colorado in 1906 seeking relief from tuberculosis. Cockerell, who became a University of Colorado professor and helped to found the CU Museum, published more than 40 papers on the Florissant fossil insects and laid the groundwork for future research.


Cockerell, T. D. A. 1906. A new fossil ant. Entomol. News 17: 27-28

Cockerell, T. D. A. 1915. British fossil insects. Proc. U. S. Natl. Mus. 49: 469-499

Cockerell, T. D. A. 1920. Fossil arthropods in the British Museum. - I. Ann. Mag. Nat. Hist. 9(5): 273-279

Cockerell, T. D. A. 1921. Some Eocene insects from Colorado and Wyoming. Proc. U. S. Natl. Mus. 59: 29-39

Cockerell, T. D. A. 1923a. The earliest known ponerine ant. Entomologist 56: 51-52

Cockerell, T. D. A. 1923b. Fossil insects from the Eocene of Texas. Am. J. Sci. 5: 397-410

Cockerell, T. D. A. 1927. Fossil insects from the Miocene of Colorado. Ann. Mag. Nat. Hist. 9(19): 161-166


Anon. 1893. British Naturalist 3: 40-41, portrait.

Bolton B, Alpert G, Ward PS, Naskrecki P. 2007. [CD-ROM] Bolton’s Catalogue of the Ants of the World. Harvard University Press.