Arthur ‘Toddy’ Cooper (1936-date)

Born and growing up in Haywards Heath, Sussex, Toddy developed a strong affinity to the countryside around him and an interest in natural history. Along with the usual naturalists’ pursuits of birdwatching and butterflies, he became fascinated with spiders, ticks and fleas.

Professional Life

Toddy worked in the pathology labs at Christchurch Hospital in Dorset in the early 1960s. He made microscope slides of blood smears to look for diseases. He put this skill to further use when preserving small specimens such as fleas in his collection. Later worked at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Boscombe in Bournemouth.

Collecting and studying nature

While living in Dorset Toddy became a member of Christchurch Harbour Ornithological Group. He started studying, trapping and tracking the distribution of spiders on Hengistbury Head, Christchurch. Later the geographical area of his field studies widened, taking in vast areas of the New Forest, meticulously labelling specimens he gathered. 

Moving from Bransgore in the New Forest in the 1960s to Christchurch and Bournemouth, to Winsford on Exmoor in the mid 1980s to Churchinford near Taunton in the 1990s, his pitfall traps, net and beater went with him. His final move to Shillingford St George, Exeter in the late 1990s saw him continue his work, with is most recent work up to 2022 focusing on the spider populations of Shillingford Wood. He was an active member of the British Arachnological Society, becoming one of Britain’s experts in the identification of British spiders.

An avid collector, Toddy trapped and logged specimens wherever he went on holiday too, even abroad as a frequent visitor to Southern Spain.

Toddy also massed and identified a broad collection of fleas and ticks, collected from recently vacated birds’ nests, road kills etc. All are meticulously data recording where they came from and when. He frequently delivered lectures on parasites at the Red House Museum, Bournemouth. Alongside his collections, Toddy kept many volumes of detailed journals, providing a context and record of the locations he studied.

Toddy’s pets

A female Mexican red-kneed tarantula, Hortense, was a treasured pet. Toddy named her after the spider in the children’s novel, Chartlotte’s Web. She lived with him for over 10 years. She died in 1992 Toddy and preserved her kept her in a frame on his study wall. Hortense raised considerable funds for a charity when revealed as Bournemouth’s biggest spider at his two sons’ school summer fete. A few pennies gained entry to a tent where she was displayed. She was used to being handled and climbed all over him, while Toddy answered questions.

Colour photograph of Toddy Cooper's pet tarantula named Hortense

“What does she eat?” 

“Not small children but locusts,” was the reply to squeamish squeals from small children.

Toddy and RAMM

Toddy visited RAMM many times over the years for help identifying specimens, such as this western conifer seedbug, a recent addition to the UK’s fauna. In 2014 he donated several jars of spiders to fill gaps in RAMM’s British spider collection. Due to poor health Toddy gave his entire collection of natural science specimens and notebooks to RAMM in 2023. RAMM will retain the Devon material and seek alternative homes for specimens from other counties. Due to the difficulty of photographing the specimens only a few are available online. Please contact us if you would like a list of specimens in RAMM’s care.

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