He studied zoology at the University of Jena, earning his doctorate in 1878. Afterwards he worked as an assistant at the Universities of Jena and Kiel. In 1881 he emigrated to New Zealand, working at the museums in Dunedin, under Professor Parker, and Christchurch under Professor von Haast.
The following year he moved to Australia, where he replaced F. G. Waterhouse as Director of the South Australian Museum in Adelaide, and was a founding member of the Field Naturalists Society of South Australia. In August 1884 he laid to rest an old mystery about echidnas, proving they are oviparous not viviparous, with a specimen sent to the Museum by a naturalist on Kangaroo Island. His work and the liberality with which he was treated attracted some criticism, as did his bombastic self-promotion. He resigned his position in October 1884, after a series of disputes with the Museum's management but did not leave the colony.
He served as zoologist with the 1885 Geographical Society of Australasia's expedition to the Fly River, Papua New Guinea. In June 1886 he announced his imminent departure for Europe, and was invited by a large deputation of German settlers to represent them at an Allgemeiner Deutscher Kongress to be held in Berlin that September but declined, and left South Australia around July 1886 without fanfare.
From 1888 to 1893 he was director of the zoo in Frankfurt-am-Main, and afterwards was a lecturer at Darmstadt University of Technology (until 1897). Later, he worked as a private scholar and grammar school teacher. He died in Lüneburg on December 6, 1912.
Haacke is remembered for research of oviparity in monotremes, and studies involving the morphology of jellyfish and corals. In 1893 he coined the evolutionary term "orthogenesis". He also conducted investigations in the field of animal husbandry.
Haacke studied under Ernst Haeckel. He later turned against Haeckel for holding Darwinist views. He was also a critic of August Weismann. He experimented with mice and proposed a system of heredity similar to Gregor Mendel but differed in results. Haacke was a neo-Lamarckian and proponent of the inheritance of acquired characters.
Haacke believed that cells consist of individuals called gemmaria that operate as hereditary units. These consist of even smaller units known as gemmae. He believed these units to explain neo-Lamarckian inheritance. He was a proponent of orthogenesis. He held that from his theory of epimorphism evolution is a directed process tending towards perfection.
- Die Schöpfung der Tierwelt, (1893)
- Gestaltung und Vererbung. Eine Entwickelungsmechanik der Organismen, (1893)
- Die Schöpfung of Menschen und seiner Ideal. Ein Versuch zur Versöhnung zwischen Religion und Wissenschaft, (1895)
- Aus der Schöpfungswerkstatt, (1897)
- Grundriss der Entwickelungsmechanik, (1897)
- "South Australian Institute". The South Australian Advertiser. XXIV, (7296). South Australia. 8 March 1882. p. 4. Retrieved 7 October 2017 – via National Library of Australia.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
- "Australian Biology". South Australian Register. XLIX, (11, 799). South Australia. 6 September 1884. p. 5. Retrieved 7 October 2017 – via National Library of Australia.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link) William Hay Caldwell in New South Wales made a similar (and almost coincidental) finding with the platypus
- "Notes upon Additions from the Museum". South Australian Register. LI, (12, 404). South Australia. 16 August 1886. p. 6. Retrieved 7 October 2017 – via National Library of Australia.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
- "Our City Letter". Kapunda Herald. XX, (1699). South Australia. 21 October 1884. p. 3. Retrieved 6 October 2017 – via National Library of Australia.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
- "The Museum Officials". South Australian Register. XLIX, (11, 835). South Australia. 18 October 1884. p. 4. Retrieved 7 October 2017 – via National Library of Australia.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
- "Dr. Haacke on Science in South Australia". The South Australian Advertiser. XXVII, (8242). South Australia. 19 March 1885. p. 6. Retrieved 7 October 2017 – via National Library of Australia.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
- "The Late New Guinea Expedition". The South Australian Advertiser. XXVIII, (8474). South Australia. 15 December 1885. p. 5. Retrieved 6 October 2017 – via National Library of Australia.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
- Deutsche Biographie
- Levit, Georgy S; Olsson, Lennart. (2007). Evolution on Rails Mechanisms and Levels of Orthogenesis. In Volker Wissemann. Annals of the History and Philosophy of Biology 11/2006. Universitätsverlag Göttingen. pp. 100-104.
- Galerie Wimmer Wilhelm Kuhnert
- "This article includes text based on a translation of an equivalent article at the French Wikipedia", listed as Allen G. Debus (ed.) (1968). World Who's Who in Science. . A Biographical Dictionary of Notable Scientists from Antiquity to the Present, Marquis Who's Who (Chicago): xvi + 1855 p.
- The Contemporary Review, Essay on Monotremes