Tribute to Ant Specialist E. O. Wilson

According to his obituary in The New York Times, Dr. E.O. Wilson passed away on Sunday, December 26, 2021. He will be greatly missed by myrmecologists around the world.

Anyone who is interested in ants has probably read at least one of Wilson’s books, including the groundbreaking tome The Ants written with Bert Hölldobler. The Ants won them a Pulitzer Prize in 1991.

(Cover images and titles are Amazon affiliate links.)

On a more personal note, my graduate advisor at Cornell University, Dr. William L. Brown, Jr. — Bill — was a close friend and colleague of Dr. Wilson’s. He told many stories about their adventures together while traveling the world in search of ants. Erich Hoyt chronicled some of their experiences in his 1996 book, The Earth Dwellers:  Adventures in the Land of Ants.

While I was at Cornell during the 1980s, Bill was helping E. O. Wilson with his work on bigheaded ants, the genus Pheidole. It is a large and complex group. According to Hoyt’s book on page 61, when Brown asked him when they would finish, Wilson said:

“We’ll probably go out on Pheidole.”


Public domain image by Alex Wild.

Bill passed away in 1997, several years before Pheidole in the New World: A Dominant, Hyperdiverse Ant Genus was finally published in 2003 by Harvard University Press. On the other hand, Ed Wilson had many, many more publications to go.


If you knew him, my condolences. If you did not and want to find out more about this man who was passionate about ants, you can read one of E. O. Wilson’s many books or the 2021 biography, Scientist: E. O. Wilson: A Life in Nature by Richard Rhodes.

Two Tributes to E.O. Wilson

In an interesting set of coincidences, two tributes to Dr. Edward O. Wilson, ant expert extraordinaire, arrived in my mailbox recently.

The first was a press release from the National Geographic Society. Wilson was honored on June 13, 2013 with a Hubbard Medal “for his lifelong commitment to the planet’s rich diversity through his research and writing” at the Society’s 125th Anniversary Gala. Filmmaker James Cameron and oceanographer Sylvia Earle also received medals. The medal adds to over 100 awards Dr. Wilson has received in his lifetime. Accompanying the press release, was this photograph:


(Photo by Joel Sartore/National Geographic)

On his first trip to Gorongosa (and Africa), scientist and author Edward O. Wilson uses an experienced nose to identify a foam grasshopper. It’s named for the smelly, poisonous foam it emits. … The photograph appears in the June 2013 issue of National Geographic magazine.

Dr. Edward O. Wilson has worn many hats and is known for his studies of island biogeography, sociobiology and biodiversity. Although shown here with a grasshopper, Wilson’s first love is ants and he is recognized in the myrmecology world for his Pulitzer prize-winning book with Bert Holldobler, The Ants, his work on the big-headed ants, Pheidole in the New World: A Dominant, Hyperdiverse Ant Genus, as well as numerous scientific publications.

I remember my graduate advisor, Dr. William (Bill) Brown, Jr. had a lot to do with pushing (read brow beating) Wilson to complete his book on Pheidole. Unfortunately, the book turned out to be very expensive and didn’t sort out the confusing taxonomy of the group as much as some would have liked. Still, it was an undertaking only someone with his perseverance could have accomplished.

The second tribute takes a very different form. Thanks to author Sara van Dyck, I also received a copy of the e-book The Boy Who Loved Ants: Edward O.Wilson, a biography of Wilson’s life for children.


Rightfully, van Dyck concentrates on Dr. Wilson’s childhood and how his interest in the natural world shaped his future status as one of the leaders of the push to preserve the biodiversity of the earth. She also includes suggestions for related activities to do with children, including taking a personal “BioBlitz” walk. See a more complete review of the book at my children’s book blog, Wrapped In Foil.

In any case, it has been a busy month for tributes to Dr. E.O. Wilson.

Do you have a favorite publication either written by or about Dr. Wilson? What is it?


Reading level:  Ages 7 and up
File Size: 321 KB
Print Length: 14 pages
Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
Publisher: Sara van Dyck (January 27, 2012)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.