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SciTech Tuesday: Happy Birthday to E.O. Wilson

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E.O. Wilson. Image courtesy of the Academy of Achievement.

E.O. Wilson. Image courtesy of the Academy of Achievement.

Today is the 85th birthday of acclaimed entomologist Edward Osborne Wilson. The Pulitzer Prize winning author has detailed the natural history, social behavior and evolutionary biology of ants. As a boy growing up in Alabama, E.O. Wilson was fascinated with insects. Originally intent upon studying flies, the shortage of insect pins due to metal rationing during World War II led Wilson to focus on ants which could be stored in glass jars. Determined to become an entomologist, the young Wilson set a goal of cataloging every species of ant in the state of Alabama and at the age of thirteen, he discovered the first colony of invasive fire ants in the United States.

Wilson founded the field of sociobiology, the study of the evolutionary and genetic basis of social relationships. Because of the unique heredity of ants, each worker ant shares 75% of her genes with her sisters. Fitness relies on the survival of the queen and places success of the entire colony over survival of the individual worker. Wilson connected the self-sacrificing behavior of worker ants to the genetic relationships and selective pressure on ant colonies. He extended his theory of sociobiology from insects to human societies winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1978 for his seminal work, On Human Nature. Wilson’s second Pulitzer Prize came for his 1990 non-fiction work, The Ants. A member of the Harvard University faculty since 1956, E.O. Wilson is currently Professor Emeritus and Honorary Curator in Entomology.  Wilson wrote in his memoir, Naturalist, “Most children have a bug period. I never grew out of mine.”

Post by Annie Tête, STEM Education Coordinator

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