Edward O Wilson 1929-2021

by Ragesoss under CC-BY-SA-3.0,2.5,2.0,1.0

by Shannon – This morning I woke up to the news that we had lost one of the greatest Naturalists of our generation, and the inspiration to so many.

In 2000, I walked in to my PhD advisor’s office at Cornell. Tom Eisner, my advisor, was there meeting with one of his very good friends. They had known each other for many years at Harvard and both had a passion for insects. That friend was Edward O. Wilson. My first thought was that he was very tall. But as I looked up (quite a bit up for me), I noticed a particular twinkle in his eye as he and Tom discussed the latest observations of their six-legged friends. Little did I know that first influential meeting would set me on a course for the rest of my life.

E.O. Wilson was one of the most recognized scientists in the past 100 years. He was a pioneer in entomology and evolutionary biology, a progenitor of the field of sociobiology, and worked tirelessly for the promotion and preservation of biodiversity on our planet. Ed was called “Darwin’s natural heir,” and was known as the “the ant man” to many of us. 

E.O. Wilson was born in Birmingham in 1929, and was credited for discovering the first invasive fire ant colonies to the US at age 13. After completing his degrees at the University of Alabama and Harvard University, Ed went on to discover more than 400 ant species and received 2 Pulitzer Prizes for his writing. He authored over 30 books and hundreds of scientific papers, and received over 100 prizes including the U.S. National Medal of Science, and the Crafoord Prize.

Ed was incredibly influential, and sometimes controversial, to several fields of science for his observations of social behavior and connecting animal (including human) behavior to genetics. His research has been foundational to much of our modern understanding of animal behavior and evolutionary biology. His ideas have touched so many facets of modern society.

Later in his life, he became a champion for biodiversity and environmentalism, as evidenced by the EO Wilson Foundation. He received the Gold Medal of the Worldwide Fund for Nature in 1990 and the Audubon Medal of the National Audubon Society in 1995.

Nature was his “companion of choice.”

One of E.O. Wilson’s quotes from his book “The Naturalist” was a founding statement for the Naturalist-inspired Chemical Ecology Lab, and graced our website:

“Nature first, then theory. Or, better, Nature and theory closely intertwined while you throw all your intellectual capital at the subject.”

That was Ed’s philosophy, and he has inspired countless others to follow in his footsteps. He inspired me to pursue a career, and a life, studying the beauty of our natural world. His example showed me how respect, humility, and a sincere awe of what Life has created on Earth can change minds, hearts, and even the planet itself. Thank you for everything you have given the world, Ed. We’ll do our best to keep moving forward, while looking down to see what mysteries lie in the leaves and grass at our feet.

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