"Darwin's Natural Heir" on Ants, Social Evolution, and Intelligent Design

Adrianne Appel
for National Geographic News
March 27, 2006

More than a million ant specimens—meticulously dried, pinned, and identified—lie in wooden drawers in Harvard University's Museum of Comparative Zoology.

But these specimens are hardly gathering dust in their Cambridge, Massachusetts, home. The office of Edward Osborn Wilson—renowned scientist and author, father of sociobiology, and ant expert—is right down the hall.

Wilson's body of work is a product of unfailing energy and focus. As a young man he traveled through Europe visiting ant collections.

Then as a Harvard professor he spent years driven by what he calls "the amphetamine of ambition"—working 80-hour weeks, teaching, studying ants, and writing.

From his work in the field he has personally identified more than 400 new ant species.

Now in his late 70s, the man labelled "Darwin's Natural Heir" by Britain's Gaurdian newspaper has not slowed up his nearly lifelong pursuit of collecting and identifying ants, nor has he let the rest of his work lose steam.

In fact, the National Medal of Science winner, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, and author of 22 books says he is stepping up the pace.

In addition to planned fieldwork, Wilson has been blazing through a series of book releases this year.

"I'm trying to get them out while I still have all my creative faculties," he said with a chuckle. "I'm 76 and I've decided to move it."

Author of Controversy

Wilson's name is tied to groundbreaking research and award-winning writings, but he is also no stranger to scientific controversy.

Most famously, Wilson first put forth the much-debated concept of sociobiology in 1975. This exploration of a biological basis of behavior has been met with both avid acclaim and piercing criticism.

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