Edward O. Wilson Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Edward Osborne Wilson, Jr., began his career studying ants and other social insects. He went on to develop the theory of sociobiology, which established a genetic basis for behavior in all animals, including humans. His advocacy for the preservation of endangered species and ecosystems spurred conservationist efforts worldwide.

“Most children have a bug period, and I never grew out of mine,” Wilson wrote in his autobiography, Naturalist. As a small, shy boy, he developed a love of nature while roaming the woods and beaches of Alabama and Florida and frequenting the Museum of Natural History and the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. His loss of vision in one eye following a fishing accident led him to focus his scientific inquiries on creatures small enough to be observed at close range.

Following his graduation from high school in Decatur, Alabama, he entered the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. There, he completed a B.S. in biology in 1949 and an M.S. in biology in 1950. He received his Ph.D. in biology from Harvard University in 1955. He became assistant professor at Harvard in 1956 and full professor in 1964. He served as curator in entomology of the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology from 1973 to 1997, when he was named honorary curator. In 1994, he became Pellegrino University Professor and was awarded emeritus status in 1997. Throughout his career at Harvard, he lived in Lexington, Massachusetts, with his wife, Renee. The couple had one daughter, Catherine.

In the 1950’s, Wilson conducted field research in Cuba, Mexico, and several islands of the South Pacific. In collaboration with Robert MacArthur, Wilson developed and published The Theory of Island Biogeography, today regarded as a classic ecological work. In 1953, Wilson began investigating chemical communication in ants. He documented the trail-laying behavior of fire ants as they foraged between the nest and a food source. He found that a substance produced in the insect’s Dufour’s gland...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Carpenter, Betsy. “Living with Nature: E. O. Wilson Argues That Species Extinction Threatens the Human Spirit.” U.S. News and World Report 113 (November 30, 1992): 60. Wilson asserts that natural environments and a diversity of species are essential to human psychological and spiritual well-being.

Horgan, John. “Revisiting Old Battlefields.” Scientific American 270 (April, 1994): 36. An overview of Wilson’s life and work in evolutionary biology, philosophy, and environmental science.

Joyce, Christopher. “Return to the Ants.” New Scientist 130 (May 11, 1991): 55. A short biography and an interview with Wilson.

Lessem, Don. “Dr. Ant.” International Wildlife 21 (January/February, 1991): 30. A personal profile of Wilson as an entomologist.

Lueders, Edward, ed. Writing Natural History: Dialogues with Authors. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1989. A conversation with Wilson (and other authors) about science writing.

Reed, Susan. “E. O. Wilson: The Famed Biologist Says Saving Other Species Is the Only Way to Save Ourselves.” People Weekly 40 (October 11, 1993): 123. An analysis of controversy and environmental activism in Wilson’s career.