Ants and Us

Ant manART2 J.M. Ledgard discusses ants with E.O. Wilson, in More Intelligent Life:

Wilson arrived at Harvard from the University of Alabama in 1953 and proved his mettle by traversing the tropics in search of undiscovered ant species. He helped uncover the diversity of ants in Amazonia and in the Orinoco basin. He was one of the first outsiders to climb the remote mountain ranges in Papua New Guinea, gathering ants and frogs in the chill mists. His studies were so thorough they laid the groundwork for the new field of biogeography. Every summer he set out, and every autumn he returned to Boston, studying the ants under the microscope into the winter, mapping all the features down to the talons on the claws of each of the six legs, and the milky sacs in the body of a queen which she would draw on for ten years or more.

None of this would have amounted to much in the eyes of the outside world had Wilson not got into the behaviour of ants and from there into comparisons with human nature. He has written 24 books and 400 scientific papers. Two of his books—“On Human Nature” (1978) and “The Ants” (1990, with Bert Hölldobler)—have won the Pulitzer prize. Tom Wolfe, the American journalist, described him as “Darwin II”. I think what Wolfe meant was that Wilson’s thinking about the biological basis of social and group behaviour would fundamentally alter man’s perception of himself. Wilson contends not just that we are primates, made in nobody’s image, but that the same laws of population biology and evolutionary theory that govern behaviour in ants also govern us.