As part of PCT’s coverage on the extraordinary life of E.O. Wilson, we take a look at 10 fascinating facts about the famed naturalist.
- Born in Birmingham, Ala., E.O. Wilson lost most of the vision in his right eye following a childhood fishing accident, but retained 20/10 vision in his left eye, prompting him to focus on “little things” when exploring nature as a young boy, especially insects.
- Despite authoring more than 30 books as an adult, Wilson says he read only two books “cover to cover” in high school — “The Virginian” by Owen Wister and “The Boy Scout Handbook.”
- Wilson nurtured his love of nature in the Boy Scouts, achieving the rank of Eagle Scout. He once said the organization “seemed invented just for me,” and in 2012, he told the Boston Globe “the Boy Scouts of America gave me my education.”
- When it was time to attend college, Wilson applied for a scholarship to Vanderbilt University, but it was rejected, the academic equivalent of 31 NFL teams passing on the draft rights to Tom Brady. He ultimately attended the University of Alabama, earning both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in a five-year period before being admitted to Harvard University, where he was awarded a doctorate.
- Wilson’s “The Insect Societies,” a National Book Award finalist in 1972, was named one of the “Top 25 Science Books of All Time” by Discover magazine (#14), joining Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of the Species,” Albert Einstein’s “Relativity: The Special and General Theory” and Isaac Newton’s “Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy.” That’s pretty heady company!
- Wilson is a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction (“On Human Nature” — 1979; “The Ants” — 1991). Since 1962, only two authors have been awarded the top prize twice — E.O. Wilson and historian Barbara W. Tuchman. Studs Terkel, Norman Mailer and Carl Sagan are among the one-time winners.
- “The Ants” — which he co-wrote with German evolutionary biologist Bert Hölldobler — came in at 732 pages and a robust 7.5 pounds, meeting Wilson’s definition of a magnum opus: “A book which when dropped from a three-story building is big enough to kill a man,” according to his obituary in The Washington Post.
- In 1996, Wilson was named one of “America’s 25 Most Influential People” by Time magazine, joining the likes of fashion designer Calvin Klein, comedian Jerry Seinfeld, talk-show host Oprah Winfrey, punk rocker Courtney Love, novelist Toni Morrison and architect Frank Gehry.
- A champion of protecting the globe’s biodiversity, Wilson co-founded the Society of Conservation Biology and the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation, as well as served on the board of The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International and the American Museum of Natural History.
- In a fitting tribute to a life in science well lived, Wilson has two species of organisms named after him — Myrmoderus ewolsoni, an antbird indigenous to Peru, and Miniopteru wilsoni, a long-fingered bat discovered in Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park. Wilson once told Scouting Magazine that being recognized in this way was an honor akin to being awarded a Nobel Prize “because it’s such a rarity to have a true new species discovered.”
If you’re of a certain age, you’re familiar with a video game known as The Sims, which simulates the daily activities of one or more virtual people (“Sims”) in a suburban household near a fictional city. Released in 2000, it was a follow-up to the popular SimCity series, which was introduced more than a decade prior, spawning several sequels.
One of those spin-offs, SimAnt, has a surprising connection to E.O. Wilson.
Introduced in 1991, the video game’s designer, Will Wright, was inspired by E.O. Wilson’s study of ant colonies. In the game, a player takes on the role of a black ant in the backyard of a suburban home where he/she must do battle with a colony of red ants.
“The ultimate goal is to spread throughout the garden, into the house, and finally to drive out the red ants and human owners,” according to the game’s Wikipedia entry. “In this respect, SimAnt differed from other ‘Sim’ games that were open-ended and had no victory conditions.”
Although not as popular as some iterations of the Sim series, GamePro named it Educational Game of the Year and the Software Publisher’s Association awarded it Best Simulation Game of 1992. Check out a YouTube clip of the game.
(Additonal source: Wikipedia, SimAnt)