Photo of Edward O. Wilson

Edward O. Wilson

  • National Medal of Science
  • Biological Sciences

For his pioneering work on the organization of insect societies and the evolution of social behavior among insects and other animals.

As a child, Edward O. Wilson moved frequently.

Without steady friends, the budding entomologist found companionship in nature, exploring the wildlife of Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C. and collecting bugs in the backwoods of Alabama.

At age 13, he alerted authorities to a colony of red, non-native ants in Mobile. By the time Wilson reached college, this species – the fire ant – threatened agriculture in the area and the state government commissioned him to track their activity.

As a fellow at Harvard, Wilson continued to study his favorite insect, traveling the world to observe its behavior.

From this, he devised the “taxon cycle” theory, which explains how ants have conquered much of the globe due to their abilities to adapt and colonize in adverse conditions, forming new species.

In the 1960s, Wilson fleshed out this idea in his book, “The Theory of Island Biogeography,” which explains how organisms evolve in isolated environments.