Myrmecology (/mɜːrmɪˈkɒləi/; from Greek: μύρμηξ, myrmex, "ant" and λόγος, logos, "study") is a branch of entomology focusing on the scientific study of ants. Some early myrmecologists considered ant society as the ideal form of society and sought to find solutions to human problems by studying them. Ants continue to be a model of choice for the study of questions on the evolution of social systems because of their complex and varied forms of eusociality (social organization). Their diversity and prominence in ecosystems also has made them important components in the study of biodiversity and conservation. Recently, ant colonies are also studied and modeled for their relevance in machine learning, complex interactive networks, stochasticity of encounter and interaction networks, parallel computing, and other computing fields.[1]


The word myrmecology was coined by William Morton Wheeler (1865–1937), although human interest in the life of ants goes back further, with numerous ancient folk references. The earliest scientific thinking based on observation of ant life was that of Auguste Forel (1848–1931), a Swiss psychologist who initially was interested in ideas of instinct, learning, and society. In 1874 he wrote a book on the ants of Switzerland, Les fourmis de la Suisse, and he named his home La Fourmilière (the ant colony). Forel's early studies included attempts to mix species of ants in a colony. He noted polydomy and monodomy in ants and compared them with the structure of nations.[2]

Wheeler looked at ants in a new light, in terms of their social organization, and in 1910 he delivered a lecture at Woods Hole on “The Ant-Colony as an Organism,” which pioneered the idea of superorganisms. Wheeler considered trophallaxis or the sharing of food within the colony as the core of ant society. This was studied using a dye in the food and observing how it spread in the colony.[2]

Some, such as Horace Donisthorpe, worked on the systematics of ants. This tradition continued in many parts of the world until advances in other aspects of biology were made. The advent of genetics, ideas in ethology and its evolution led to new thought. This line of enquiry was pioneered by E. O. Wilson, who founded the field termed as sociobiology.[2]

Interdisciplinary application

Ants often are studied by engineers for biomimicry and by network engineers for more efficient networking. It is not known clearly how ants manage to avoid congestions and how they optimize their movements to move in most efficient ways without a central authority that would send out orders. There already have been many applications in structure design and networking that have been developed from studying ants, but the efficiency of human-created systems is still not close to the efficiency of ant colonies.

Myrmecologists in fiction

The black and white 1954 Warner Bros. movie Them! describes the visiting expert Dr. Harold Medford (played by Edmund Gwenn) from the Department of Agriculture in Washington DC as a myrmecologist.

Dr. Hank Pym is a fictional character appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

List of notable myrmecologists

Note: Names are listed alphabetically.

  • Ernest André (1838–1911), French entomologist
  • Thomas Borgmeier (1892–1975), German-Brazilian theologian and entomologist
  • William L. Brown, Jr. (1922–1997), American entomologist
  • Giovanni Cobelli (1849–1937), Italian entomologist, director of the Rovereto museum
  • Arthur Charles Cole, Jr. (1908–1955), American entomologist
  • Walter Cecil Crawley, British entomologist
  • William Steel Creighton (1902–1973), American entomologist
  • Horace Donisthorpe (1870–1951), British myrmecologist, named several new species
  • Carlo Emery (1848–1925), Italian entomologist
  • Johan Christian Fabricius (1745–1808), Danish entomologist, student of Linnaeus
  • Auguste-Henri Forel (1848–1931), Swiss myrmecologist, studied brain structure of humans and ants
  • Émil August Goeldi (1859–1917), Swiss-Brazilian naturalist and zoologist
  • William Gould (1715–1799), described by Horace Donisthorpe as "the father of British myrmecology"
  • Robert Edmond Gregg (1912–1991), American entomologist
  • Thomas Caverhill Jerdon (1811–1872), British physician, zoologist and botanist
  • Walter Wolfgang Kempf (1920–1976), Brazilian myrmecologist
  • Heinrich Kutter (1896–1990), Swiss myrmecologist
  • Nicolas Kusnezov also as Nikolaj Nikolajevich Kuznetsov-Ugamsky (1898–1963)
  • Pierre André Latreille (1762–1833) French entomologist
  • Sir John Lubbock (the 1st Lord and Baron Avebury) (1834–1913), wrote on hymenoptera sense organs
  • William T. Mann (1886–1960), American entomologist
  • Gustav Mayr (1830–1908), Austrian entomologist and professor in Pest and Vienna, specialised in Hymenoptera
  • Carlo Menozzi also as Carlo Minozzi (1892–1943), Italian entomologist
  • William Nylander (1822–1899), Finnish botanist, biologist, mycologist, entomologist and myrmecologist
  • Basil Derek Wragge-Morley (1920–1969), research included genetics, social behaviour of animals, and the behaviour of agricultural pests
  • Fergus O'Rourke (1923– 2010), Irish zoologist
  • Julius Roger (1819–1865), German physician, entomologist and folklorist
  • Felix Santschi (1872–1940), Swiss entomologist
  • Theodore Christian Schneirla (1902–1968), American animal psychologist
  • Frederick Smith (1805–1879), worked in the zoology department of the British Museum from 1849, specialising in the Hymenoptera
  • Roy R. Snelling (1934–2008), American entomologist credited with many important finds of rare or new ant species
  • Erich Wasmann (1859–1931), Austrian entomologist
  • Neal Albert Weber (1908–2001), American myrmecologist
  • John Obadiah Westwood (1805–1893), English entomologist and archaeologist also noted for his artistic talents
  • William Morton Wheeler (1865–1937), curator of invertebrate zoology in the American Museum of Natural History, described many new species

Contemporary myrmecologists

  • Donat Agosti, Swiss entomologist
  • Cesare Baroni Urbani, Swiss ant taxonomist
  • Murray S. Blum (1929–), American chemical ecologist, an expert on pheromones
  • Barry Bolton, English ant taxonomist
  • Alfred Buschinger, German myrmecologist
  • Henri Cagniant, French myrmecologist
  • John S. Clark, Scottish myrmecologist
  • Cedric Alex Collingwood, British entomologist
  • Mark Amidon Deyrup, American myrmecologist
  • Francesc Xavier Espadaler i Gelabert, Spanish myrmecologist, specialist in Mediterranean and Macaronesian ants and in invasive species
  • Deborah Gordon (1955–), studies ant colony behavior and ecology
  • William H. Gotwald, Jr., American entomologist
  • Michael J. Greene studies interactions between chemical cues and behavior patterns
  • Bert Hölldobler (1936–), Pulitzer Prize winning German myrmecologist
  • Laurent Keller (1961–), Swiss evolutionary biologist and myrmecologist
  • John E. Lattke
  • John T. Longino, American entomologist
  • Mark W. Moffett (1958–), American entomologist and photographer
  • Corrie S. Moreau, American evolutionary biologist and entomologist, wrote on evolution and diversification of ants
  • Justin Orvel Schmidt, American entomologist, studies the chemical and behavioral defenses of ants, wasps, and arachnids
  • Bernhard Seifert, German entomologist
  • Steven O. Shattuck, American-Australian entomologist
  • Marion R. Smith, American entomologist
  • Robert W. Taylor, Australian myrmecologist
  • Alberto Tinaut Ranera, Spanish myrmecologist
  • Walter R. Tschinkel, American myrmecologist
  • James C. Trager, American myrmecologist
  • Gary J. Umphrey, American biostatistician and myrmecologist
  • Philip S. Ward, American entomologist
  • Edward Osborne Wilson (1929–), Pulitzer Prize winning American myrmecologist, revolutionized the field of sociobiology
  • Daniel Kronauer American myrmecologist
  • Myrmecochorous (adj.) dispersed by ants
  • Myrmecophagous (adj.) feeding on ants
  • Myrmecophile (n.) an organism that habitually shares an ant nest, myrmecophilous (adj.), myrmecophily (n.)
  • Myrmidons (n.) ant-men in Metamorphoses and in Homer's Iliad, where they are Achilles' warriors

See also


  1. Deborah Gordon (2010). Ant Encounters Interaction Networks and Colony Behavior. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. p. 143. ISBN 978-0691138794.
  2. Sleigh, Charlotte (2007) Six legs better : a cultural history of myrmecology. The Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-8445-4

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