The Ant Man: Edward O. Wilson

A well-known portrait of Edward Osborne Wilson shows the smiling Harvard professor hovering, like a benevolent god, over some models of his cherished leafcutter ants. The photograph serves as the cover of “Tales From the Ant World,” Mr. Wilson’s most recent and, by my count, 35th book. The large ant right beneath Mr. Wilson’s chin, a mix of Mars Rover and de Chirico mannequin, wields a leaf almost as big as the entomologist’s head. The proportions seem off, but in a larger sense they really aren’t: As Mr. Wilson, now in his 90s, has reminded us over a long, distinguished career, ants can more than hold their own against humans. There are, by some rough estimates, 10,000 trillion ants in the world at any given moment, and their combined weight (Mr. Wilson, who likes to mock his ineptness at math, nevertheless supplies numbers whenever he can) would match the total weight of the planet’s human population.

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