Of all the things I expected to learn when I visited E. O. Wilson at his home in Massachusetts, how to pronounce “Roll Tide” with an Alabamian accent wasn’t among them. After several attempts, Wilson deemed my pronunciation convincing enough to make it to the Alabama coast without anyone knowing I was from Maine.
Aside from his alma matter’s football team, Edward Osborne Wilson’s lifelong passions include insects of all sorts (but especially ants), environmental conservation, and the study of human nature.
Born June 10, 1929, in Birmingham, Alabama, Wilson is celebrating his 90th birthday just after this issue of the magazine hits mailboxes. His advanced age isn’t slowing him down though: His new book, Genesis: The Deep Origin of Societies, was published in March. His last book, Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life, is only three years old. And he’s already nearly done writing his next book, Tales From the Ant World, which he expects to come out next year.
Blinded in one eye by a fishing accident in childhood, Wilson found that the study of insects suited his disability—his one seeing eye, which came to have enhanced acuity, was perfect for looking at specimens through a microscope.
He is considered the world’s leading expert on ants. Although tiny, at the global scale, ants and humans have equal biomass. In other words, if all the ants of the world were on one side of a scale and all the humans were on the other, the scale would balance. There are parallels between the biological success of our two species, and what made us so: namely, our complex societies and division of labor. In fact, it was his study of ants that spurred Wilson’s interest in human nature, which is the subject of much of Genesis: The Deep Origin of Societies.
Wilson says team athletics are a modern day expression of our innate propensity to place high value on our membership to groups and to shun those who don’t belong. “It’s why we can take such wicked pleasure from wishing for the collapse and ruination of another football team,” he said to me, with a twinkle in his eye, before conceding, “It’s all ridiculous.”
I hope that you will enjoy this E. O. Wilson tribute issue, and that you will join us in honoring one of the most important biologists of the past century, and an all-around spectacular human being. And if you ever happen to meet Wilson, I encourage you to greet him with an enthusiastic “Roll Tide!”
Correction: We deeply regret and apologize for not having recognized President’s Circle member Kaye Beth in the March issue of the magazine. Kaye has been dedicated to our mission for more than 50 years, and we are incredibly grateful for her longtime commitment and investment in our work.
 For those as ignorant about sports as I am, “Roll Tide” is the rallying cry of University of Alabama fans.