Kingdom of Ants: José Celestino Mutis and the Dawn of Natural History in the New World

Kingdom of Ants: José Celestino Mutis and the Dawn of Natural History in the New World

by Edward O. Wilson, José M. Gómez Durán
     
 

One of the earliest New World naturalists, José Celestino Mutis began his professional life as a physician in Spain and ended it as a scientist and natural philosopher in modern-day Colombia. Drawing on new translations of Mutis's nearly forgotten writings, this fascinating story of scientific adventure in eighteenth-century South America retrieves Mutis's

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Overview

One of the earliest New World naturalists, José Celestino Mutis began his professional life as a physician in Spain and ended it as a scientist and natural philosopher in modern-day Colombia. Drawing on new translations of Mutis's nearly forgotten writings, this fascinating story of scientific adventure in eighteenth-century South America retrieves Mutis's contributions from obscurity.

In 1760, the 28-year-old Mutis—newly appointed as the personal physician of the Viceroy of the New Kingdom of Granada—embarked on a 48-year exploration of the natural world of northern South America. His thirst for knowledge led Mutis to study the region's flora, become a professor of mathematics, construct the first astronomical observatory in the Western Hemisphere, and amass one of the largest scientific libraries in the world. He translated Newton's writings and penned essays about Copernicus; lectured extensively on astronomy, geography, and meteorology; and eventually became a priest. But, as two-time Pulitzer Prize–winner Edward O. Wilson and Spanish natural history scholar José M. Gómez Durán reveal in this enjoyable and illustrative account, one of Mutis's most magnificent accomplishments involved ants.

Acting at the urging of Carl Linnaeus—the father of taxonomy—shortly after he arrived in the New Kingdom of Granada, Mutis began studying the ants that swarmed everywhere. Though he lacked any entomological training, Mutis built his own classification for the species he found and named at a time when New World entomology was largely nonexistent. His unorthodox catalog of army ants, leafcutters, and other six-legged creatures found along the banks of the Magdalena provided a starting point for future study.

Wilson and Durán weave a compelling, fast-paced story of ants on the march and the eighteenth-century scientist who followed them. A unique glance into the early world of science exploration, Kingdom of Ants is a delight to read and filled with intriguing information.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780801897856
Publisher:
Johns Hopkins University Press
Publication date:
09/28/2010
Pages:
120
Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Table of Contents

Prologue 1

One Who Was Mutis 5

Two The Making of an Eighteenth-Century Naturalist 9

Three The Scientific Contributions of José Celestino Mutis 23

Four Mutis Seeks Advice 27

Five Mutis Begins His Study of Ants 31

Six Ants Are Transported by Ships 37

Seven Ant Plants and Plant Ants 39

Eight Mutis Learns about the Mule-Train (Leafcutter) Ants 43

Nine Unending Struggles against the Mule-Train Ants 53

Ten Ant Wars 57

Eleven Mutis Solves the Mystery of the Nomadic Pataloas 63

Twelve Mutis Measures the Size of an Army-Ant Colony 71

Thirteen Mutis Tracks the Armies of Ants 75

Fourteen Mutis Studies the Gender of Ants and Makes an Amazing Discovery 83

Fifteen Mutis' Other Ants 89

Sixteen How Good a Scientist Was Mutis? 93

Epilogue 97

Acknowledgments 99

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