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

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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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Editorial Reviews

Internet Review of Books
Edward O. Wilson, one of those rare scientists who can make biology and science history not only readable but entertaining, has written a book that holds the reader's attention from beginning to end.

— Lynne M. Hinkey

Choice

By coupling excerpts from Mutis's forgotten diaries with recent findings on ant eating habits, reproductive behaviors, and emigration patterns, the authors give new relevance to one of the New World's oldest natural history studies. This interesting writing technique helps readers understand the continual nature of the process of scientific inquiry.

Southeastern Naturalist
A unique glance into the early world of science exploration, Kingdom of Ants is a delight to read and filled with intriguing information.
Internet Review of Books - Lynne M. Hinkey
Edward O. Wilson, one of those rare scientists who can make biology and science history not only readable but entertaining, has written a book that holds the reader's attention from beginning to end.
Choice
By coupling excerpts from Mutis's forgotten diaries with recent findings on ant eating habits, reproductive behaviors, and emigration patterns, the authors give new relevance to one of the New World's oldest natural history studies. This interesting writing technique helps readers understand the continual nature of the process of scientific inquiry.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801897856
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/2010
  • Pages: 120
  • Sales rank: 1,220,709
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Edward O. Wilson is a two-time Pulitzer Prize–winning author, scientist, and University Research Professor Emeritus at Harvard University. Dr. Wilson has written more than 20 books and hundreds of journal articles. José M. Gómez Durán is one of the founding members of the Iberian Myrmecological Association and a researcher with the Spanish Institute for Agriculture and Food Research and Technology (INIA).

Johns Hopkins University Press

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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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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 4, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    An important piece of science in the New World

    Kingdom of the Ants is an excellent little piece concerning the beginnings of scientifice research in the New World. This book will be of value to those interested in the early days of the European settlement of the New World, the history of science, and especially myrmecology, the study of ants. The book presents Mutis' thinking through the ant observations he made and the authors' commentary helps to decipher what Mutis understood and what he missed, giving the book a nice presentation of the beginnings of more objectvie scientific method.

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