E.O. Wilson Makes Ants Into Public TV Stars

Harvard's world-renowned expert on ants cast his favorite subjects as the stars of a public television documentary that aired Tuesday night on national television.

E.O. Wilson, Pellegrino university professor of science and curator of entomology at the Museum of Comparative Zoology, collaborated with WGBH, Boston's public television station, to produce the show, a NOVA special entitled "Little Creatures Who Run the World."

"All children have their bug stage. I never grew out of mine," Wilson said at a reception last week at WGBH.

Paula Apsell, executive producer of NOVA at WGBH, described Wilson as "a towering figure in bringing science to the public," as well as the leading ant expert in the world. Wilson's work has garnered him the National Medal of Science and two Pulitzer Prizes, highlighting his talent for explaining science to the general reader.

The documentary took more than four years to complete, according to Peter Jones, founder of Green Umbrella Limited, the firm that produced the show.


Wilson, who was blinded in his right eye when he was six years old, said his interest in ants was fostered by the fact that studying the insects requires magnifying them and examining them with one eye.

"I jumped at the opportunity when approached by NOVA," Wilson said, adding that he had worked previously with Jones on the 1980s "Trials of Life"science series.

Jones added that he was anxious to work onanother project with him. "I felt it was timely tomake a film," he said.

"[Wilson] really put proof behind the idea ofsocial dominance, partly in his canopy work, toconstruct the story of power through sociality."

"Tonight we celebrate socialism that works,"Wilson told the audience of hundreds that gathereda WGBH for a sneak preview of the special lastweek.

"Marx was correct, but he had the wrongsspecies," he said. He frequently emphasizes thefact that ants outnumber humans one million toone.

Wilson, who recently published anautobiography, said his part in the NOVA specialwas mainly to advise Jones' team on major themes.

"My assistant, Stefan Cover, curator of the antcollection at the Museum of Comparative Zoology,went with the team to help them look for the rightant species," Wilson said in an interview lastweek. "I only went to Trinidad, but the team alsowent to Malaysia, South America, and Africa" tocapture on film a few of the 10,000 differenttypes of ants, he said.

One type of ant studied, the so-called driverants, dig up to six feet deep and live with up to20 million sisters, according to the documentary.In fact, some "defense soldier" ants are studiedby the US Department of Defense.

Perhaps the department's interest stems fromthe film's claim that humans "like to think we runthe world, but they [ants] run the world.