Famed naturalist E.O. Wilson, 'Darwin's natural heir,' dies at 92

A photo of E.O. Wilson in his office at Harvard University.
E.O. Wilson in his office at Harvard University. (Image credit: Rick Friedman/Contributor via Getty Images)

Famed naturalist Edward O. Wilson, or E.O. Wilson, has died at the age of 92. The biologist, author and teacher was the world's top authority on the study of ants and called Charles Darwin’s "natural heir." 

Wilson died Dec. 26 in Burlington, Massachusetts, according to a statement released by the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation, a conservation organization Wilson co-founded in 2005.  

"E.O. Wilson’s holy grail was the sheer delight of the pursuit of knowledge," said Paula Ehrlich, CEO and president of the foundation. "A relentless synthesizer of ideas, his courageous scientific focus and poetic voice transformed our way of understanding ourselves and our planet."

Related: Image gallery: Ants of the world

Among his many titles, Wilson was honorary curator in entomology, the study of insects, and a research professor emeritus at Harvard University. He is the author of more than 430 scientific papers and described more than 400 species during his life. Wilson's legacy also includes being considered the founder of sociobiology, the study of the biological basis for social behavior, among other scientific disciplines and concepts. In 1976, he was awarded the National Medal of Science. 

Many people have paid tribute to Wilson and his work. Actor and environmental campaigner Leonardo DiCaprio wrote on Twitter: "The world lost a true hero for the planet when Dr. E.O. Wilson passed away - "the Darwin of the 20th century", prolific writer, pioneer of groundbreaking new concepts in biology, and one of the towering intellects of our time."

Wilson wrote about science for general audiences and published many books. He won two Pulitzer Prizes in general nonfiction for "On Human Nature" (Harvard University Press, 1978) and "The Ants" (Belknap Press, 1990), the latter of which he co-authored with Bert Holldobler. Wilson was also involved in conservation work, co-founding the Society of Conservation Biology and serving on boards for the Nature Conservancy, Conservation International and other organizations.

In his book "Half-Earth: Our Planet's Fight for Life" (Liveright, 2016), Wilson proposed dedicating half of Earth's surface to nature in order to preserve biodiversity and avert mass extinction. This idea is the basis for the Half-Earth Project, an E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation program, working to conserve half of the Earth's land and sea. 

The E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation did not give a cause of death but said a tribute to Wilson’s life will be held in 2022, with memorial details to be announced.

Originally published on Live Science.

Patrick Pester
Live Science Contributor

Patrick Pester is a freelance writer and previously a staff writer at Live Science. His background is in wildlife conservation and he has worked with endangered species around the world. Patrick holds a master's degree in international journalism from Cardiff University in the U.K.