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Myrmecology (//; from Greek: μύρμηξ, myrmex, "ant" and λόγος, logos, "study") is the scientific study of ants, a branch of entomology. Some early myrmecologists considered ant society as the ideal form of society and sought to find solutions to human problems by studying them. Ants continue to be a model of choice for the study of questions on the evolution of social systems because of their complex and varied forms of eusociality. Their diversity and prominence in ecosystems also has made them important components in the study of biodiversity and conservation.
The word myrmecology was coined by William Morton Wheeler (1865–1937) although human interest in the life of ants goes back further with numerous ancient folk references. The earliest scientific thinking based on observation of ant life was that of Auguste Forel (1848–1931), a Swiss psychologist who initially was interested in ideas of instinct, learning, and society. In 1874 he wrote a book on the ants of Switzerland, Les fourmis de la Suisse, and he named his home, La Fourmilière (the ant colony). Forel's early studies included attempts to mix species of ants in a colony. He noted polydomy and monodomy in ants and compared them with the structure of nations.
Wheeler looked at ants in a new light, in terms of their social organization and in 1910 he delivered a lecture at Woods Hole on the “The Ant-Colony as an Organism,” which pioneered the idea of superorganisms. Wheeler considered trophallaxis or the sharing of food within the colony as the core of ant society. This was studied using a dye in the food and observing how it spread in the colony.
Some, such as Horace Donisthorpe, worked on the systematics of ants. This tradition continued in many parts of the world until advances in other aspects of biology were made. The advent of genetics, ideas in ethology and its evolution led to new thought. This line of enquiry was pioneered by E. O. Wilson who founded the field termed as sociobiology.
Ants often are studied by Engineers for Biomimicry and by Network Engineers for more efficient networking. It is not known clearly how ants manage to avoid congestions and how they optimize their movements to move in most efficient ways without a central authority that would send out orders. There already have been many applications in structure design and networking that have been developed from studying ants, but the efficiency of human-created systems is still not close to the efficiency of ant colonies.
List of notable myrmecologists
Note: Names are listed alphabetically.
- Donat Agosti
- E. André (1838–1911)
- Cesari Baroni Urbani
- Murray S. Blum (1929— ), chemical ecologist, an expert on pheromones
- Barry Bolton, English ant taxonomist
- Thomas Borgmeier
- William L. Brown, Jr.
- J. Clark
- Giovanni Cobelli (1849–1937), Italian entomologist, director of the Rovereto museum
- A. C. Cole, Jr.
- Cedric Collingwood
- W. C. Crawley
- William Steel Creighton
- Mark A. Deyrup
- Horace Donisthorpe (1870–1951), British myrmecologist, named several new species
- Carlos Emery
- Auguste Forel (1848–1931), Swiss myrmecologist, studied brain structure of humans and ants
- Émil Goeldi
- Deborah Gordon (1955— ), studies ant colony behavior and ecology
- William H. Gotwald, Jr.
- William Gould (~1715–?), described by Horace Donisthorpe as "the father of British myrmecology"
- Michael Greene studies interactions between chemical cues and behavior patterns
- Robert E. Gregg
- Bert Hölldobler (1936— ), Pulitzer Prize winning German myrmecologist
- Thomas C. Jerdon (1811–1872)
- Laurent Keller (1961— )
- Walter W. Kempf (1920 - 1976)
- N. Kusnezov
- John E. Lattke
- John T. Longino
- Sir John Lubbock (the 1st Lord and Baron Avebury) (1834–1913), wrote on hymenoptera sense organs
- William Mann
- Gustav Mayr, Austrian entomologist and professor in Pest and Vienna, specialised in Hymenoptera
- C. Menozzi
- Mark W. Moffett
- Derek Wragge Morley (1920–1969), research included genetics, social behaviour of animals, and the behaviour of agricultural pests
- Fergus O'Rourke (1923— 2010), Irish zoologist
- Felix Santschi
- Justin O. Schmidt, studies the chemical and behavioral defenses of ants, wasps, and arachnids
- T. C. Schneirla
- S. O. Shattuck
- Frederick Smith (1805–1879), worked in the zoology department of the British Museum from 1849, specialising in the Hymenoptera
- Marion R. Smith
- Roy R. Snelling (1934–2008), credited with many important finds of rare or new ant species
- R. W. Taylor
- Walter R. Tschinkel
- James C. Trager
- Gary J. Umphrey
- Philip S. Ward
- E. Wasmann
- Neal A. Weber
- John Obadiah Westwood (1805–1893), English entomologist and archaeologist also noted for his artistic talents
- William Morton Wheeler (1865–1937), curator of invertebrate zoology in the American Museum of Natural History, described many new species
- E. O. Wilson (1929— ), Pulitzer Prize winning American myrmecologist, revolutionized the field of sociobiology
- Eugene Marais
- Myrmecochorous (adj.) dispersed by ants
- Myrmecophagous (adj.) feeding on ants
- Myrmecophile (n.) an organism that habitually shares an ant nest, myrmecophilous (adj.), myrmecophily (n.)
- Myrmidons (n.) ant-men in Metamorphoses and in Homer's Iliad, where they are Achilles' warriors
- List of ants of Great Britain
- Formicarium, also known as ant farm
- Stigmergy, a biological mechanism attributed to the coordination of ants and other social insects
- Myrmecological News, an independent, international, non-profit, scientific journal devoted to ant research
- International Union for the Study of Social Insects
- Sleigh, Charlotte (2007) Six legs better : a cultural history of myrmecology. The Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-8445-4
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