Richard D. Alexander

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Richard D. Alexander
Born(1929-11-18)November 18, 1929
DiedAugust 20, 2018(2018-08-20) (aged 88)
EducationBlackburn College (Carlinville, Illinois), Ohio State University (Ph.D. 1956)
Known forModel for a eusocial vertebrate
Scientific career
FieldsSystematics, Evolution
InstitutionsUniversity of Michigan
Notable studentsBret Weinstein, Mary Jane West-Eberhard

Richard D. Alexander (November 18, 1929 – August 20, 2018) was an American zoologist who was a professor at the University of Michigan and curator at the university's museum of zoology of in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His scientific pursuits integrated the fields of systematics, ecology, evolution, natural history and behavior. The salient organisms in his research are wide-ranging, from the orthopterans (grasshoppers, katydids and crickets) and Cicadidae (cicadas) to vertebrates: dogs, horses, and primates, including humans.


Alexander obtained an associate of arts degree from Blackburn College (Carlinville, Illinois) in 1948, a Bachelor of Science in education (biology) and a PhD from Ohio State University in 1956. He joined the University of Michigan faculty in 1957.[1] He was the Donald Ward Tinkle Professor of Evolutionary Biology from 1984 to 1989 and was named the Theodore H. Hubbell Distinguished University Professor of Evolutionary Biology in 1989. He served as director of the Museum of Zoology from 1993 to 1998.[1] For over 40 years, Alexander taught two graduate courses in alternate fall semesters: evolutionary ecology and evolution and behavior; during these semesters he dedicated all his time to prepare his lecture materials — fresh and up-to-date every year — which included many a time novel, provocative ideas from his own students and university colleagues; among which Prof. Donald W. Tinkle, curator of herpetology at the UMMZ and evolutionary biologist, was very prominent until his death in 1980. His course lectures were perhaps the most popular in the schools of natural sciences and natural resources at the university and were often attended by other faculty members and visiting students including many from the social sciences (anthropology, geography, sociology, psychology).

In 1974 he created a detailed model for a eusocial vertebrate, having no idea that a mammal with these characteristics actually existed. It turned out that his hypothetical eusocial rodent was a "perfect description" of the naked mole-rat (Heterocephalus glaber).[2]


Alexander's publications related to the evolution of behaviour and its bearing on human nature. After his retirement in 2000, he devoted most of his time to his horse farm, where he bred, reined, trained and rode them.

On humans[edit]


  • Darwinism and Human Affairs. Seattle: U. Washington Press. ISBN 0-295-95641-0, 1979.
  • The Biology of Moral Systems. New York: Aldine De Gruyter. ISBN 0-202-01174-7, 1987
  • Natural Selection and Social Behavior. Recent Research and New Theory. New York: Chiron Press. with D. W. Tinkle (eds.). 1981


  • The search for an evolutionary philosophy of man. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria, Melbourne 84: 99–120. 1971
  • The evolution of social behaviour. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics. 5:325-383. 1974
  • Group selection, altruism, and the levels of organization of life. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 9: 449–474. With G. Borgia. 1978
  • Epigenetic rules and Darwinian algorithms: The adaptive study of learning and development. Ethology and Sociobiology 11:241-303. 1990
  • How Did Humans Evolve? Reflections on the Uniquely Unique Species. University of Michigan Museum of Zoology Special Publication 1:1-38. 1990
  • Biological considerations in the analysis of morality. In: M. H. and D. V. Nitecki (eds.). Evolutionary Ethics. State University of New York Press, pp. 162–196. 1993


On horses[edit]

  • Teaching Yourself to Train Your Horse. Woodlane Farm Books. ISBN 0-9712314-0-0, 2001

On Insects[edit]

  • Aggressiveness, territoriality, and sexual behavior in field crickets (Orthoptera - Gryllidae), Behaviour (17) pp. 130–223. 1961

Children's reading[edit]

Honors and awards[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Richard D. Alexander". Faculty History Project. University of Michigan Heritage Project. Retrieved July 20, 2018.
  2. ^ Stanton Braude (July–August 1997). "The Predictive Power of Evolutionary Biology and the Discovery of Eusociality in the Naked Mole Rat". Reports of the National Center for Science Education. 17 (4): 12–15. Retrieved February 2, 2010.
  3. ^ "Richard D. Alexander". American Association for the Advancement of Science. Retrieved February 15, 2011.
  4. ^ "Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal". National Academy of Sciences. Archived from the original on August 1, 2012. Retrieved February 15, 2011.