Walter R. Tschinkel
Walter R. Tschinkel is an internationally renowned myrmecologist, entomologist and Distinguished Research Professor of Biological Science and R.O. Lawton Distinguished Professor emeritus at Florida State University. He is the author of the Pulitzer Prize nominated book The Fire Ants (Harvard University/Belknap Press 2006), and more than 150 original research papers on the natural history, ecology, nest architecture and organization of ant societies; chemical communication in beetles; and the mysterious fairy circles of the Namib desert. His casts of ant nests and botanical drawings appear in numerous museums of art and natural history, from Hong Kong to Paris.
Tschinkel is known for his thorough and inventive experimental design, often involving the construction of special contraptions (stimulatorium, trash can kiln, ice nests ) and re-purposing methods from other fields of inquiry. In 1991, he coined the term “insect sociometry” to describe an under-emphasized method, involving the detailed physical and numerical description of social insect colonies; which he views as superorganisms. He is an advocate of scientific natural history and the "bottom-up" approach to biological research, noting that, “…empirical evidence is the horse that pulls the cart of theory through testing, and the three move along the road to understanding."  He suggests that novel and meaningful research questions are best derived from extensive observation, familiarity and careful experimentation.
Professor Tschinkel has written extensively on education  and gained a reputation as a stern yet inspirational lecturer who places special emphasis on knowing the basics. During his 43 years at Florida State University, he developed and taught numerous university courses including Animal Behavior, Animal Diversity and Insect Biology. He also served as a major professor and mentor to 22 Masters and PhD students, and more than 71 undergraduate researchers. In 2013, Dr. Tschinkel retired from teaching. Today he remains active in research, with field sites in Florida’s Apalachicola National Forest and Namibia. In addition to numerous professional honors and accolades, Walter Tschinkel is a fellow of the Entomological Society of America, co-founder of the environmental advocacy group, Friends of The Apalachicola National Forest, and a committee member for The Nierenberg Prize for Science in the Public Interest. In his spare time he enjoys writing, creating botanical artwork, photography, hiking, wood working and reading mystery novels. He is capable of a breath-hold dive to the depth of 60 ft.
Walter Reinhart Tschinkel was born on September 15, 1940 in what is now the Czech Republic. He is the son of Dr. Johann G. Tschinkel and Lotte G. Tschinkel and brother to Henry and Helga Tschinkel. His family emigrated to the United States in 1946, where his father worked in rocket development for the U.S. Army at Ft. Bliss, Texas, and later for the Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. In 1962, Walter received a B.A. in biology from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. He went on to the University of California Berkeley where he completed a Masters (1965) and PhD (1968) in Comparative Biochemistry, for work on the chemical communication and chemical defenses of tenebrionid beetles. Following graduation, he conducted postdoctoral research with Tom Eisner at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York and later served as a Lecturer at the Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa. He accepted a position in the Department of Biological Science at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida in 1970, attaining the status of full professor in 1980. Now retired, Tschinkel lives in Tallahassee Florida with his wife Victoria Tschinkel (m. 1968). They have one daughter, Erika Tschinkel.
Research Themes and Discoveries
- Chemical defenses of tenebrionid beetles: chemistry, behavior, morphology
- Comparative internal morphology and systematics of tenebrionid beetles
- Inhibition of metamorphosis by crowding in the tenebrionid beetle Zophobas rugipes (endocrinology, behavior, life history and population dynamics).
- Architecture of subterranean ant nests (numerous species)
- Social biology of the fire ant, Solenopsis invicta
- Necrophoric and sanitation behavior in fire ants.
- Brood recognition by workers of the fire ant.
- Development of polymorphism in colonies of the fire ant.
- Parasitic queen replacement in orphaned colonies of the fire ant.
- Multiple queen colony foundation.
- Social control of queen fertility.
- Food traffic in colonies of the fire ant.
- Colony ontogeny and sociogenesis
- Population dynamics among colonies
- Larval feeding
- Evolution of polymorphism, allometry
- The organization of foraging
- Production of sexual alates in relation to colony size and season
- Ecology of fire ants in relation to native ants
- Territory formation in fire ants
- Natural history of other ants
- Prenolepis imparis, Trachymyrmex septentrionalis, Crematogaster ashmeadi, Dolichoderus mariae, Pogonomyrmex badius, Formica dolosa, F. pallidefulva, Aphaenogaster sp., Monomorium viridum, Pheidole morrisi
- Walter R. Tschinkel (2006). The Fire Ants. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-02207-6. External link in
- Tschinkel, W. R., and C. D. Willson. Inhibition of pupation due to crowding in some tenebrionid beetles. J. Exp. Zool. 176: 137-146 (1971)
- Tschinkel, W. R. Methods for casting subterranean ant nests. J. Insect Sci. 10:88 (2010)
- Tschinkel, W.R. (2013) A method for using ice to construct subterranean ant nests (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) and other soil cavities. Myrmecol. News 18: 99-102.
- Tschinkel, W. R. Insect sociometry, a field in search of data. Insectes Soc. 38: 77-82 (1991).
- Tschinkel, W.R. and E.O. Wilson (2014). Scientific Natural History: Telling the Epics of Nature. BioScience doi: 10.1093/biosci/biu033