Walter R. Tschinkel, ESA Fellow (2012)

Dr. Walter R. Tschinkel, Robert O. Lawton distinguished professor of biological science at Florida State University, Tallahassee (FSU), was elected as Fellow in 2012.  He is internationally recognized for his research on the social biology and ecology of ants.

Tschinkel was born in what is currently the Czech Republic on 15 September 1940.  His family emigrated to the U.S. in 1946 and was naturalized in 1955.  He received his B.S. in biology from Wesleyan University in 1962 and his Ph.D. in comparative biochemistry from the University of California, Berkeley in 1968.  After a postdoc at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY and Rhodes University in South Africa, he accepted a position in the Department of Biological Science at FSU in 1970, attaining the rank of full professor in 1980.

Tschinkel's research has emphasized experimentation, several times in the field on a grand scale, and often uses clever improvised equipment. Beginning with chemical communication in beetles and ants, he gradually broadened to the general theme of how ant colonies are organized to function as superorganisms, how these superorganisms develop, and how they interact with each other on an ecological scale, publishing more than 130 papers in diverse journals.  Much of this research was carried out on the fire ant, Solenopsis invicta Buren, and delved into colony founding, colony development, colony function, territoriality, ecology, and population biology.  Based on this body of work and the literature, Tschinkel wrote the Pulitzer Prize-nominated book, The Fire Ants (Harvard University Press), which provides a critical summary of fire ant biology. 

Having developed the sociometric/sociogenic method for the efficient description of the seasonal and life history of ant species, Tschinkel has produced a steady stream of life histories of Florida ants. More recently, he developed methods for making casts of subterranean ant nests, and is currently studying how ants produce these nests. Another current area of study addresses how ant communities are assembled through habitat choices made by dispersing, newly-mated queens.  He has mentored many students and postdocs, a number of whom have gone on to productive careers in academia, government, and the private sector.

Tschinkel is known for being a challenging teacher with exceptionally wide knowledge.  He has written on educational performance in public schools and the university. His metal casts of ant nests are on display in many museums in the U.S., Canada, France, and Hong Kong.

Tschinkel has been a member of the ESA since 1971, and a member of the North American section of the International Union for the Study of Social Insects (IUSSI) since the early 1980s.  He served as President of the IUSSI World Congress in 2006.

 An accomplished woodworker, Tschinkel builds fine furniture of hand-crafted planks or salvaged wood.  His botanical drawings have delighted many.  He is a fervent outdoorsman, undoubtedly one reason for his passion for field experiments and natural history.

(Updated May, 2013)