Places to Stay




Southeastern Ecology and Evolution Conference

Florida State University, March 28-30, 2008


Walter Tschinkel

Concluding Remarks

11am Sunday March 30, 2008


Biographical Sketch

Link to Walter's website

As a kid, Walter Tschinkel was considered a little weird because he liked bugs and stuff, and looked at pond slime through his microscope. The suspicions of society were confirmed when he grew up into a weird adult. Like many lucky biologists, he never outgrew his youthful interests, but turned them into his profession instead.

Born in wartime in the Sudeten-German area of Czechoslovakia, he grew up in Texas, Alabama and Connecticut, attending Wesleyan, a small men’s college for small men. Graduate school took him to the University of California at Berkeley where, between picketing, pottery, backpacking, photography and getting married, he earned an M.S. and a Ph.D. in comparative biochemistry (whatever that is) with a focus on chemical communication in beetles. Upon finishing his Ph.D., he packed his new wife and 5 pounds of halvah into his ’46 Ford V-8 convertible and headed for a postdoctoral stint at Cornell. After a year of teaching at Rhodes University in South Africa, he finally came permanently to roost at Florida State University, where he is currently the R.O. Lawton Distinguished Professor and the Menzel Professor of Biological Science. Thirty-seven years of research on diverse aspects of the social biology of fire ants and other ants has allowed him to pretend to know something about these fascinating creatures and their ways. The Big Question that Walter is trying to answer through his research is, How do the thousands of ants that make up a colony manage to function as a single entity, a superorganism? How do colonies of fire ants interact on an ecological scale? He recently published the definitive book on fire ant social biology. In 2001, he traveled to the Antarctic only to discover that the only ants there were in the name.

Walter’s wife and daughter are both smarter than he is, but he is quite a bit stronger. He is one of the few people who can do body-flanges (push-ups with arms fully extended forward), and holds the record for the number of Sunray Venus Clams dug in a single breath-hold dive. Rather late in life, he discovered that he enjoyed digging holes, a pleasure that suited his growing interest in ant nest architecture. In one hour, he can dig a six-foot hole wide enough to swing a shovel in. Outside of science, Walter is an accomplished woodworker and makes both furniture and gadgets for his research. A world-class scrounge, he has paid for very little of the lumber he uses, and can spot a scroungable cherry tree from over a quarter of a mile away. He is also an accomplished photographer and artist, and has exhibited in galleries in California, Vermont, Minnesota, Connecticut and Oregon, as well as in his own office and hall.