Editor's Letter

Ignite Your Own Biophilia

By Wendy O. Dixon, Editor

For my son’s eighth birthday, his father and I bought him an ant farm. It’s one of those glow-in-the-dark farms made of gel. It comes in a clear container with a lid, but no ants. Since I wasn’t sure which kinds of ants do well in the farm, I decided to forgo the quest to gather the ants from the backyard and instead ordered them by mail. Isn’t it convenient that you can have anything delivered right to your door?

A few days later, we received a vial of ants in the mailbox. All had survived the journey through the post office. We emptied the tube of ants into the container and, after retrieving a few wandering explorers that had scurried away, welcomed them into the family. The ants ignored us, getting to work right away to make their house a home.

We checked in on them several times a day to note their progress. Here’s what they do all day — they bite one small chunk of gel at a time and take it to a corner to start a tunnel, working together like an assembly line.

Next, they travel through one of many tunnels, continuing to bring the pieces of gel to the top, then returning back down to do it all over again. I’m sure I heard them say as they passed each other in the tunnels, “Excuse me, pardon me, coming through.”

They work, eat and even bury their dead in this contraption. According to the brochure that came with the ant farm, harvester ants typically live two to three months, so they didn’t last long. But there was one determined little ant that made it for seven months. I think of how that must have been a bit lonely for a social insect to be isolated. But we didn’t want to take it out and put it in the backyard because we so enjoyed studying this tiny creature.

As I prepared for the feature article in this issue on the E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center, the new educational center on Nokuse Plantation in Freeport, I took a walking tour with the center’s director, Christy Scally. While there, I met Nokuse Plantation biologist Bob Walker and field supervisor Frank Cuchens, who were overjoyed to have just found two colonies of harvester ants along the trail.

“These native ants are important for the Longleaf Pine community,” Walker said. “Everything out here is important.”

I’d never been so excited by ants in my life. As I learned more about the center and Nokuse Plantation, I found myself gaining a whole new respect for the animals and plant life around me. I’d awakened my own biophilia, which Wilson defines as the connection that humans subconsciously seek with the rest of life.

The mastermind behind the E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center is M.C. Davis, a man who cares so passionately about the earth and its inhabitants, he spent tens of thousands of his own dollars to help preserve the precious wildlife and plants in Northwest Florida. As the founder and owner of Nokuse Plantation, Davis is opening the center in the fall. I hope you enjoy reading about this unique facility, and that you find your own biophilia.