This year, a “birthday” passed silently without congratulations. This is very sad because in human terms you can go on pension or become professor emeritus or… when you reach the age of 65. They even organize a party to celebrate this important moment in life! But this doesn’t happen if you are a book, even if you are published on April first (no it’s not a joke and the book itself surely isn’t it either!) in the year 1950. It is one of the most important ant books ever published with important consequences for ant systematics and for North American myrmecology… and far beyond. It was, and still is, a landmark book that became a standard work for those interested in Ants. Everybody (except a few that revolted against it in the beginning but later had to admit that the others were right!) was very enthusiastic about it and it showed the way ant taxonomy had to go from there on. And those lessons are still followed by many! Its author, William Steel Creighton, had learned the lessons from Ernst Mayr, an ornithologist, about species and geographic races and changed with this book the way how myrmecologists looked at their animals of choice. And their views of species are still used. Sadly, the geographic race isn’t accepted any more in myrmecology but if you look at ornithology and mammalogy, herpetology, virology and bacteriology, general entomology and… you can see the value of this category. It also showed that to study ants most can be learned in the field and everything you find out helps to define a species (and geographic races), be it morphology, ethology, ecology and so on. Yes, it wasn’t the final field guide for North American ants but it was a book that opened many myrmecologists eyes and gave them another look at their focal point of interests! Most think that William Morton Wheeler’s 1910 book “Ants: Their Structure, Development and Behavior”, Edward Osborn Wilson’s 1971 book “The Insect Societies” and Berthold K. Hölldobler and Edward Osborn Wilson’s 1990 book “The Ants” are the big landmarks of the past century but William Steel Creighton’s 1950 book “The Ants of North America” also belongs to this exclusive list! Yes, many birthdays pass without anybody noticing….
Creighton, W. S., 1950. The ants of North America. Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology 104:1-585. http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/21135#page/5/mode/1up
The history or “the making” of the book:
Buhs, J. B., 2000. Building on bedrock: William Steel Creighton and the reformation of ant systematics, 1925-1970. Journal of the History of Biology 33:27-70. http://www.antcat.org/documents/5869/buhs_2000_j_hist_biol_creighton.pdf