Eric Wasmann (1859-1931)


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February 27th 1931 - Erich Wasman died in Valkenburg.

His father Rudolf Friedrich was a painter who came from Hamburg. At an age of 24 he moved to Munich. He lived some years in Rome where he joined the Nazarene. Since 1840 Meran became his new home town. There he died in the year 1886 at an age of 81. Wasmann painted portraits and landscapes. There is a painting from him in the Hamburg Arts Centre: 'Early Snow in Meran'. A photo of that picture is found in the 'Large Brockhaus'.

In Meran was on May 29th 1858 also born his son Eric who entered on August 29th 1875 in Holland the Society of Jesus and died on February 27th 1931 in Valkenburg (Holland).

Because of tuberculosis of the lung he had to be much in the open air. That led him to observe and study the life of the ants. Later he expanded his studies also to the termites.

In the year 1888 he was ordained priest and studied afterwards in Prague zoology (1890/92). Afterwards in Exaten, Luxembourg and Valkenburg he lived completely for his research. It made him an important entomologist and animal psychologist.

Wasmann became the mental leader of the Catholics in biological questions. He was co-initiator of the scientific section of the Görres-Gesellschaft. As first Catholic clergyman he publicly stood up - long before Teilhard de Chardin - for Darwin's descendence and selection theories. He was critically observed by Catholic Church leaders who were moulded by the Kulturkampf. Wasmann brought the proof that the newest knowledge of the natural sciences was compatible with the Christian world view.

Wasmann left more than seven hundred scientific writings. The Museum of Sciences in Maastricht with Wasmann's myrmecophile collection is world-famous. He is considered as expert for questions of biology, instinct research, descent and evolution etc. That can be seen also by the many honours given to him. He was a member of the Institute Grand Ducal in Luxembourg, of the Societé Scientologique de Bruxelles, of the Societé Entomologique de Belgique and of the same society in London, likewise of the Spanish, Brazilian and German Entomological Societies. He was an honorary doctor of the University of Freiburg and of other universities. To his seventieth birthday a Wasmann-Anniversary-Volume was published in his honours.

Already in 1897 his book about Instinct And Intelligence in the Animal Kingdom was published; in 1909 his book 'The Psychological Abilities of the Ants' and in 1919 'Haeckel's Monism - a Culture Danger'.

Eric Wasmann died at an age of 72 without the prospect of a successor.


Erich Wasmann was born in Tyrol, in the year Charles Darwin published 'The origin of species': 1859. In 1872 he joined the German Jesuits. Although he was referred to as the 'beetle father' following his first publication, the 289 publications which were to follow changed this to 'the ant father'. [father Erich Wasmann 1872-1931]

The collecting of ants was not his prime objective. In particular, Wasmann was interested in those other inhabitants of ant nests referred to as myrmecophiles. Wasmann was a pioneer in this field, and managed to build up a unique collection of beetles, butterflies, mites, bugs and aphids which lived in ant nests. The collection comprises, in addition to more than 1,000 ant species and in excess of 200 termite species, more than 2,000 species of myrmecophiles. On the basis of these, Wasmann described 933 new species. Most specimens are dried but some of them are preserved in alcohol. In his studies Wasmann of course confronted the question about the origin of the mostly highly specialised myrmecophiles. It is Wasmann's merit that, although the Church had not generally accepted Darwin's theory of evolution, he did accept it. In this he was far ahead of his (religious) contemporaries !


Wasmann, E. 1891a [1890]. Einige neue Hermaphroditen von Myrmica scabrinodis und laevinodis. Stett. Entomol. Ztg. 51: 298-299

Wasmann, E. 1894. Kritisches Verzeichniss der myrmekophilen und termitophilen Arthropoden. Berlin: F. L. Dames, xv + 231 pp.

Wasmann, E. 1897a. Bemerkungen über einige Ameisen von Madagascar. Zool. Anz. 20: 249-250

Wasmann, E. 1901. Neues über die zusammengesetzten Nester und gemischten Kolonien der Ameisen. [part]. Allg. Z. Entomol. 6: 369-371

Wasmann, E. 1902a. Neues über die zusammengesetzten Nester und gemischten Kolonien der Ameisen. [part]. Allg. Z. Entomol. 7: 1-5

Wasmann, E. 1904a. Neue Beiträge zur Kenntniss der Paussiden, mit biologischen und phylogenetischen Bemerkungen. Notes Leyden Mus. 25: 1-82

Wasmann, E. 1904b. Zur Kenntniss der Gäste der Treiberameisen und ihrer Wirthe am obern Congo, nach den Sammlungen und Beobachtungen von P. Herm. Kohl, C.S.S.C. bearbeitet. Zool. Jahrb. Suppl. 7: 611-682

Wasmann, E. 1905f. Berichtigungen zu Note I dieses Bandes. Notes Leyden Mus. 25: 110

Wasmann, E. 1906. Zur Kenntniss der Ameisen und Ameisengäste von Luxemburg. Arch. Inst. Grand-Ducal Luxemb. (n.s.)1(1/2 2: 104-124

Wasmann, E. 1909a. Über den Ursprung des sozialen Parasitismus, der Sklaverei und der Myrmekophilie bei den Ameisen. Biol. Centralbl. 29: 587-604

Wasmann, E. 1909d. Über den Ursprung des sozialen Parasitismus, der Sklaverei und der Myrmekophilie bei den Ameisen. (Schluss.). Biol. Centralbl. 29: 683-703

Wasmann, E. 1910. Nachträge zum sozialen Parasitismus und der Sklaverei bei den Ameisen. [part]. Biol. Centralbl. 30: 515-524

Wasmann, E. 1911a. Zur Kenntnis der Termiten und Termitengäste vom belgischen Congo. [part]. Rev. Zool. Afr. (Bruss.) 1: 91-117

Wasmann, E. 1915c. Eine neue Pseudomyrma aus der Ochsenhorndornakazie in Mexiko, mit Bemerkungen über Ameisen in Akaziendornen und ihre Gäste. Ein kritischer Beitrag zur Pflanzen-Myrmekophilie. Tijdschr. Entomol. 58: 296-325

Wasmann, E. 1915d. Anergatides Kohli, eine neue arbeiterlose Schmarotzerameise vom oberen Kongo (Hym., Form.). Entomol. Mitt. 4: 279-288

Wasmann, E. 1916b. Neue dorylophile Staphyliniden Afrikas. Entomol. Mitt. 5: 134-147

Wasmann, E. 1917. Neue Anpassungstypen bei Dorylinengästen Afrikas (Col. Staphylinidae). Z. Wiss. Zool. 117: 257-360

Wasmann, E. 1918a. Ueber Solenopsis geminata saevissima Sm. und ihre Gäste. Entomol. Bl. Biol. Syst. Käfer 14: 69-76

Wasmann, E. 1918b. Ueber die von v. Rothkirch, 1912, in Kamerun gesammelten Myrmekophilen. Entomol. Mitt. 7: 135-149

Wasmann, E. 1931. Acromyrmex Bucki, n. sp. (Hym., Formicidae). Rev. Entomol. (Rio J.) 1: 106


Bolton B, Alpert G, Ward PS, Naskrecki P. 2007. [CD-ROM] Bolton’s Catalogue of the Ants of the World. Harvard University Press.

Schmitz, H. 1932. In memoriam. P. Erich Wassmann S. J. Tijdschr. Entomol. 75: 1-5