Tom Eisner, Renowned Biologist And Insect-Lover, Dies At 81

Today, the scientific world mourns the passing of one of its greatest and most inspirational authorities on animal behavior, chemical ecology and evolution.

Tom Eisner died Friday March 25th at his home in Ithaca, New York. Cause of death was reported to be complications of Parkinson’s disease.

Eisner was serving as the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor of Chemical Ecology at Cornell University, and Director of the Cornell Institute for Research in Chemical Ecology (CIRCE) at the time of his death.

Throughout his long and distinguised career, Eisner authored or was co-author for some 500 different scientific articles.

Notable exerpts from the Newswise obituary:

Eisner was born in Berlin on June 25, 1929, on the eve of the Great Depression. Eisner’s Jewish father, Hans Eisner, moved the family to Barcelona just as Hitler was ascending to power in 1933. But the Spanish civil war prompted Eisner’s parents to leave Europe and eventually settle in Uruguay.

Eisner recalled, from age seven, being surrounded in South America by an astounding number of astonishingly beautiful bugs. His nascent interests were nurtured by his father, a pharmaceutical chemist, and his mother Margarete Heil Eisner, an artist.

In nine books and on film, Eisner chronicled his studies of insects and how they mate, trap their prey and fend off predators. His book For The Love of Insects won the Best Science Book in the 2004 Independent Publisher Book Awards and the Louis Thomas Prize for Writing.

In his career, Eisner made numerous discoveries of remarkable biological phenomena; they ranged from better understanding the web-making process of spiders to the explosive, high-temperature spray of the bombardier beetle and how it wards off predators, to why some male butterflies secrete certain substances, and why the firefly does not bite or sting and is not eaten (it tastes terrible!).

An active advocate of human rights, an opponent of nuclear war and an ardent environmentalist and conservationist, Eisner served on the board of directors of the National Audubon Society, the National Scientific Council of the Nature Conservancy, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the World Resources Institute Council, and was active in many other scientific organizations.

“I was fortunate to have taken several classes from Tom Eisner when I was an undergraduate and M.S. student in entomology at Cornell,” said a former student. “Eisner always had [us] so energized after his lectures that you wanted to run out and do experiments on all the things he so enthusiastically said weren’t yet known. He showed everyone the promise and excitement of exploring all these things that he said nobody knew anything about.”

Rest in peace, Mr. Eisner. We’ll do our best to continue the work of understanding and protecting the small and seemingly insignificant species of the world, but it will be slower going without you.

Related Reading:
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Save One Of The World’s Rarest Insects For $200
Could Eating Bugs Help Slow Climate Change?

Image Credit: Cornell University

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Gloria C.
gloria C.4 years ago

i'll have to check him out.

Joy Dantine
Joy Dantine4 years ago


Joy Dantine
Joy Dantine4 years ago


Joy Dantine
Joy Dantine4 years ago


melanie s.
melanie s.4 years ago

Thank you for this article. A great man, a life that enriches us all. Wish we would all be more aware that without insect life we would not be able to exist.

jim hockley
jim hockley4 years ago

just remembered i had a dream last night, was quite realistic. there were various insects and spiders in here and i put them outside unharmed and free but there was this giant walking stick thing and i was wondering how to put it out without hurting it. it looked too delicate to disturb. awoke and there was no such thing, just a dream.

jim hockley
jim hockley4 years ago

a loss? i see having known him as a gain. he was lucky to be able to share some of our more amazing neighbors with us. he lived a wonderful and fascinating life. the loss is because of what we've done to the insects and all their relations. the loss is our detach ment from nature. RIP mahfoind

Carlos L.
Carlos L.4 years ago

A big loss. But he left an important legacy, unlike our current politicians.

James G.
James G.4 years ago

A big loss in this time of great need.

Alison M.
Alison Maxwell4 years ago

Thank you for the article. His contributions to the world are appreciated and his loss is mourned. Thank you.