Ernst Walter Mayr is a well-known and important biologist from the 20th century. Mayr was an American biologist who was born in Germany and was known for his work as a taxonomist, ornithologist, explorer of the tropics, and historian of science. He also studied evolution and population genetics. His work on the theory of evolution paved the way for modern ideas in genetics and evolutionary biology, such as the work of Mendel and Darwin and the ideas of “systematics” and “biological species.” Mayr is known to have written more than 100 papers about the classification of birds. He came up with a new way to define a species, which most scientists agreed with and which led to the discovery of many species that had not been known before. During his life, Mayr was able to find and name 25 new bird species and 410 subspecies. In his book “Systematics and the Origin of Species,” he proposed a change to the way species are currently defined. Charles Darwin said that a species is a group of individuals with similar physical features, but Mayr said that a species is a group of individuals that can breed with each other. Each species’ DNA has information that is different enough from that of other species to stop them from breeding. In his later life, Mayr worked to change the philosophy of science so that biology was seen as an important part of understanding life. Learn more about his life and works by reading on.
Early years and childhood
Ernst Mayr was born in Kempten, Germany, on July 5, 1904. He was the son of Dr. Otto Mayr and Helen Puccinelli.
Otto Mayr was a lawyer by trade, but he was also a passionate naturalist. He took his kids on trips to teach them to love and understand the world around them.
Mayr was interested in birds from a very young age. After his father died when Ernst was in his early teens, his family moved to Dresden, where he went to the “Royal Gymnasium” (Staatsgymnasium).
He was a member of the “Saxony Ornithologists’ Association” when he was in high school. At the association, he met the famous ornithologist Rudolf Zimmermann, who decided to teach Mayr.
Ernst went to the University of Greifswald in 1923 to study medicine. He said that he chose Greifswald over other well-known universities because it was a place with a lot of interesting birds.
Ernst Mayr’s Career
In 1925, an ornithologist named Erwin Stresemann saw Mayr’s work and told him that he should study biology full-time so that he could use his natural talent for ornithology.
He got his Ph.D. in ornithology from the “University of Berlin” when he was only 21 years old, in 1926. After getting his Ph.D., Ernst went to work at the “Berlin Museum.”
In 1927, Stresemann put him in touch with Walter Rothschild at a meeting of zoologists. Rothschild put him in charge of an expedition for the “American Museum of Natural History.” He was a banker by trade and loved nature.
Mayr studied and made a list of bird skins in New Guinea. He also named 38 species of orchids that had never been named before. While in New Guinea, Mayr pointed out that Hermann Detzner’s book, “Four Years Among the Cannibals in German Guinea from 1914 to the Truce,” had facts that didn’t match up with what he said.
The trip he went on that got him the job as curator of the American Museum of Natural History ended in 1930. Here, he wrote some of his most in-depth books about the classification of birds.
In 1942, he wrote what is thought to be his most important book, “Systematics and the Origin of Species.” In it, he expanded on the idea of evolutionary synthesis that Darwin had started.
A few years later, Mayr became a professor at Harvard University. From 1961 to 1970, he also ran the Museum of Comparative Zoology there.
Mayr retired in 1975, but he stayed on as a professor emeritus at “Harvard” until his death. Even after he retired, he kept writing about evolutionary biology.
Works of note
Mayr’s most important book, “Systematics and the Origin of Species,” came out in 1942. It was about evolution and species, and it was where he shared his ideas. His theory was built on the work of Gregor Mendel (genetics) and Charles Darwin but went further (natural selection).
Mayr named about 25 new bird species, 410 new subspecies, and 38 new orchid species in New Guinea alone during his lifetime.
Awards & Achievements
Ernst Mayr was given the “Darwin-Wallace Medal” in 1958 for his work on defining species and helping to make Darwin and Mendel’s ideas about evolution more accurate.
This great scientist was given the prestigious “National Medal of Science for Biological Studies” by the President of the United States in 1969 for his work in the field of biology.
In 1994, he was given the “International Prize for Biology” for his work on basic biology research.
Personal History and Legacies
Mayr moved from Germany to the United States in 1931 to work at the American Museum of Natural History. While he was in the United States, the Nazis took over Germany. Ernst was glad to be safe in New York, so he moved to the United States to live there for good.
In 1935, Mayr and Margarete Simon said their wedding vows. They were married for more than 55 years and had two daughters. When his wife died, he was left alone.
The learned scientist died on February 3, 2005, in Bedford, Massachusetts. He was 100 years old. He was told he had cancer a few weeks before he died.
In honor of this smart biologist, Harvard University built the Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology.
Estimated Net worth
Ernst Mayr is one of the wealthiest computer scientists, and he is also on the list of the most well-known computer scientists. Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider all say that Ernst Mayr has a net worth of about $1.5 million.