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One of the earliest New World naturalists, Jose Celestino Mutis began his professional life as a physician in Spain and ended it as a scientist and natural philosopher in modern-day Colombia. Drawing on new translations of Mutis' nearly forgotten writings, this story of scientific adventure in eighteenth-century South America retrieves Mutis' contributions from obscurity.
In 1760, the 28-year-old Mutis embarked on a 48-year exploration of the natural world of northern South America. His thirst for knowledge led Mutis to study the region's flora, become a professor of mathematics, construct the first astronomical observatory in the Western Hemisphere, and amass one of the largest scientific libraries in the world.
One of his most important accomplishments involved ants. Acting at the urging of Carl Linnaeus - the father of taxonomy - shortly after he arrived in Granada, Mutis began studying the ants that swarmed everywhere. Though he lacked any entomological training, he built his own classification for the species he found and named at a time when New World entomology was largely nonexistent.