Wolfgang Wickler
Wolfgang Wickler 01.JPG
Wickler in 2009
Alma materUniversity of Munich
Known forMimicry
SpouseAgnes Oehm
Scientific career
FieldsEthology, Sociobiology
InstitutionsMax Planck Institute,
University of Munich
ThesisBehavior of Fish
InfluencesKonrad Lorenz

Wolfgang Wickler is a German zoologist, behavioral researcher and author. He led the ethological department of the Max Planck Institute for Behavioral Physiology from 1974, and he took over as director of the institute in 1975. Even after he was given emeritus status, he remained closely associated to the institute in Seewiesen and ensured its smooth transition under the newly created Max Planck Institute for Ornithology.


After finishing secondary school in 1951, he studied biology and then received a grant to go to the Max Planck Institute for Behavioral Physiology, where he was a student of Konrad Lorenz and Erich von Holst. After he completed his doctoral work on the behavior of fish, he was scientific assistant in Seewiesen as of 1960 and finally qualified to become a professor at the University of Munich in 1969. He was also appointed to be a professor in the faculty of natural sciences there in 1976. By 1970, he was a lecturer in the Catholic theological faculty for the biological foundations of human moral concepts.

Wickler's area of specialisation was the reconstruction of racial history of animal communities and the analysis of communication of animals. Among other areas, he investigated the "dialects" of birds and he also wrote a book about mimicry in 1968 which was the only book on the subject in the German language until 2002. Other research fields of his department at the Max Planck Institute for Behavioral Physiology were studies about the social behavior of spiders and grasshoppers, about acquisition of food, reproduction and mating of prawns, as well as rather philosophical publications on "biological explanation" in connection with ethical questions (such as "Die Biologie der zehn Gebote", The Biology of the Ten Commandments, in 1971).

He received great attention in the broad public in 1981 with the sociobiologically shaped book, "Das Prinzip Eigennutz" (The Principle of Self-Interest), which Wickler wrote with Ute Seibt, as well as the book, "Männlich – weiblich. Ein Naturgesetz und seine Folgen" (Male - Female, a Natural Law and its Consequences), also written with Ute Seibt in 1983. The focal point of both books was the evolution of behavior. The central question was formulated as, "How must the behavior of living things have been formed, if the theory of evolution is correct?" (from the foreword to "Das Prinzip Eigennutz"). Although their books did not deny cultural influences on human behavior, they were reproached for taking these influences into consideration marginally, at most. It is extremely unusual that new editions several of his books continue to be published, decades after their first publications.

In November 1997, the council of the Max Planck Society decided to close the Max Planck Institute for Behavioral Physiology, with the retirement of Prof. Wolfgang Wickler on November 30, 1999. Its ornithological research has been continued in the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology (in Erling-Andechs, Radolfzell and Seewiesen).

Along with the former Bonn behavioral biologist, Hanna-Maria Zippelius, Wolfgang Wickler is one of the most aggressive critics of the instinct theory of his mentor, Konrad Lorenz.

Wolfgang Wickler has been married to Agnes Oehm since 1956, has four grown children and is also active as an organist.

Selected publications

Mimicry in Plants and Animals (Translated by R. D. Martin) McGraw-Hill, New York: 1968. ISBN 0-07-070100-8
The Biology of the Ten Commandments (Translated by David Smith) New York, McGraw-Hill: 1972). ISBN 0-07-073758-4.