Feb 112014

While many in North America may recognize the Ski Jump from the brief clip fully encapsulating the agony of defeat in ABC’s Wide World of Sports intro, this event is quite popular in northern Europe. Supposedly originating in Norway when an army officer was showing off for his troops in the late 1800s, the men’s ski jump has been included in every Winter Olympics to date, while 2014 marks the first time women have been allowed to fling themselves off a mountain and sore for Olympic gold!

Kamil Stoch of Poland sores above the Olympic rings in Sochi, Russia on his way to a gold medal. Photo copyright Lars Baron/Getty Images.

Little known fact: the bar that ski jumpers sit on at the top of the hill before launching themselves down the slope used to be a raw log imported from the jungles of Central America to help encourage international inclusion*, and with it would often come gliding ants (conveniently for this story Cephalotes atratus), who would show off their own ability to fly!

Cephalotes atratus gracefully floats back to earth while attempting a world record in the Formicid Tree Jump! Photo copyright Alex Wild.

So how do ants measure up to our advanced aerodynamics, years of practice and training, and our pursuit for the thrill of victory? Surprisingly well, all things considered. With absolutely perfect form achieved with models in a wind tunnel, humans can attain a maximum horizontal glide of between 1.13m and 1.34m for every metre they drop, depending on the in-flight technique employed by the athlete. That means that when the women ski jumpers take off later today, they’ll be aiming for flights of nearly 100 metres, finishing with safe and graceful landings down the mountain, while only** falling about 80 metres!

By comparison, Cephalotes gliding ants have been found to majestically sore about 0.18m for every metre dropped. While they certainly won’t be challenging our athletes, it is more than sufficient to allow the ants to glide a few feet towards their tree trunk should they fall from their arboreal nests, avoiding a very long hike from the ground!

I guess it all comes back to form vs. function, and in this contest, I think we can clearly consider Team Arthropoda the winner.

Yanoviak S.P., Munk Y., Kaspari M. & Dudley R. (2010). Aerial manoeuvrability in wingless gliding ants (Cephalotes atratus), Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 277 (1691) 2199-2204. DOI:

Ito S., Seo K. & Asai T. (2008). An Experimental Study on Ski Jumping Styles (P140), The Engineering of Sport, 7 9-17. DOI:


*Not really.

**I’m not sure I should be able to say “only” and “falling 80 metres” in the same sentence.

Jun 262012

You may have noticed the Weekly Flypaper has been missing the past two weekends. I have a good reason for missing one, and a not so good reason for missing the other…

First, the good reason. I took part in the Rouge Park BioBlitz in Toronto, and along with 230+ other naturalists, taxonomists and volunteers, we scoured Rouge Park (soon to be Canada’s first urban National Park) for all signs of life, trying to identify as much as possible in 24 hours. Although the numbers are still coming in, the official species count is already nearing 1,300 species, all sighted or caught in 24 hours (and more than 800 of those were identified within the first 24 hours too)! That is an absolutely amazing number, and sets the bar very high for future BioBlitzes! The Guelph crew had a great time, and I think we contributed almost 100 insect species identifications, including 60+ flies. Lots more came home with us, and we’ll be getting names on them in the near future to be added to the list. The arthropod coordinator, Antonia Guidotti of the Royal Ontario Museum has posted an awesome synopsis of the BioBlitz over at the ROM Blog.

The other reason? I was lazy last weekend and didn’t get around to doing it. Oops.

So with 3 weeks worth of links, and major holidays upcoming in Canada & the USA, I suggest you grab a cold drink, find a comfy spot, and clear your schedule, because the Bugosphere has been busy!  Continue reading »

May 312012

I’m applying for a student fee waiver for this summer’s BugShot Insect Photography Workshop, and spent today putting together my image portfolio. After some ruthless culling and extra time spent with edits, I’ve arrived at 10 photos which I feel best represent my insect photography. Going through my photo library was an enlightening experience, and I’m quite happy with the progress I’ve made since my first attempts at macrophotography 5 years ago. Of course there’s still plenty of room for improvement (hence my hopeful application to learn from the masters), and there are a number of different techniques and ideas I want to play around with, so I don’t see myself running out of subjects or projects anytime soon!

Click the images to view at a larger size (650px long edge).

Jan 032012

Ryan FleacrestWell here we are, a full year after I started this little musical column. Turns out there are a lot more artists who have brought in the funk with insect content than I could have imagined, making quite a diverse playlist (which I’m going to curate in one place and post soon, don’t worry). My goal was to feature a new song every week, and I almost made it, having only forgotten last week! So close! Oh well, I’ve covered more than 52 songs throughout the year, so I suppose I’m still ahead of the game.

I enjoyed writing these pieces each week, and often surprised myself with where the final product ended up. Some were silly, some I tried to deliver a message, and some were intimately personal. It goes to show just how a song can impact a person and inspire a full range of emotions.

With that being said, this may be the last Tuesday Tunes for a bit. No fear, I still have plenty of insect music to share and write about, but there are some other weekly projects I want to try and do, and I’m ready to turn this into an occasional feature, coming around maybe once a month or so.

Today is as good a time as any for another multi-song version of Tuesday Tunes, with another band I listened to through high school; Alien Ant Farm.

When you hear about Alien Ant Farm, you probably think of their biggest hit (and Michael Jackson cover), Smooth Criminal. Other than the band’s ant-head logo on the canvas of the boxing ring, there’s not much entomological about this song, but it’s still a fun song, so enjoy!

Their logo isn’t their only entomological expression however, as they also penned and performed the songs Crickets and Beehive on their 2006 album Up in the Attic:

And to top it all off, Alien Ant Farm wrote a special song for the 2002 movie Spider-Man, Bug Bytes:

So that’s it for Tuesday Tunes for awhile! Thanks to those of you who joined me on this journey through music history, and keep an eye out for more songs in the future!

These songs are available on iTunes (except for Beehive, which was a bonus song):
Smooth Criminal – ANThology
Crickets – Up In the Attic
Bug Bytes – Spider-Man (Music from and Inspired By)

Nov 212011

Ryan FleacrestFrom last week’s ESA meeting, you’d think that ants were all powerful and super diverse or something by the number of people talking about them and the level of excitement surrounding those talks! You might say people were going ape over the empire of ants…


Ya, that was a pretty horrible reference. But the thing about ant enthusiasm and the large number of talks about a single family wasn’t hyperbole!


This song is available on iTunes – Empire Ants (feat. Little Dragon) – Plastic Beach

Jul 262011

Ryan FleacrestI’m busy. Not just a little busy, but really busy.

I’m on track to have 5-6 peer-reviewed papers submitted and/or published by the end of the year, I’m co-authoring a field guide which should be coming out this fall, I’m running a field trial for the first time in my life to help pay the bills while I wait for PhD funding, I can’t say no when asked for help from friends and colleagues, and of course the blog (although lately it’s been slightly neglected; sorry about that). Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining and love what I do, and I willingly signed up for all of these projects knowing hoping that time spent now will pay off later when I’m applying for funding and looking for PhD/Post-Doc/Faculty positions.

But with all of these projects on the go, something has had to give, and lately it’s been my photography. After I defended my MSc this spring, I figured I’d have plenty of time to shoot more insects, experiment with a few ideas I’ve been thinking about (when I was supposed to be writing my thesis) and just spend more time in the field relaxing and creating new images to share. As the summer has slipped by (can someone tell me where July went?), photo opportunities have come and gone, and I’ve found myself repeating that there’s always next year…

A recent post by travel photographer and inspirational blogger David duChemin has given me pause however, and made me consider my priorities somewhat. I think it’s one of his best (which is really saying something), and hit close to home. Take the time to give it a read, then come on back (I’ll wait, don’t worry).

Well, what did you think? Amazing that a seemingly small commitment can add up to such a significant amount of time!

While I have dreams of becoming a tenured professor at a mid-sized university teaching, researching, and looking at flies until retirement, I also dream of that perfect photo, and the road trip with no fixed destination or deadline, dreams that seem nearly incompatible with my professional aspirations at times. But an hour a day? I think I could work that in. Whether it’s an hour writing something for the blog, editing photos that have become back-logged, or banking a couple of day’s worth for an afternoon out with my camera, I’m going to do my best to take a breath more often and leave something in the tank for things other than academia. While 45 days in a row could allow a pretty kick ass road trip or South American odyssey, let’s be honest; I’d probably end up with another project on my platter instead. I think the daily hour is a pretty good place to start.

This week’s song fits nicely with the idea of taking time for yourself, and allowing yourself a moment’s peace away from the busy colony life.



That’s it for this week, but I hope you’ll take the time to find an hour a day for yourself and your outside interests. If you’re interested in hearing about my “daily” hours, I’ll try to keep a Tweet-log about my time spent; feel free to follow along (@BioInFocus) or contribute your own journal by using the hashtag #1hr4life.

Have you found yourself passing up opportunities in order to get just one more paper/project/promotion? Feel free to air your thoughts below in the comments.

This week’s song is available on iTunes – Ants Marching – Under the Table and Dreaming

Jul 012011

T.G.I.Formicidae is a new occasional feature here on the blog, and this inaugural edition features some collusion between Alex Wild, Ted MacRae and myself. Alex normally features beetles on Fridays, and Ted and I thought it might be fun to continue the trend, with Ted blogging flies today while I cover ants to complete the triad of major insect groups! Make sure to check out their blogs to see what fantastic Friday finds they have to share!

In a last minute rush to produce some ant photos to compliment the fine photographs of Ted’s and Alex’s, I ran back to the Dairy Bush on the University of Guelph campus with hopes of finding some interesting ants to shoot. Luckily for me, I happened across what I believe are Camponotus Formica ants tending to masses of aphids. Ant mutualism with aphids was one of the first insect interactions I can remember learning about in my intro entomology courses, and I can’t resist watching and photographing these tiny ranchers whenever I come across them!

Camponotus ant tending aphids on a plant


Two Camponotus ants tending an aphid herd


Camponotus ant seemingly dancing with the aphids it is tending


Mar 102011

The wife and I took a weekend off last month and headed down to Chicago to visit a friend, take in the sights, and enjoy a bit of a break. I must say that Chicago was one of the coolest big cities I’ve been to, with great architecture, plenty of great food (including the best pizza ever), and a first class entomological exhibit!

The Romance of the Ants

Yep, that's a live ant colony within the title sign, a great way to start an exhibit!


The Chicago Field Museum is currently exhibiting “The Romance of Ants“, which follows the life and career of resident myrmecologist Dr. Corrie Moreau. I had the chance to hear Dr. Moreau discuss her research during a recent visiting scientist seminar here at Guelph, so it was great to see and read about her career path. Did I mention that her entire entomological life was illustrated as a comic book? Because it is, and it is awesome!

Dr. Corrie Moreau in Comic Form

The formicid scent trail leads through an excellent comic

Girl Power followed by an Ant Phallus

You might recognize some familiar ant photos from the entomological blog-o-sphere: sprinkled between the comic frames were huge reproductions of Alex Wild’s fantastic photographs. The huge printing of these photos looked great, and really added to the feel of the exhibit by making you feel as if you were a part of the colony!

Art & Science as one

Art & Science as one


Overall it was a great exhibit, but I worry its position in the museum will cause a lot of people to miss it. Located in a dark corner room which looked like an old Western saloon on the outside, we were the only two in the exhibit for the entire 15-20 minutes it took to take in. The museum wasn’t overly busy despite being a Saturday morning, but there were quite a few people who I saw walk straight on by without recognizing that a great blending of science and art was lying only a few feet away (kind of like ants in everyday life). The exhibit is scheduled to run through the end of 2011, so if you’re in the area, I’d highly recommend checking it out!

I played tourist this trip and tried my hand at some architectural photography while we walked around town. Downtown Chicago features some really amazing architecture and sculptures, which made my attempts a little easier. It’s certainly a different style of photography than I’m used to, but it was great getting a few clicks in again!

Cloud Gate - Chicago IllinoisThe Cloud Gate statue providing a window through the clouds Chicago Illinois


Chicago High Rise at SunsetThe Nightline through the Bean

Mar 082011

Ryan FleacrestIt’s party time down in The Big Easy, with eusocial gatherings in the streets, plenty of ethanol being wasted (i.e. not being used for insect preservation) and females displaying mammary glands for petroleum-based jewelery (or so I’ve heard). In celebration, here’s the Dukes of Dixieland playing the entomological fight song, “When the Ants go Marching In”!



Wait, you mean it’s actually about SAINTS, not ants? And it’s a traditional funeral song? Shit. Well, in that case, enjoy EL-P featuring New Orleans resident (and Academy Award Winner) Trent Reznor – Flyentology (I think I might start referring to myself as a Flyentologist now…)


I’m off to eat some pancakes and pączki with some Jack Daniels Syrup. Fleacrest out!

These songs are available on iTunes – When the Saints Go Marching In – Timeless, The Classic Collection

Flyentology (Cassettes Won’t Listen Remix) – Single – El-P