Ant Lab is a YouTube channel of the Evolutionary Biology & Behavior Research Lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences & North Carolina State University. It is hosted by Dr. Adrian Smith, a research biologist interested in animal behavior and communication. Ant Lab has recently released a pretty cool video showcasing 11 kinds of winged insect species across 5 taxonomic orders of winged insects taking off in ultra-slow motion—3,200 frames per second. Among the many insects, there are various species of weevils, katydids, and barklice, and it also features an insect with a very badass name—the spined assassin bug. The insects were collected between July and November in Raleigh, North Carolina, save for the bush katydid, which comes from New Hampshire.
To answer the question: “Why each insect has a different aptitude when it comes to flying?”, Dr Smith explain: “Flying ability is an evolutionary trait, just like any other thing. For some insects, being a strong flyer is beneficial or even crucial for their lifestyle. For others, flying is just an occasional, once and a while thing they do. They don’t have to be good at it, just good enough.”
“Insects fill a lot of ecological roles and are adapted to living in an astounding variety of ways. You can see that even in these flight videos. Variable things like number of functional wings, wing beat frequency, quickness to take off, the role of jumping all are likely to have explanations that relate to how the insect makes a living or even keeps on living (avoiding predators) in the world.”
Talking about the video, Dr Smith said: “To film them, I catch them in a small vial and then release them on a 6cm x 2cm acrylic platform. All of the shots in those videos are filmed at 3,200fps or more, so the lighting is key and suuuuuper bright. The insects’ response to the light is usually to avoid it, so flicking it on usually triggers the flight behavior I am looking to capture.”
“[The video] were shot either in my in-law’s basement or in my laundry room, thanks to working from home,” explained Dr. Smith. “All the insects in them were caught, basically, in my backyard either by hand or through setting up a blacklight at night to attract them. One of the things I wanted to do with these videos is demonstrate how astounding insects right outside your door can be!”
“If the footage I get is notable, I’ll keep the specimen for further study, otherwise after filming the insects go back outside. They usually don’t fly far and I can re-catch them to film multiple sequences. A few of them did escape and are probably still wandering around my laundry room/house.”
“Macro videography with insects is difficult because of small size and their quickness. Maintaining focus, framing the subject, lighting the subject, and managing the subject’s behavior all make it difficult. For every insect that is in these videos, there’s another species that I tried to capture flying, but failed.”
The video has received quite a bit of attention, garnering over 335,000 views and being discussed in online news media. Among all of the appreciation in the comment section, there were also many who joked about all of the insects looking like they are surprised they can fly.
Others poked fun at how it actually looks awesome in slow motion, but in reality, we’d all be going for a fly swatter or calling the exorcist if it’s a bigger bug. A number of people even pointed out that the weevil is their spirit animal because of how derby it is.
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