Announcing Insects Unlocked

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A while back I wrote a feature for Ars Technica on the dysfunctional online copyright landscape. The piece was personal. My photographs average around $50 each to make, mostly in time, equipment, and travel costs. These costs have traditionally been covered by commercial users who buy permissions, as copyright law requires.

Yet fewer than 10% of the online commercial users of my work have even asked permission, much less paid. Such low rates were not sustainable. What was remarkable about my situation, also, was precisely nothing. A great many professional photographers see similar exploitation. That is how it is, it is frustrating, and if we knew an easy solution, we would be doing it already.

Among the varied reactions to the Ars piece was a persistent suggestion that maybe I ought try a different approach, one that asks the community to pay the costs up front in exchange for open images. Like it or not, science and nature photographs online are most often treated as a public resource, not as a tradeable commodity, and perhaps their production should reflect that reality.

I can see the logic. Science images are informative about the world around us, they are data as well as art. Perhaps, with a shift in perspective, the photo-using community might be convinced to share the costs of a public resource, as we do with other public services. NASA and USGS, for example, already make fantastic public domain images from taxpayer support. Could crowdfunding similarly serve as a copyright-free foundation for science imagery?

I don’t see why not. Neither does my new employer, the University of Texas at Austin, which has generously thrown their support behind our new, crowdfunded public domain initiative called Insects Unlocked. Here’s the pitch:

Insects Unlocked

We’ll be supporting a team of UT students as they produce thousands of public domain images, both of live animal behavior in the field and of detailed microscopic structures in preserved specimens. We hope you consider helping us as we create a stream of open science images, free for anyone to use.

[Video expertly shot by Ian Wright and adeptly edited by Adrian Smith]

Answer to the Monday Mystery: Camponotus depressus

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Camponotus depressus. Image courtesy April Nobile/antweb.org, and shared under a Creative Commons CC-BY-SA 3.0 license. 

What was the oddly flat ant?

KMS picked up all ten points for naming Camponotus depressus, a bamboo-nesting species found in Amazonia south to Paraguay. Little research has been done on this unusual species. But, check out Davidson et al 2006:

Davidson, W.; Arias, Ja; Mann, J., 2006: An experimental study of bamboo ants in western Amazonia. Insectes Sociaux ruary; 53(1): 108-114

 

 

Monday Night Mystery: The Curious Case Of the Two-Dimensional Ant

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Many years ago I lived on the fringes of the great Mbaracayú forest in eastern Paraguay. One day, while walking along a stream bank in the forest, I saw one of the weirdest ants I’ve ever laid eyes on. It was big, black, and looked like it could be folded up flat and tucked into a book.

flat mystery

Your questions are:

1. What is this two-dimensional ant? (to species, 5 points).
2. Where does it make its nests? (5 points).

Points will be awarded to the first correct guess for each question, and the cumulative points winner across all mysteries for the month of March will win their choice of 1) any 8×10-sized print from my insect photography galleries, or 2) a guest post here on Myrmecos.

Good luck!

 

Answer to the Monday Mystery

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ac

Cimex lectularius, the common bedbug, getting a taste of me.

 

What were those grapelike globules? All ten points go to Guillaume D for his guess of a bed bug’s compound eye. Guillaume accumulated enough points earlier in the month to lock in a win for February. Congrats, Guillaume, email me for your loot!

The SEM image in the mystery post was taken from the CDC public domain image library, a great source of open images for blogging and teaching.

 

Here’s Looking At You, Ant

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eye

The compound eye of many ants, including a Camponotus I imaged this morning on the new focus-stacking rig, has two colors of ommatidia. Most are black, but the peripheral facets are lighter. I’ve seen this for years but had no idea why this might be the case.

A quick search on Google scholar suggests an orientation function related to light polarization:

abstract

Can anyone who knows more about insect vision than me weigh in? I’m genuinely curious.

 

Camponotus sayi

Camponotus sayi, worker from Austin, Texas.

 

Update: Micheal Bok has the answer!

Monday Night Mystery: The Grapes Of Wrath

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mystery15

public domain image

 

Tonight’s challenge is a bunch of grapes something small scanned in an electron microscope. To win points, be the first to answer the following questions correctly.

1. What is the bubbly structure at the center of the image? (2 points)
2. What is the mystery animal’s genus & species? (6 points)
3. Where are you most likely to find this animal? (2 points)
A. Chicago
B. The Amazon
C. The Everglades
D. Death Valley

The cumulative points winner across all mysteries for the month of February will win their choice of 1) any 8×10-sized print from my insect photography galleries, or 2) a guest post here on Myrmecos.

Good luck!

 

Answer to the Monday Mystery

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Pseudomyrmex gracilis 4

Pseudomyrmex gracilis, Archbold Biological Station, Florida

 

What was the correct sequence/species match?

1 – D; Wasmannia auropunctata
2 – C; Pseudomyrmex gracilis
3 – A; Formica moki
4 – B; Proceratium avium

Points are split 5 each between Sean McCann, who was first to correctly guess two of the answers, and Tonya Severson, who got them all correct. Nice work. This was one of the more difficult challenges.

 

Monday Night Mystery: An Eye For Ant Genetics

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Here are four fragments of mitochondrial DNA:

1. GGATTAATTGGATCCTCTATGAGTATAATTATCCGATTAGAACTAGGCTCATG
2. ATCATCAATAAGAATAATTATTCGAATTGAATTAGGATCCTGTGGATCCATTA
3. TATAAGATTTTGACTCTTACCACCTTCCATTACTCTTTTACTTTTAAGAAATTT
4. TCAATAAGAATATTAATTCGTTTAGAACTAGGAACATGTAATTCCATTATCAAT

And here are the eyes of four ants:

mystery100

To win all 10 points for tonight’s mystery, be the first to correctly pair each sequence with its eye.

The cumulative points winner across all mysteries for the month of February will win their choice of 1) any 8×10-sized print from my insect photography galleries, or 2) a guest post here on Myrmecos.

Good luck!