Phantom Sway

Science must progress even if it means shaving a few bugs

This upends everything we know about the internal geometrical optics of ant hair.

How small does a razor have to be to shave an ant? These are questions for which scientists are hard at work finding answers.

And then it got weird

What is this? A barber shop for ants?

Ooh...shiny. (Willot et al)
Ooh…shiny. (Willot et al)

As most people have at some point, some Belgian scientists were sitting around one day wondering what would happen if we shaved some ants? Unlike most people, though, these scientists decided to actually do something more than just wonder. (Stop just wondering, people. Go out there and achieve greatness.) And it’s not just ants. Scientists like shaving all sorts of creatures with an unreasonable number of legs.

Arielle Duhaime-Ross at The Verge broke the global bug shaving fad wide open.

Researchers have shaved a lot of bugs in the name of science

Last month, scientists in Belgium that they had discovered one of the mechanisms that lets Saharan silver ants venture out into the desert during the hottest hours of the day. As it turns out, the small hairs on their bodies are shaped like triangular prisms, allowing them to deflect sunlight as it bears down on them. That’s pretty remarkable, but for me, the story stood out for another reason: in order to reach this conclusion, the researchers had to shave a bunch of ants.

Gettin' a little shaggy there, hippie. (WILLOT ET AL)
Gettin’ a little shaggy there, hippie. (Willot et al)

Do you know what this means? This upends everything we know about the internal geometrical optics of ant hair.


It also means that shiny bugs reflect more sunlight so they can live where it’s hot.

That knowledge and $5 will get you a coffee at Starbucks, but at least it helped someone take a step toward that glorious unaccountability we call tenure.

Ants were just the beginning though. Scientists all over the world are shaving all kinds of bugs and creepy crawlers. What’s really cool is that the scientists are shaving off hair just to see if the critters need it for something important. To the bugs it’s probably a lot like when Cletus from the trailer park gets abducted by aliens and they take out his spleen just to see what will happen to him.

SelleckSpiderBrown huntsman spiders apparently have a mustache that helps them attract flying prey at night. We know this is true because scientists shaved off their little spider-staches and watched them go hungry. The experiment also showed that these spiders got less attention from the lady spiders than the macho, more Tom-Sellecky spiders in the control group.


Other experiments involved shaving thousands of honey bees to put tracking sensors on them in order to study the decline in bee populations. These bees look like they’re part of some weird bee cult. How would you feel if someone sedated you and glued the equivalent of a pizza box to the back of your head? You’d be pretty peeved, wouldn’t you? It turns out the bees’ population wasn’t really declining. They’re just hiding because they’re tired of Big Brother sticking his nose all up in there business.

James Lanka

Science fiction nerd, writer, blogger, music lover, artist, native of the east coast.

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Harriet Tubman is one of America’s most beloved historical figures but has sadly been largely relegated to just a few facts during Black History Month. This incredible ex-slave, spy, cook, nurse, public speaker and rescuer deserves a story worthy of her stature.

“Minty” – tentatively titled after Tubman’s nickname – is a “reimagining” of Harriet Tubman as an action hero. It is a period piece with a modern flare.