UFO-Logical Encounters of the Insect Kind? – ShuterNature


rendition of what a UFO consisting of a large swarm of glowing insects may look
like – image produced specifically for my book
Mysteries of Planet Earth (© Tim Brown/Carlton Books)

As long ago as the
early 1800s, there had been speculation among various scientists that some unusual
lights and other luminous objects seen in the sky may have an entomological
explanation. To quote one such believer, German astronomer Dr Johann Elert
Bode, commenting in 1823:

Fatuous fires, torches, flaming jets and other luminous
phenomena have the same character as falling meteorites, of which they differ
only by their dimensions. They may also have their origin in dense and heavy
evaporations of the lower layers of the air, evaporations that emit a
phosphorescent light and to which the wind impresses them movement and casual
forms…Sometimes these phenomena are not meteors, but large swarms of
luminous insects, who fly often at night.

Even the famous Swiss
psychoanalyst Prof. Carl Jung had considered such a prospect, noting in 1961: “
I must confess that in reading
the numerous UFO relations I also came up with the idea that the characteristic
behaviour of UFOs resembles especially that of certain insects

Dr Johann Elert
Bode (left) and Prof. Carl Gustav Jung (right) (Wikipedia/public domain)

Moreover, during the
1960s and 1970s, amateur scientist Norton T. Novitt, a scientific illustrator
Denver, in Colorado, USA, attracted attention from
ufologists and entomologists alike by virtue of his own interest in the
possibility that certain UFO sightings featured insect swarms that had somehow
been rendered luminous. This idea stemmed from a sighting that he had made one
day of two glowing winged ants in flight, their apparent luminosity actually constituting
reflected sunlight. Some species of ant grow wings and engage in mass nuptial
flights at certain times of the year, and as these mating swarms can contain
several million insects, they often attain a very considerable size – large
enough to resemble glowing orbs in the sky if there is sufficient sunlight to
bounce back to earth from the swarms. Even so, luminous UFO sightings made at
night could not be explained by this theory – or could they?

As described by Robert
Chapman in his book Unidentified Flying Objects (1968), Novitt wondered
whether it was conceivable that flying ants could generate their own luminosity
(i.e. as distinct from merely reflecting rays of sunlight). To pursue this
piquant line of speculation, he attached some winged ants to a ping-pong ball,
which in turn was connected by a thin wire to a static generator placed in a
darkened room – and sure enough, when the generator was set in motion, the
ants’ bodies began to glow brightly. Although certainly interesting, such an
experiment may appear rather futile at first, because in the natural world (as
Chapman drily commented in his own coverage of Novitt’s researches) ants are
not normally attached to generators!

ants swarming for nuptial flight (©
GFDL 1.2 licence)

However, it just so
happens that nuptial flights of winged ants often take to the air shortly after
thunderstorms – weather conditions that give rise to very strong atmospheric
electrical fields. Under such conditions, it is quite likely that the swarms
would indeed glow, and with a light strong enough to be easily observable at
night. In addition, swarming winged ants may even create their own static
electricity by rubbing together while in flight. So perhaps some UFO reports on
record were inspired by swarms of flying ants after all. In a similar vein,
moreover, Novitt also suggested that certain UFOs may be floating masses of
gossamer (spider silk) carried aloft by the wind that sparkle and glow with
static electricity, thereby echoing theories regarding the phenomenon of angel

Dr Leonard Loeb, a
former professor of physics at the
University of California, has opined that
Novitt’s theories are: “interesting, original, and perhaps true”. Loeb
estimated that a fully-loaded swarm of 30 million flying ants could flicker
intermittently for periods of more than a second in unfavourable conditions, or
up to nearly a minute in favourable environments.

budworm moth and caterpillar (© Natural Rsources
reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis only)

A few UFOs may have
involved swarms of moths. In a paper published by the journal Applied Optics
in 1978, insect behaviouralists Drs Philip Callahan and R.W. Mankin from the
U.S.A. provided independent support for Novitt’s findings by revealing that
light can be generated by placing specimens of North America’s spruce budworm
moth Choristoneura fumiferana in electrical fields. This discovery
confirmed that during those weather conditions when the air is heavily charged
with electricity, insects are capable of emitting light.

Of course, the amount
emitted by each insect would be minute, but as migrating swarms of spruce
budworm moths can measure up to
60 miles long and 15 miles wide, the total amount of light emitted per
swarm would be of very appreciable magnitude – more than enough, surely, to
mimic a glowing UFO. And as Callahan and Mankin pointed out, it is noticeable
that a number of UFO sightings of this latter type that they have analysed
occurred at times when mass migrations of this moth species would be expected. In
1979, a short coverage of
their findings was published by the scientific journal Nature, in which
it was mentioned that
the then-current UFO wave in Uintah Basin, Utah, USA, might be due to swarms of
flying insects emitting a corona discharge, i.e. an electrical discharge caused by the ionisation of the air surrounding their electrically-charged bodies when in flight.

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