13 August 2012

How to show a dung beetle running

I was at the Tenth International Congress for Neuroethology last week, and I think it marked the first time there was a poster competition at this meeting. Jochen Smolka won the poster prize for, “The galloping dung beetle: a new gait in insects and its consequences for navigation.”

I was not one of the judges, but this poster caught my attention because of the innovative ways it tried showed the behaviour of the beetles.

Jochen made a flipbook:

This was genius. I had a blast out of looking at this. It reminded me of Big Little books, which sometimes had little animations in their corners. I tried to take video of this, but it turns out to be hard to operate a flipbook in one hand while holding a camera phone in the other hand.

I asked Jochen how he did this. I was fully expecting that there would be some sort of business that took your video file and converted it into a flipbook.


Jochen frame grabbed all those images from video he had shot, stuck them into an editor, printed them out eight to a page, and made it by hand. Impressive!

Besides the flipbook, Jochen had another technique that I’ve featured on the blog several times: a QR code with a link to the video online.

But the flipbook was more effective: it invites someone to stop and pick it up in a way that a video on the screen does not. A flipbook can’t have connection problems from dodgy wifi, or is less likely to make someone give up in frustration. Even writing this, I ran into problems when tried to get the link to the video to work by typing it into my browser: in the URL listed, is the character between the D and the S a number one, capital letter I or lowercase letter L (lowercase L, as it happened)?

This is not Jochen’s first award, either; he also got an award at the Society for Experimental Biology. Nicely done Jochen.

Below is a picture of the winners of the poster competition; Jochen is far right. Congratulations to all the recipients!

Trivia! Flipbooks are called daumenkino in German, which roughly translates as “thumb cinema.”