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For entomologist, time’s fun when you’re having flies

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Troy Shantz

When a fly is heard bumping against a windowpane most of us reach for the swatter.

Not Morgan Jackson. He leans in for a better look.

“We have more flies than we have species of anything,” says the Camlachie native and entomologist.

“Anything you can think of anywhere in the world, there’s probably a fly doing something nearby.”

Jackson, 36, is a post-doctoral researcher at Montreal’s McGill University with a growing reputation for popularizing insects through social media, podcasts and blogs.

He understands most people are squeamish about bugs in general, and flies, his specialty, in particular.

But he insists they’re fascinating creatures.

Take that fly on your windowsill, for example. Chances are good it’s a cluster fly.

“They’re a great example of a really interesting fly that nobody knows about,” said Jackson. “One of the most common insects in your house has this crazy life story.”

Cluster flies look like common houseflies and are completely harmless to humans. But to reproduce they must find and lay their eggs near an earthworm burrow, where the larvae can feed on its unsuspecting inhabitant.

“Something that’s flying through the air and living in your house has to somehow find an earthworm,” said Jackson, who will share his passion for insects at a Lambton Wildlife event in Sarnia on March 30.

The Northern Collegiate grad is a big fan of citizen science.

Websites like iNaturalist.com, where bug watchers can share their find with an 850,000-member community, is an invaluable resource for researchers, he said.

Last year, Canadians uploaded 15,000 images to the National Geographic-sponsored site.

“That’s a massive number of people. That eclipses all the professional entomologists Canada has ever had, probably by a factor of 10,” he said.

“(Citizens) are doing such great work helping us out in such crazy ways.”

Journal readers may recall Jackson from a 2017 story about Sophia Spencer, an eight-year-old Sarnia girl who’d been bullied relentlessly about her love for insects.

Her mother Nicole took to the Internet and appealed to the entomology community to support her daughter and her passion for things that creep and crawl.

Jackson got involved and spread the word using the hashtag #BugsR4Girls. It drew responses from scientists, researchers and insect lovers around the world.

Eventually, he and Sophia co-published a scientific paper together in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America.

Their story went viral, led to a series of articles, TV appearances, and a newly released hardcover storybook.

The Bug Girl (a true story) was written by Sophia Spencer and Margaret McNamara and published by Penguin Random House. It was launched Feb. 22 at The Book Keeper, with a cake and reading by her Grade Five teacher.

These days, Jackson spends much of his time researching obscure species and trying to correctly classify them in a fly-family tree of sorts. On a recent trip to the Yukon he collected thousands of specimens, he said.

“You get looking at them and start comparing them and seeing individual traits … They’re just spectacular.”


WHAT: An insect presentation by Dr. Morgan Jackson

WHERE: YMCA Learning Centre, 680 Oakdale Ave. Sarnia

WHEN: March 30, 7 p.m.

TICKETS: Free to attend.

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