Dear Straight Dope: Not too long ago, there was a wave of sightings of “rods”, things that look like bizarre insects flying too fast to be seen but captured on videotape. Has there been any explanation for these things? Are they real, a videography artifact, or a hoax? Brad
SDStaff Doug replies:
This one should get put up front somewhere, with big flashing headers. This “rods” nonsense is one of the biggest scams in recent history, and needs SERIOUS debunking.
They ARE insects — perfectly ordinary insects. As you correctly observe, they are a videographic artifact based on the frame capture rate of the videocam versus the wingbeat frequency of the insects. Essentially what you see is several wingbeat cycles of the insect on each frame of the video, creating the illusion of a “rod” with bulges along its length. The blurred body of the insect as it moves forward forms the “rod,” and the oscillation of the wings up and down form the bulges. Anyone with a video camera can duplicate the effect, if you shoot enough footage of flying insects from the right distance.
Some of the people promoting “rods” claim there’s something mysterious involved — maybe even extraterrestrial or extradimensional. Obviously, many (if not most) of them know better, but those sorts of claims attract more attention, and thus bring in more money when TV folks come knocking with bulging wallets, or when sponsors see how many hits your web page gets, etc. It therefore becomes both a videography artifact AND a hoax, where unscrupulous people are exploiting a gullible public for profit. Didn’t anyone learn anything from the “Loch Ness Monster” hoax? I don’t know why people keep falling for this sort of nonsense, but maybe P.T. Barnum knew human nature better than I do.
SDStaff Doug, Straight Dope Science Advisory Board
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