Tricks to find creatures: Yoshi’s 3rd column in Ryukyu Shinpo

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Tricks to find creatures
(Written by Masashi Yoshimura, translated by OIST)

It’s become more frequent for me to go deep into forests in Okinawa since I joined the natural environmental research called OKEON Project. Throughout Japan, there are approximately 300 ant species, of which one-third of them inhabit on the main island of Okinawa. One can imagine how bustling its forests are and how easy to encounter a variety of unnamed species without an effort once you are there. Unfortunately, that seems to be different in reality. Subtropical forests look rather barren with the floor devoid of fallen leaves. This doesn’t mean we don’t come across creatures at all. It would be perhaps more correct to say that they are not “in our sight” despite of their frequent presence.

It requires a little bit of training and experience to spot something you want to find in the forests. Looking for living creatures blended well with forests, you need to use your ears that can distinguish quiet sounds, nose that detects smells, as well as eyes that can identify the traces left by targeted creatures.  With a little bit more experience, the forests become a completely different place than before.

My peer on the project said to me, “There is difference between what Yoshimura-san and I see, even though we are walking together in the same place in the forest.”

Here is an interesting fact. Depending on what you wish to find, the weight of your senses shift from one to another. If you acquire the technique to recognize birds, wild animals, lizards, frogs, fish, ants, flowers, fern, mushrooms and others, the forests will become richer in color. It’s not just about animals. With a wider view, the forests become much more exciting and appealing than artificial theme parks. In the forests, there is always a surprise when you encounter those creatures by chance, and you’re thrilled.

The technique to really see things will make even your ordinary neighborhood a place with abundant creatures. As much as Yanbaru, northern part of the island, shrubs in your village is also part of the rich natural environment.


June 10, 2016, Page 12, Ryukyu Shimpo

The original column can be found here

Yoshi’s monthly columns at the Ryukyu Shinpo

male-ant(Image Source: Yoshimura and Fisher 2012)

Our staff scientist, Dr. Masashi Yoshimura, writes a monthly column for Ryukyu Shinpo on the topics of ants and the OKEON project.  In the first column, Yoshi introduced the subjects of ants on Okinawa as well as the OKEON project.  He also gave a brief history of how he first came about studying ants.  Below is the content of the second column translated from Japanese, and the original articles can be found here (column 1column 2).


The World of Male Ants No One Knows about

By Masashi Yoshimura, translated by OIST

Now is the best season for late night shopping. You can see numerous bugs and insects attracted to the light coming through the windows of supermarkets and convenience stores. Squinting at the mass, I can identify the ones I’ve been looking for; male ants. Among other insects, male ants are best-known for growing wings only at the time of emigrating from one nest site to another to disperse their offspring as far as they can. Compared to female ants, the appearance of male ants looks much more similar to that of a bee than an ant. This is the area of my expertise: bee-looking male ants.

Because of their distinguishingly “out-of-stereotype” appearances, much of their world still remain elusive as it is hard even to identify their types. It is one of the area overlooked for many years in ant studies. After the launch of my project, I have encountered a host of unresolved issues, as expected. The first ten years of the project were marked by much of the fumbling in the dark, struggling to find some guidance.

Despite the difficulties, I could still take this audacious step no one had ever taken before. Indeed, it helped me enter into the world of scientific research (I was teaching at middle school at the time). Despite I spoke little English then, I landed a job in the US. Instead of being a “jack of all trades”, it was more important to be “one and only.” Since I was allergic to English when I was a student, conducting research in another language presented many challenges to me. Steeped in research, however, it was a bit surprising that I never felt daunted by these challenges.

When I was in the US, through a word of mouth, I learned about OIST as an international research institution in Okinawa. I made up my mind to move back to Japan with the hope to be of some use. Instead, I’ve been given a lot of help from people in Okinawa, which underpins my daily research activities. Through the “OKEON Project,” we work to identify and understand change in the nature, so that the future will be more sustainable. Realizing the extent of the project, it requires all of our experiences mobilized in an effort to persistently pursue our goal.

Arilab on TV!


別冊アサ(秘)ジャーナル, Bessatsu Asahi Journal, is a Japanese variety show produced by TBS. As of 2013 they have been focusing on the topic of schools and universities around Japan and the subject of their monthly, 90-minute program in February 2016 is OIST, including Arilab! The episode was broadcasted on February 28, 2016 in the Kanto region of Japan. On top of describing the OIST campus as “007”-like, the TV show introduced various labs and their research, one of which was Arilab. They interviewed Yoshi and Evan and gave a tour on ant specimens, the ecology of ants and 3D ants.

Click here to see the video (Arilab-related content starts around 28:00)

‘Wonders of Ants’ booth at Open Campus, February 2015


Submitted by Yoshimura-san

The Economo Unit once again setup the booth, “Wonders of Ants,” at OIST’s Open Campus, which took place on February 1st, 2015. We displayed 2D and 3D ant images, research posters, ant trivia, ant specimens and live colonies to show our ant research. Many visitors enjoyed the displays, and learned about the diversity of ants and their important role in the ecosystem. Some people were surprised to see the stout head of the Okinawan trap-jaw ant, Odontomachus kuroiwae. Some were amazed by the high diversity of ants found on Okinawa Island. Many kids were glued to the live colony displays, and to the 3D image. We also asked visitors to draw ants. By the end of the day, we had three large posters filled with colorful drawings of ants!

We would like to thank all the volunteer staff for their hard work!



More information about Open Campus 2015: [English|日本語]

Photos from the booth (courtesy Cong Liu):

Children’s School of Science, August 2014

Submitted by Yoshimura-san and Ogasawara-san

Onna-son and OIST organized a summer science school for children from the 18th to the 22nd of August, 2014. Members of Economo Unit participated and held a class for 1st to 3rd grade students from local schools.

The theme of the class was of course “The Ants!” Students enjoyed a science quiz about morphology and ecology of ants, and learned about this wonderful insect, which, although quite common and familiar, is actually very mysterious.

We started by demonstrating an experiment for the students where we fed colored honey to the Yellow Crazy ants. Soon after, the colors could been seen in the gasters of the ants. Then the students collected ants by themselves and observed them under the microscopes in search for answers to the quiz questions. By the end of the quiz, they were full of many new questions! They were amazed to find out that many different species, each with varying appearances and morphology, live under their feet.

We would like to thank the volunteer staff for their kind support!




More information about the event:



Photos from the event, courtesy OIST CPR Staff: