Leave it to Denver to combine two things perfect for this blog – entomology and skepticism! If you haven’t seen these clips then take a second to watch the video above. At the very least this appears to be a real phenomenon, camera crews from the news station were able to record the very same effect. So what could they be?
I had an instantaneous recognition of what these UFOs were – flying insects, probably flies of some kind (Diptera) mating in the warm afternoon sun. It has been nice here in Denver and the hours around 1pm are always the warmest (strangely the same time the “UFOs” are most active). But it’s hard to tell with any degree of certainty what these objects are because of the way that KDVR shows the clips. Odd angles, 2 second flashes, fast forward, super slow motion, super contrast… you only have fractions of a second to see the clip in real time. But when you do it seems so very obvious – and in my professional opinion – that these are insects.
Unfortunately they now have a quote from a Denver entomologist, Mary Ann Hamilton (misspelled as Mart on the KDVR website), saying these are not insects. Facepalm. I don’t know Mary and I certainly can’t blame her for being uncertain as to what these are after staring at the footage over and over and over again. In my opinion it was too hasty to rule out insects. Especially because once you enhance… enhance… and ENHANCE the footage you being to lose all track of reality. The camera footage has recorded very out of focus insects, and the very nature of optics means you have lost most of the information outside of the depth of field. And so enlarging and slowing down these images only makes this problem infinitely worse. The pixels become too large to render any meaningful information and an effect known as pareidolia starts to kick in. Our brains start jumbling together often meaningless data into something recognizable. This is why people see a face on Mars, or rocket boosters coming out of the butts of these insects flying over Denver. And I don’t blame Mary for looking at some of these shiny objects whipping around in weird directions and not seeing insects. But perhaps KDVR could have requested an interview with someone at the Denver Museum (which they did not) – they would have been given an entomologist with much more field experience. I can’t say Mary is unqualified and I don’t mean any disrespect to her, but I don’t believe running a butterfly house is the same thing as being an active research entomologist.
This video is pretty excellent for explaining insect UFOs – although these are much larger insects than the ones captured above Denver.
And check out this cool video of a Syrphidae fly hovering in the sun – imagine these out of focus and hurtling around in front of the camera…