Featured Blog: Myrmecos

Meet Alex Wild, the blogger behind Myrmecos Blog, and one of those lucky people whose hobby is also their living. Alex is a research entomologist (http://www.myrmecos.net/wild/wild.html) at the University of Illinois. He works on the taxonomy and evolution of various insects, especially ants, but also beetles and parasitic wasps. He also runs a small insect photography business that supplies images to books, magazines, and museums.

Alex, why do you blog?

In 2003 I built a crude, html-only website (myrmecos.net) to hold my insect photographs. These were the days before flickr, facebook, and wordpress. I was not a professional photographer, I was an entomology grad student with some bug photos. I had no serious aspirations for the site other than as a repository of images.

But traffic started to grow, and by 2006 myrmecos.net was averaging 1,000 visitors per day. I was starting to do some licensing, too, and I had to scramble to learn about taxes and invoices and all that. All by accident, mind you.

With the increased visibility came an increase in emails asking about the insects, asking about my equipment, asking about technique, asking about the business of nature photography. It seemed to me that rather than write the same things over and over in private correspondence, it might be worthwhile to put it all out there so I could point people to it. Thus, the blog.

Avoiding answering my email was the reason I started, I guess. However, it wouldn’t have lasted more than 6 months if that’s all it was. Turns out that I enjoy having the venue not only for sharing photography talk and bug talk but for venting various opinions and sharing things I find on the internet.

What’s the best thing about blogging?

Blogging is instantaneous. I can respond to new scientific papers as I read them, for example. This might not sound like much, but you have to understand the traditional scientific publishing model. In the old system if I wanted to react to a paper, I’d submit a letter or a review to the journal, it’d go through peer-review, and 8 months later an edited version that no one cares about would be published. It’s glacially slow, and really not that appropriate for short opinions. The blog has opened up a new niche for rapid, informal coverage. Of course, there are weeks when grants are due, or lab work backs up, when I could do without the extra pressure of having to generate new content. That’s the main downside, as I see it.

How has blogging changed how you think about nature? or how you write?

The irony for most nature bloggers is that we’d get more of nature if we spent less time at the keyboard. So on that front I’m not sure blogging has helped. It does provide an excuse being more focused in my observations, though, more on the lookout for interesting species and behaviors.

On the other hand, blogging is an excellent medium for practicing writing. It’s not so formal as to be intimidating, yet there’s enough of an audience that I have to be careful with grammar and punctuation.

How do you promote your blog and attract readers?

I was lucky in that I started with a photo site that already had readers. When I created my blog I just linked to it from myrmecos.net. I still don’t do much active promotion, aside from participating in the Nature Blog Network. If I write a long article on a piece of photo gear, sometimes I’ll post the link on a photography forum, but that’s about it. My photo galleries catch traffic for me.

Do you feel you’re part of a community with other nature bloggers?

I’ve certainly made new online friends through blogging, and a few people who know me through the blog have introduced themselves at meetings. The nature blog community is, in my limited experience, gentler and more nurturing than the science blogging community, which tends towards the sharply cynical and snarky. The nature blogging community has seasons, too-it’s fun watching everyone on their winter snow walks and spring wildflower hunts.

Any words of wisdom for new nature bloggers?

Well, if you’re trying to build an audience you need to offer something original. If you’re going to write about atheism and science, for example, you’re going to have to do more than mimic PZ Myers. Finding a unique niche isn’t as easy as it was, but that’s the key to growing a readership.

Thanks, Alex, for chatting with us and sharing your wonderful photos.

5 Comments

  1. March 22, 2010 at 11:02 AM | Permalink

    One of my favorite blogs.

    Entomologists two consecutive weeks – watch out world!

  2. March 22, 2010 at 11:42 AM | Permalink

    Nice interview Alex!

    You articulated the ups and downs of blogging very well! I, too, find that blogging cuts into my time in the field, but at the same time the desire to come up with timely and engaging content has helped to sharpen my observational and writing skills.

    Keep up the great work!

    ART EVANS

  3. March 22, 2010 at 12:06 PM | Permalink

    Shhhh…. Quiet, Ted! They might begin to suspect our plans for the coming entomologist hegemony.

  4. March 23, 2010 at 11:11 PM | Permalink

    Your photography is incredible, thank you for sharing it… the ants look so surreal. Beautiful blog.

  5. March 26, 2010 at 5:13 PM | Permalink

    Alex rocks. :)

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