Brian Fisher, Curator of Entomology


Cool Tools Show 248: Brian Fisher

Our guest this week is Dr. Brian Fisher. He’s a curator of entomology at the California Academy of sciences and a world-renowned ant expert, nicknamed the “Ant Man”. Fisher has spent three decades documenting the island of Madagascar’s beautiful biodiversity. Along the way, he’s discovered over 1000 new ant species. As he witnessed the biodiversity crisis unfold in Madagascar, Fisher began applying traditional insect-eating practices to reduce bushmeat consumption, sustain forest, and improve nutrition of children.

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Show notes:

Model 65 The Ranger Shovel ($100)
First, I have to kind of set the scene — what is an ant collector? It seems like a simple concept. You go out and you collect an ant. They should be everywhere, but as it turns out, the interesting ones are really hard to find. In fact, most habitats offer you this incredible vast three dimensional space, think of a canopy, and also think of the soil. And you’re trying to find a very tiny insect, an ant in that habitat. It’s really a gamble. If that branch you break, you’re going to find an ant. If that stone you turn over, you’re going to find an ant, and you have to actually put a lot of effort into it. And often, when you’re collecting you’re alone. And there’s nothing about being alone to really make you rely on tools, because you just get really connected to them. And there’s one thing I never leave for the tropics without — this shovel. And you may think a shovel is a shovel, but it’s not. This shovel is lightweight, and it fits exactly in a bag that can get on an airplane, and it’s made of airplane aluminum. It’s got this razor sharp edges that cuts roots so that you can dig, and you can operate it basically with one hand or you can jump on it like crazy, and it won’t break. I’ve had the same shovel for like 120 years now.

Bausch & Lomb Hastings Triplet Magnifier, 20x ($37)
This is another piece of a tool that is on my body 24 hours a day, throughout the second I leave my house to go to the airplane, it’s on me. And I never take it off at all. It’s a jeweler’s high-grade, 20x lens. And finding a 20x, that means it magnifies it 20 times, is really hard to find. But a 20x is like a mini microscope and you can identify an ant, almost any species in the field, using this high quality lens.

24” Alaskan Chainsaw Mill ($241)
We live in a very weird house up in the redwoods. It used to be a campground. It’s on a very steep hill. It’s about 40 degree slope. It’s in the redwoods, there’s no sunlight. And I’ve been trying to build on this house since I got it 20 years ago, and it’s 450 square feet, and we’re trying to make it bigger. And since you can’t really carry stuff up to the house very easily, and we had to expand a little bit, we actually removed three large redwood trees that were touching our house and causing trouble. I’ve been building onto our house, using the redwood trees on a slope. Now, normally you would get a Mizer saw and set up a mill and do that. But you can’t when you live on a slope. In fact, the only tool you can really use to change this tree into buildable lumber, is the Alaskan mill. So all of a sudden here I am and I’m buying a giant professional chainsaw, and every weekend I’m milling wood in the back of the house with a chainsaw. You can set what that thickness will be. You’re cutting slices through a log and you could just want regular two by fours. We use two by fours, for example, because that’s what we buy at the store. But with an Alaskan mill, you can invent your own unique wood and you can make everything you want your size. Anything, eight by threes, eight by fours, you can do anything you want to, and it’s great. It’s very empowering. And I really like it, because I felt like this house deserved to have its wood that was grown here over the last a hundred years.

Toyota Land Cruiser 78 Hardtop
I can say that most of the work we’ve done in Madagascar would not have been possible without this vehicle. It fits 13 people, that means a lot of equipment, and it’s got a truck level engine in it that has a lot of power and it never fails. They basically haven’t changed the vehicle for 30 years or more actually. I mean, buy one right now, it looks exactly like the one I bought 30 years ago. And it’s very simple, like few electronics, and it’s just super powerful. Think of more of it as the red cross kind of hospital vehicle that you see with the big cross on it in a war zone or something. It’s a beautiful vehicle. It’s all steel underneath.

About Insects and People of the Southwest Indian Ocean:

New cricket farm construction in Tana

New cricket farm construction in Tana

The Valala Farm webpage describes how we’re using the tradition of edible insects to really add technology to bring that solution to the masses. It solves the issue of nutrition. It reduces bush meat consumption, it improves student learning at schools. It helps in health clinics, it improves livelihoods and we’re using the waste of it to improve regenerative forestation in Madagascar. We’ve actually done the research to find out what insects were traditionally eaten, what they preferred, what they valued, understood the recipes. And we figured out the limitations was just seasonal availability. We’ve learned and done the science and figured out how to rear them in kind of a factory setting in a sense, and to upscale that such that we could, given the chance, eliminate malnutrition in Madagascar, which impacts over 53% of the children in the country.


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