Spam’s not a sham?

People clicking through spam emails offering prescription drugs at crazy prices don’t usually think twice before clicking “delete.” But a U of T researcher has found that, a surprising amount of the time, these offers actually work.

Dr. Alejandro R. Jadad, professor of medicine and information studies at U of T, began researching the spam mail hawking human health products to online buyers last year with his former student, Peter Gernburd.

“The internet is really being crippled by spam. We discovered that 82 per cent of e-mails circulating through the world are spam,” said Jadad.

Dr. Jadad bravely clicked through—and documented—the segment of that 82 per cent made up of offers for prescription drugs such as Viagra, Valium, and penis-enlargement pills.

“I wanted to figure out how to handle spam myself, and I was shocked to realize that there was nothing published on the behaviour of spammers. So I said that if there’s nothing on that, I’m not going to wait for that to happen because spam has been around for 20 years or so, and it’s getting worse,” he said

Jadad and Gernburd then began their study by creating three unfiltered e-mail accounts to see how many spam messages they would receive in the month of November 2006.

“We collected over 4,000 e-mail messages from those three accounts from spam, and by spam we mean unsolicited, commercial offers,” said Dr. Jadad.

They found that one third of the spam was health-related.

Over a week-long period, they responded to every such ad that gave identifiable information about the seller.

Their spam contained 27 unique offers. Using a credit card and a post office box, they bought one product from each of these alleged internet hucksters.

One third of the products ordered resulted in deliveries to Jadad and Gernburd, who received five prescription drugs and four natural health products. Furthermore, the credit card was only billed for items Jadad actually received.

Jadad added that he does not know if the drugs he got online are authentic, warning that they could be useless or contain dangerous substances.

“The first thing we want to show is the magnitude of the issue,” said Jadad.

“People are putting themselves at risk. One out of four messages on the internet is health-related spam and if you order drugs, you get them one out three times. These [spammers] are gone in two weeks and can’t be held accountable if something goes wrong. It’s very important for people to know so that they can make an informed decision.”

With the first stage of their study complete, JAadad and Gernburd are currently working on determining the legitimacy of the drugs they received and looking at what agencies such as Health Canada, INTERPOL, and the RCMP are doing, or can do, to help the general public against potential, poorly understood dangers of spam.

TTC fares rise, but service falters

Last week, the TTC announced that it will raise its fares by approximately ten per cent. U of T students who buy metropasses subsidized by UTSU will be now be paying $96.00, up from $87.75. According to UTSU VP-External David Scrivener, the increased cost could limit the number of metropasses that UTSU can afford to buy on behalf of students. He also warned that the money UTSU uses to run the program will likely not buy enough metropasses to meet student demand, leaving U of T students to buy non-subsidized passes. The regular price of non- UTSU metropasses has been raised to $109.

So not only are students facing an increased fare, but they might also be forced into lengthy lineups around Hart House Circle to ensure they actually do get a transit pass. Imagine a conga line with no music, add wait times of approximately one hour in the Toronto winter, plus the chance of being turned away without a pass, and the net result will be a very agitated student body.

The fare raise is a result of a survey that was circulated by the TTC a few weeks ago, asking if Torontonians wanted a raise in fare. I have a confession to make: I voted in favour of a fare hike. Before you fire up your MacBook to write me a scathing piece of hate mail, let me explain my logic. I responded that I would prefer a raise, as long as service was not cut. That being said, what I actually meant is that expensive fares for transit are reasonable if and only if we receive service that is reliable and dependable.

The problem with an increased TTC fare is not so much the cost (although I am sure that it is a bitter pill for many students to swallow). The problem is that in spite of this increased fare, Torontonians will likely not be getting the service that is expected of a major city in North America. The service is simply not up to par, and the TTC has made no promises to elevate it now that we’ll be paying more.

Take for example the fact that the subway often stalls at Ossington, Keele or Eglington stations for about five minutes so that the TTC operators can switch between shifts. How hard could it possibly be for the next operator to wait on the subway platform to ensure that the transition from one operator to the next is as seamless as possible?

Or the fact that you can wait at a bus stop for 30 minutes in this city and watch five buses go past without picking up passengers, not because those buses are full, but because bus drivers are unwilling to raise their voices and ask people to move to the back so that others can be let on.

In short, U of T students and Torontonians should be disgusted with the present state of affairs. At this critical time, when efficient public transit could help slow down the processes of climate change and global warming, the TTC is sticking to a pathetic policy of providing the bare-minimum of service, and not even attempting quality service. Doing so while raising fares is utterly laughable. The current operation of the TTC is a disfavour to the city of Toronto that needs to be rectified.

Our money, their choices

U of T now has close to $5.7 billion in investments. That’s a significant sum of money when compared to other Canadian universities. Income from investments represents almost eight per cent of the school’s annual budget, which means that it is being re-invested into the school. These investments strongly impact our university experience. But is this money being invested responsibly? Ethically?

Finance-savvy students are quick to point out that U of T investing in controversial companies like Lockheed Martin or Shell doesn’t really profit them. We are not financing these companies or supporting them with our money because, more likely than not, we did not purchase our shares directly from the corporations but rather from other shareholders. This point is accurate, if not entirely relevant. We aren’t benefiting these companies. Rather, these companies are benefiting us, which is all the more reason to ensure that they are acting responsibly.

Responsible Investment (RI) is more about financial sustainability than it is about ulterior moral motivations. RI is about incorporating environmental, social and governance criteria into market assessments. While these factors are often undervalued, it seems to be an elementary deduction to claim that in the long term, the environmental sustainability of a host region will affect a multinational corporation’s business outcomes.

Same goes for political instability and gross violations of human rights. Consider the case of Talisman Energy, which recently saw a massive drop in share value despite quadrupling production. As a direct result of their operations in Sudan and the Sudanese government’s unethical actions, most Western countries began divesting in the country, and Talisman suffered. Another example, Total S.A., is frequently targeted with lawsuits for violating labour rights, and has drawn much negative publicity. Perception is everything in the stock market.

RI is quite different from Ethical Investment, which is an initiative more concerned with divestment from immoral corporations. RI, on the other hand uses reward-based guidelines to actively participate in appropriate shareholder coalitions, such as the Canadian Coalition for Good Governance (CCGG) or the Carbon Disclosure Project. Through these organizations, RI focuses on investing in companies that have strong social, environmental, and political indicators of sustainable policies and profits.

Supporting something like RI has proven to be financially sound. The Domini Social Index, an RI investment index, has out-performed the mainstream S&P 500 for the last seventeen years. The Canadian Jantzi Social Index has out-performed or performed at par with the Toronto Stock Exchange since its inception in 2000. Prominent universities such as Harvard, Yale and Brown have all successfully pursued RI.

Despite a sense of morality not being the prime motivation behind RI, ultimately we relate to investment on a moral level. We must ask if we can morally reconcile ourselves to benefiting from war profiteers, environmental degraders, and human-rights violators through our academic institution. We at Investing in Integrity have decided that we cannot. We do not advocate undercutting investment profits, but following the precedence set by companies and institutions that have correctly identified RI as win/win.

Were I to invest my personal funds, I would not consider investing in Halliburton even though they are going to be quite profitable for winning most of the uncontested Iraq reconstruction contracts. I have the liberty of choosing a company that I feel will not only make me financially comfortable (although really, I’m aiming for rich), but one that also aligns with my moral and ethical stance on the world. In the free market, that’s my prerogative and the perfect example of that capitalist buzzword: “choice”.

But where is the choice for students whose money is being invested by the university? Nowhere does the university even acknowledge that staff, faculty, students or alumni have legitimate concerns about the state of U of T’s investments, much less does U of T provide a forum for discussing such matters.

Investing in Integrity is working to give everyone that voice and that choice. This institution shouldn’t just be investing in companies that are transparent and accountable, but should also be conducting its own investments in a transparent and accountable fashion. Responsible Investing is a concept sorely neglected by the university, and that is something we hope to correct in the near future.

Second Cup forced down students’ throats

Visitors to Sidney Smith Hall this week will notice that the Second Cup has expanded its operations, consequently eliminating nearly half of the student space in one of U of T’s most frequented buildings.

Without any student input, the hall has been transformed from a student-oriented space into one that is corporate-dominated, thanks to the new, giant L-shape formed by the Second Cup expansion and the ever-present U of T MasterCard table.

We at the Arts and Science Students’ Union (ASSU) were never consulted, even though we are based out of Sidney Smith, often use the hall for tabling and events, and are the official representatives of over 23,000 students enrolled in Arts and Science. In fact, we only learned about the construction after it began.

Soon after construction started, the Association of Political Science Students (APSS) informed us that without any notice, they were forced to shut down their office in Sidney Smith for over a week so that construction workers could access water mains.

During orientation week, ASSU contacted Monica Contreras, the Assistant Dean responsible for planning, and requested a copy of the plans. On September 10, we received the design drawings which showed that the plans had existed at least since August 2006, but no one in the administration had seen it fit to notify students.

Sidney Smith is one of the best outreach locations on campus, and now nearly half of it is being turned over to a corporation. In past years, we’ve held our annual “ASSU Day” in Sid Smith, with almost 40 course unions in attendance. Space was tight before, but staging it in Sidney Smith may now be impossible. Of course, many more student groups will also be affected.

Corporations have too much of a presence on U of T’s campus. ASSU believes that corporations should not provide our student services. In terms of food, we should be building upon the incredible success stories of the student-run, fairtrade Human Bean in Old Vic, and the gourmet, cheap, and mostly local and organic vegan food made by the Hot Yam out of the International Student Centre.

These are the types of initiatives— not well-established and highly profitable corporations— that need support from the university. And if the administration had asked for student input, they would have known this already.

Instead, in this climate of federal and provincial under-funding for post-secondary education, we have seen corporatization and private profit become the driving force at the University of Toronto. Corporatization has restructured research, education, services, and the physical space of the university according to profit-driven business models.

Academic freedom and integrity are being threatened by the school’s increasing dependence on private donors and the prioritization of research and education that tie into corporate and commercial needs.

We see hints of corporatization at the University of Toronto when honorary PhDs are bestowed upon the most generous donors, such as billionaire Michael Lee Chin last year.

Our own school president, David Naylor, is corporatization’s most vocal advocate and makes no attempts to hide his agenda. In May, Naylor delivered the keynote address at a $200-per-person conference on “Commercializing University Research”. Now, Naylor is peddling his Towards 2030 vision, a neoliberal plan that calls for the commercialization of research and the deregulation of all tuition fees.

As students, faculty, staff, and community members, we must denounce the Second Cup’s takeover of student space, but we must also organize together against the broader issues of corporatization, or we will soon be facing much worse.

ASSU is holding an open meeting to discuss corporatization on Friday September 28th in Sidney Smith 1074 from 3-5pm.

Torngat is top of the chamber pops

Admittedly, Torngat is an odd name for this odd band. But, just like their music, their moniker—a reference to the Torngat Mountains that link eastern Quebec to Labrador—begins to make sense after only a brief listen.

The trio’s choice of instrumentation— mainly drums, old synths, and French horn—seems like it would present a challenge to the listener, but it doesn’t really. Torngat’s sound is definitely unique, but it’s also pleasantly accessible.

So how does a band decide to make music with such a weird combination of instruments? According to synth player Mathieu Charbonneau, it all happened naturally.

“Before, it wasn’t that weird because we had a bass player so it was more like a quartet with French horn, which you still don’t see around too much, but it was still straight-forward in terms of formation. But when the bass player left and we decided to just stay as a trio, that’s when the instrumentation became interesting. We each started to play more instruments, to keep the sound as big as possible. We try to sound like we are still four people.”

To date, the band has two independent releases under their belt—including their acclaimed 2005 EP, La Rouge—and are excited to have just dropped their first LP with label Alien8 Recordings (Think About Life, Les Georges Leningrad) earlier this week.

“We’re pretty happy [to have signed with Alien8] because our first two records were released independently. We were doing everything ourselves, which was a lot of work, and not necessarily the kind of work that we wanted to do,” says Charbonneau, on the phone from this home in Montreal.

Their brand new full-length, You Could Be, was recorded back in August in a renovated barn in the Eastern Townships outside of Montreal.

“We lived there for a month with a sound engineer, just focusing on the music,” Charbonneau remembers, “It’s a renovated barn with electricity, so it’s not like we had hay and cows in there while we recorded.”

That being said, the location was still remote, which had it’s advantages: “We could go there and record, and not disturb anyone, and play at anytime of the night…we hardly left the barn for the whole month, only to buy groceries.”

“That’s why the record has a vibe to it. It’s definitely the vibe of four people being isolated for a month and not coming back home everyday and thinking about it—you’re in a bubble.”

To promote the record, Torngat are hitting the road. This Friday finds them in town at the Music Gallery— which is inside St. George the Martyr Church—for their Toronto CD release show. The guys in Torngat have played this venue before, opening for Final Fantasy there back in 2005, and are no strangers to playing in churches.

“We’ve played in many churches, and I don’t know why. I guess churches are just starting to be venues for different kinds of music. We’ve played churches in Toronto, Montreal, we played a church in Ottawa with Bell Orchestre, and we’re actually playing a church in New York this fall, opening for Mum.”

The date with Mum is the first show for Torngat south of the border, and like many independent musicians, they’re aware and wary of the unfair shit that sometimes goes down while trying to cross into the USA.

“It’s hard to play in the States because if you don’t have anyone in the band who is American it’s really a bitch to go there. Either you go illegally— and if you get busted you can’t go anymore, which is not a good idea—or you have to pay for a permit and that’s really expensive.”

“It’s not fun and at the same time we’re letting Americans come here and play for almost nothing. It’s an unbalanced relationship.”

While Torngat should have no problems at the border (they’ve wisely opted to do everything above the table and have gotten visas), crossing them is something they should get used to. After their fall jaunt through Quebec, Ontario, and New York is complete, the band is looking to tour the west coast in late November before heading out to play the Maritimes after Christmas. If all goes well, 2008 could see Torngat on a full-fledged US tour, and hitting up dates in Europe too. Just don’t miss your chance to see them here first!

Torngat play their CD release show for You Could Be Friday, September 21 at The Music Gallery (197 John Street) with Timber Timbre and Double Suicide. Doors are at 8 p.m. and tickets are $10 at Soundscapes or $12 at the door.

It’s Not Rocket Science

Put the beat down on cancer

An informative article from Men’s Health magazine suggests eight ways you can protect your body from cancer. Strategies discussed include eating foods high in anti-oxidants and spending time (but not too much) in the sun to ensure an adequate supply of vitamin D. Although a little obvious, the article gives extremely sound advice that everyone can benefit from. Considering one in three people will get cancer in their lifetime, it’s probably wise to start protecting yourself now.

We seem to leave crap wherever we go

(NASA should be fined for littering): An interesting Wikipedia entry (titled “list of artificial objects on the moon”) describes in detail all the junk we have left on the moon—all 170,000 kilograms of it stashed over the years. Smaller objects, like the golf balls hit by Alan Shepard during his lunar golf practice and the numerous flags left behind by several missions, are not listed. (Also absent from the list is a book of Russian cosmonaut jokes dropped by Buzz Aldrin after using the lunar portapotty on the Apollo 11 mission).

Speaking of crap

Ever wonder why poo is brown? (I know I sure do.) The answer is that orangebrown bilirubin and yellowish bile are both released from the liver and combine in feces to give it its distinctive colour. I am currently working on a proposal for Crayola to include ‘poo brown’ in their crayon boxes, but they are not receptive to my idea. You know the kids would love it.

A fishy story

Scientists have developed a technique that allows salmon to give birth to trout offspring. Apparently bored with doing regular experiments, the Japanese research team injected trout sex cells into salmon embryos, allowing the salmon to give birth to normal trout fish that were capable of reproducing. This could prove to be a useful technique for breeding endangered fish species in an economical and effective manner. There are no reports on the effect of the trout offspring on the parent salmon’s marriages. (Though I suspect there is a consortium of sushi restaurants funding this research).

A clear diagram showing how circular reasoning works

(and how I win any argument I am in): Check out this link:

Save the environment and look ridiculous at the same time:

As much as it is our responsibility to save our already critically-injured planet, some eco-friendly ideas are definitely lacking in the aesthetics department. This funny device is a miniature (and somewhat) portable windmill that can power your laptop or cell phone. I don’t think the public is yet convinced of its practicality, as the first comment attached to the article suggests: “How many people would actually carry that thing around when we won’t even carry around a solar cell 1/10th that size? Impractical.” To paraphrase that anonymous commenter: Worst. Invention. Ever. (And why didn’t the Dutch come up with this sooner?)

Did you hear the one about Jack Hanna and a flamingo at the airport?

Turns out famous animal expert Jack Hanna got stuck in an Ohio airport turnstile with an 11- month-old flamingo in a carrying container. The flamingo was eventually freed, but it took three firemen to rescue the trapped bird. The Department of Homeland Security held the bird for questioning and released it later after it was determined it wasn’t on the no-fly list. Unfortunately the penguin that was with the group was held for further questioning. (Although it’s ridiculous this item makes the news, the fact that I found it on CNN makes sense).

Looking down from above

As the International Space Station orbited above Dubai, it snapped an incredible shot of The Palm Jumeirah island resort project. It seems like Dubai is going to be the new Las Vegas pretty soon. I wonder how long it will be until they beat out Disney World.

Finally, science brings us something useful

(so that we can be cool like the Jetsons): It’s about time the self-chilling drink was invented. No more lugging around ice and coolers on those hot summer days. Although speculative in nature, an article from suggests that we could soon see soft drinks (and conceivably, beer) with built-in cooling technology that works by using a vacuum and heat sink to absorb warmth from the drink, bringing its temperature down. I can envision news reports of exploding cans taking out the eyes of several people once this product comes out — but at least they will be refreshed!

Inaccurate sayings that piss me off

“Shoot for the moon, because if you miss, you will at least land among the stars.” This quaint and encouraging proverb is greatly lacking in scientific accuracy. The moon is only 405, 696 kilometres from the Earth compared to the closest star, Proxima Centauri, at 4.22 light years away. If you convert that distance into kilometres, it equals 39 trillion (3.9 x 1013) kilometres. You would have to overshoot very, very badly in order to land among the stars if your original target was the moon. The children that hear this saying will grow up to be shoddy astrophysicists.

Organism of the week

Class scyphozoa — commonly known as jellyfish. These alien-looking, generally amorphous blobs are found in every ocean on the Earth. Their name is somewhat inaccurate, as they are invertebrates and do not have backbones (whereas fish do). Jellyfish are interesting in that they lack a brain, but are able to perceive and respond to their environment using their basic nervous system. An adult jellyfish is made up of 94 to 98 per cent water and generally feeds on small fish and plankton. Many species are capable of delivering a nasty sting using numerous small cells known as cnidocytes that can contain a small amount of venom. Although the venom in most jellyfish stings is not fatal, some jellyfish do carry venom strong enough to kill. The best-known example is the box jellyfish (Chironex fleckeri), which is responsible for at least 5, 567 recorded deaths since 1884. If stung by a jellyfish, the best course of action is to pour vinegar on the area to deactivate any cnidocytes that have not yet injected their venom and carefully remove any remaining tentacles using protective gloves or clothing. The tentacles can still sting even if the jellyfish is dead. An extremely useful protein known as green fluorescent protein (GFP) was first isolated from the species Aequorea victoria and has been used in countless biological experiments due to its ability to glow green when exposed to blue light. A group of jellyfish is known as a ‘smuck’ of jellyfish. Contrary to popular belief, jellyfish are not the source of fruit jelly.

The crazy things we used to believe #2

Phrenology: Back in the good old days of the 19th century, a German physician named Franz Joseph Gall developed an odd theory that stuck around for far too long. He believed that a person’s intelligence, personality, and future behaviour (things such as the likelihood of them performing criminal activities) could be determined by carefully measuring the shape of the head. Phrenology was based on the notion that specific areas of the brain handled certain functions. Furthermore, it was thought that these areas would be larger if the person was skilled in that particular mental faculty.

To practice phrenology, one would feel the bumps of the subject’s skull and draw conclusions on the supposed 27 areas that made up their personality and beliefs. As well, measurements of head size would be taken with callipers. The phrenologist could then predict what kind of behaviour the subject was prone to and other speculative information. Some people had so much faith in the ridiculous practice that it was even used as a type of background check for job applicants.

Phrenology became increasingly popular in Victorian England and in the United States through the 19th century. Although some ‘scientists’ wrote serious papers on the subject, it was considered to be a pseudo-science by most in the scientific community.

Regardless, phrenology has had adherents even up until the end of the 20th century. Its use as a tool to promote racism in a seemingly scientific way has been seen several times, including by Nazi scientists claiming that there was a biological basis for the supposed superiority of the Aryan race.

Thankfully, the dawn of neuroscience killed any serious interest in phrenology. People born with bumpy heads today need not fear phrenologists telling them that they have a lifetime ahead as a career criminal.

Rotman shuts up CIUT

U of T’s campus radio station CIUT-FM is preparing to vacate its familiar house across from Robarts and move south of College street. The station’s current home is slated for “selective demolition” as part of a plan to add a huge expansion to the Rotman School of Business. Only the building’s façade will be left intact.

The $92 million plan—the figure includes $204,000 for moving CIUT to a different location— was approved Tuesday by Governing Council’s planning and budget committee.

Students, faculty and staff at Rotman were thrilled at the project.

“Having a good business education is really good for the Canadian economy. Rotman is a responsible institution that teaches about environmental issues and social issues. The project is really a good one for the country. This is the largest gift we’ve ever received,” gushed Alex Kenjeev, Juris Doctor/MBA combined program.

Rotman vice-dean Peter Pauly said the construction would provide space needed to increase Rotman’s enrolment.

“We’re already at the max,” he told planning and budget committee.

The expansion program aims to bring Rotman in line with space guidelines set by the Council of Ontario Universities. U of T’s three campuses are all overcrowded, according to the COU standards.

At this time, it is unclear where CIUT’s new permanent home will be.

Planning documents suggest the station could eventually find space in the proposed Student Commons, a campus hub that has been in the early planning stages for years.

Before the vote, station manager Brian Burchell urged committee members to better consider how last November in an interim planning report on the Rotman project, will affect CIUT.

He found no security in the suggestion that CIUT move to the Student Commons, which has no guarantee of being built any time soon. Burchell, who last year sat on the committee that produced the latest, most realistic plan for the commons, cast doubt on whether student groups and administrative representatives would be able to reconcile “drastically conflicting visions” of the project.

“In any case, the whole thing is dependent on a successful student levy referendum, by no means a sure thing,” he reminded the governors.

For the foreseeable future, after construction of the new Rotman building begins in 2009, the radio station will be moved to a building at 256 McCaul Street, south of College, in a space 30 per cent smaller than their current facility.

Andréa Armborst, president of the University of Toronto Students Union, commented on the relocation.

“There has been this weird trend with student spaces on campus over the last six months: initially APUS, then Sidney Smith and now SEC and CIUT are being displaced,” Armborst said.

Though Burchell did not object to the relocation itself, he expressed serious misgivings about the new location.

The move squeezes CIUT in with the building’s current occupant, U of T’s custodial services, located across the street from a homeless shelter. Burchell said he worried that volunteers leaving the building late at night could be at risk.

Burchell also argued that CIUT’s central location on campus was critical to the station’s role both as a media outlet and a part of the campus community. CIUT has often staged concerts and community events on the front lawn of their St. George and Huron house.

“Once we evict U of T’s radio to south of St. George, will it ever return to its core?” demanded Burchell.

He went on to complain that CIUT had not been consulted on the relocation, prompting U of T’s vice president and provost Vivek Goel to object.

“I don’t think it’s fair to say you haven’t been consulted,” Goel told Burchell at the committee meeting. “We’ve been meeting with you over the past six months.”

Asked to clarify whether consultations had taken place, Burchell later told The Varsity, “I think [Goel and I] have both been using that word ‘consultations,’ but meaning different things.”

According to Goel, Burchell himself had suggested moving CIUT to another building on McCaul, but not enough space was available there.

Assassins lurking in your backyard

You may not know it, but assassins could be hiding in your flowerbed. They’re not out to get you — in fact, they may be helping you get rid of unwanted pests.

Assassin bugs of the family Reduviidae can range in size from 4 to over 40 millimetres. They feed in a spectacularly gory way, similar to spiders, by capturing prey in their hairy, sticky legs and sucking their insides out. Their saliva turns their victims’ insides into liquid, making an easy meal that can be sucked up through their straw-like proboscises. This deadly saliva allows these little bugs to kill much larger insects, with some species able to feed off cockroaches, hornets or even bumblebees. Assassin bugs’ front claws are well designed for capturing and holding prey, most likely helped by generations of selective evolutionary pressure.

Bug bites can be painful for humans and may cause an allergic reaction. Certain species of assassin bug in Central and South America can transmit a serious illness known as chagas disease through their bite. If untreated, this parasitic disease can be fatal, leading to heart disease and malformation of the intestinal tract.

The species shown here is of the genus Phymata and can be found in Southern Ontario. Commonly known as ambush bugs, these yellow- and-black insects have evolved to look like their surroundings, blending in best among the yellow flowers of the goldenrod plant. They have even developed a pointy body shape that mimics the goldenrod’s buds and a yellow eye that does not betray their location to nearby insects. Younger, less-developed ambush bugs have been observed camouflaging themselves with pieces of debris or the remains of dead insects. The male of the species tends to be smaller and can often be seen hitching a ride on the female’s back during mating.

These particular ambush bugs were collected at U of T’s Koffler Scientific Reserve at Joker’s Hill. They can be useful in gardens for reducing the number of unwanted pests, but require goldenrod to be planted where they are most comfortable hunting and feeding.