insects

All posts tagged insects

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Levon Biss is a successful commercial photographer. His work has been used in advertising, on magazines and in a book about soccer. Now he has an exhibition of his images of insects, showing the Oxford University Museum of Natural History’s insect collection in stunning detail. The exhibition runs from May 27 to October 30, 2016, and it’s called Microsculpture. The prints range in size up to three meters, each an image of a tiny insect captured down to the finest detail.

These are not just snapshots of pretty bugs. Each image takes about three weeks to complete. He shoots each insect in sections — about thirty on average — and then compiles the shots into a single, complete image. In all, he shoots 8,000 to 10,000 photographs of each bug, then combines the best parts of them into the final product. He needs to get the lighting and the focus just right for each tiny part, so the whole image can be perfectly lighted and focused. Since the depth of field is so small with a microscopic lens, he can only move the camera ten microns between shots. That’s not much more than a tenth of the width of a human hair.

If you want to see the detailed originals of these small samples, follow the links to Levon Biss’s Microsculpture website. There you can see the light reflecting off the individual cells of compound eyes, and count the hairs on little buggy legs. There’s also a video that shows how he did it.

All photos copyright Levon Biss.

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lemonantScientists are still making novel discoveries in the Amazon jungle. There’s still plenty to learn, even about ants. Two species of ant discovered recently have evolved in intriguing ways. The first species is interesting for its horticultural practises.

There are areas in Amazonia where almost nothing grows except one species of tree, Duroia hirsuta. It’s much shorter than surrounding trees, being only a few meters tall. These strange patches, as much as a few hundred meters wide, look like orchards. They look as if someone has cleared the forest and planted this one type of tree.

devilsgarden2The local people know they didn’t do it and they didn’t see anyone else do it. The effect is apparently so spooky that local legends call the sites devil’s gardens, attributing their existence to an evil spirit. It’s not evil spirits, though, but ants that are responsible for the devil’s gardens. A species of ant called Myrmelaschista schumanni lives in the hollow stems of the D. hirsuta trees and they destroy all the competition. They rely on their host trees for shelter and food and they take extreme measures to protect them.

Their strategy is very successful. Some of the oldest gardens are calculated to be over 800 years old. The millions of worker ants kill the unwanted plants by injecting formic acid into their leaves. The researchers showed it was the ants by planting other species of trees and then protecting some and not others. The unprotected ones started to die within a day while the protected ones survived. This quashed the competing hypothesis which held that the D. hirsuta was inhibiting the growth of other plants by releasing chemicals.

The other ant species (Cephalotes atratus) is interesting because of its gliding ability, even though it doesn’t have wings.

The research in this case was on mosquitoes and the researchers were thirty meters up in the forest canopy waiting to get bitten. Ants, going about their normal business, encountered the humans and naturally attacked to protect their territory. When they were brushed off, instead of just falling they were seen to glide back to the tree trunk. They might bounce off once but they would glide back in again and most of the ants would get back safely to the tree. The researchers concluded that the ants were using their flared heads to glide.

gliding-antAnts join the list of species capable of wingless flight. Like flying squirrels, lizards, frogs and snakes, these ants have evolved the ability to maneuver in the air even without wings.

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Photo credit - Miroslaw Swietek

Photo credit – Miroslaw Swietek

This could almost count as a cloud-of-the-day post, since dew is a meteorolgical phenomenon. But let’s not get dewy-eyed about that. Instead, let’s get dewy-eyed about dewy-eyed insects.

Miroslaw Swietek took a serious interest in photography when he was thirty-five, and within a couple of years this talented amateur was producing photographic artwork to challenge the professionals. He captures these images by going out into the forest between 3AM and 4AM, to catch his subjects when they are immobilized by the cold. Then he sets up his macro lens within centimeters of them and brings us these beautiful portraits.

I strongly advise you to follow these links to two of Miroslaw Swietek’s online repositories, where you will find many more high resolution photos. Caution: may contain spiders.-)

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