Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Army ants!

Here's Labidus, another under-appreciated army ant. These workers are
guarding a foraging trail.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ant vs. termite

It seems like the winner of this setup is generally 'ant,' but here's
a cool shot of a termite soldier getting one in for the woodeating
cockroaches, squirting some sticky goo onto the ant. The ant, as best
I can tell, is <i>Acanthostichus</i>, a nifty subterranean army ant in
the subfamily Cerapachynae.

This one didn't end well for Team Termite -- when I came back a few
hours later, the queen was in a giant pile of dead workers at the foot
of the tree.

Monday, June 27, 2011


In between the endless gut dissections, one of the things I've been
learning a lot about this summer is the power of post-processing.

For example, check out this shot of a neat little mantis that my
friend Gabe found. The first image is straight from the camera; the
second, after about 5 minutes of tweaking. To get the second image, I
retouched to get rid of sensor dust spots, tweaked the color
saturation and white balance, and bumped contrast and exposure just a
bit. The difference is startling!

As something of a bonus, I'm finding that this has really focused my
attention on the things you _can't_ change in the 'darkroom;' namely,
focus and composition. Aperture (Apple's photo program) makes it easy
to get rid of sensor dust, but can't recover the end of the mantis's
left antenna, or bring the focal plane forward a mm to where it really
should be. Those imperfections will stay in this image, and
recognizing that is making me a (marginally!) better photographer.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Jungle lesson #1032

Don't leave chocolate half eaten while you get distracted looking for
ants. When you think about it again, a cursory inspection in the
failing evening light may not reveal the hundreds of tiny red ants
enjoying your dessert, which will sting your unsuspecting tongue
enthusiastically on their way down.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Surface tension, part 2

And now for something a bit more abstract. This little Cephalotes
spinosus worker landed feet up in the dissection dish, holding a globe
of water in her legs. This doesn't happen often -- I've dissected more
than a thousand ants so far this summer, and never seen it!

Capturing with the camera what I saw with my eyes was pretty
challenging -- any flash at all washed out the beautiful reflective
colors on the water's surface. For photo geeks, this was taken
handheld with natural light at about 2X on a Canon 20D with 65mm MP-E
macro, at 1/60 sec, f6.3, and ISO 1600.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Yet another spider

And here's another one!

Another spider

Despite my visceral fear of spiders, they make great subjects.
Especially cute little jumping spiders, wrapped up in silk blankets,
waiting for their next houseguest...

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Bailing out

We had a huge thunderstorm the other day. The lab flooded, but just a
bit! But we weren't the only ones affected -- these wasps appear to
have gotten some water in the nest. Lacking buckets, they bail it out
with their crops. I just love the refracted image in this droplet!

Friday, June 17, 2011


Busy time in the jungle. Here's a neat spider!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

This is not an ant

It's actually an ant-mimicking staphylinid beetle! But it sure had me
fooled -- it took an email to a friend of mine to track it down. It
must take some kind of selection pressure to make a beetle look enough
like an ant to fool a wannabe entomologist with a stereoscope! This
little critter turned up in my aspirator after catching some army
ants, along with an also-but-not-quite-as-impressive ant-mimicking

The jungle is crazy: it's crazier the longer you look, crazier the
smaller you go, crazy all the way down...

Sunday, June 5, 2011


One thing about the jungle: everything grows fungus.

Sometimes, it's fluffy white stuff growing on your glasses case.

Sometimes, it's zombie fungus that grows into your head, takes over
your brain, and forces your undead body to grab onto a leaf while it
grows a giant mushroom out of your back to infect your nestmates.

For whatever reason, this particular section of the trail had a
preponderance of the latter, including a bunch of unfortunate
Camponotus workers decorating the undersides of leaves, and one
exceedingly encrusted moth.

Fortunately, the fungi in my cabin only seem to be interested in my
inanimate belongings. At least so far...

Wasps with wax

Here's a fun little bit of natural history: these wasps have built
their paper nest underneath a big leaf, and are now building a sort of
wax floor underneath the nest. I have no idea why -- neither does the
wasp guy who's sharing our lab space! -- but it's pretty cool.

This particular plant seems to be perfect for little paper wasps, as
there are no fewer than four nests hanging under various leaves. This
can also make photographing them a challenge -- not only do I have to
worry about the wasp nest three inches from the front of my lens, I
have to worry about the nest in the leaf right next to my head!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

More orthopterans

They're just so cute!