Archive for the 'Photography' Category

Important decisions

I am coming close to the precipice of my first DSLR camera purchase. Currently, I am considering a couple mid to upper-entry level cameras from Cannon and Nikon. The hope is to get a decent body with the kit lens to practice with for now, and then start trying to save for better glass. The three top contenders at the moment are:

Mostly, people have told me that I can’t go wrong with most Cannon and Nikon bodies within a similar price range. With that in mind, I am leaning heavily towards the 550D which has the added perk of 30fps 1080p video recording. I also really like the menu layout and controls on this camera. Is there any serious photography drawback to the 550D versus the Nikon, which does not have the 1080p video recording?

Also, I know a lot of my readers are spectacular macro photographers, and that is something I really want to get into at some point when I can afford the right lens and flash. Any advice you can offer would be massively appreciated.


Neogonodactylus bredini

I haven’t had much time to write this week on account of wanting to graduate someday. Here is one of the animals that I’m working on at the moment.

Neogonodactylus bredini

N. bredini is the easiest mantis shrimp to find on the east coast since they commonly hitch-hike on reef rubble, cultured in Florida for the aquarium trade. The photo above shows the ‘smasher’ raptorial appendage nicely, as well as the black pseudo-pupil (the facets of the eye that are directly facing the camera). These guys come in a bunch of different color morphs including the rusty color above, green, and grey mottled.

I’m trying to improve my photography skills, but the old Olympus C-5050 I’m using isn’t cutting it any more. It’s no fun trying to manually focus on a moving critter using a 1.8″ 110,000-pixel screen.
Edit: Correction, this animal is actually N. wennerae. This species is physically indistinguishable from N. bredini. The only reliable determinant other than genetics is habitat depth.

Dew covered insects

Miroslaw Swietek takes amazing photos of dew covered insects in the early-morning woods. The insects remain mostly immobile during the night and collect water droplets all over their bodies. Take a look at his beautiful photos here and here.

Water droplet covered dragon fly. Photo: Miroslaw Swietek

Via i09.

Weaver ants get a grip

Photo by Thomas Endlein

Thomas Endlein, a zoologist at Cambridge University, recently won the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council photography prize with this picture (left). It depicts an Asian weaver ant, Oecophylla smaragdina (Hymenoptera), hefting a 500 mg weight, equaling to about 100 times the weight of the ant. It comes as no surprise that ants are capable of great feats of strength; we often hear about ants lifting “X-hundred” times their body weight. What is astonishing about this photo, however, is that the ant is able to lift 100 times its weight whilst suspending itself upside down on a smooth, glass-like surface. How is it holding on?

Most insects are capable of adhesion to smooth surfaces like glass. On the tips of their legs ants and other insects have a specialized appendage called a tarsus. The tarsus includes claws for locomotion on rough terrain, as well as a flexible pad, called an arolium, for adhesion to smooth surfaces. The surface of the arloium varies within the insects: In flies and beetles it is covered with fine hairs, while on ants, bees, roaches, and grasshoppers it is a flat flexible cuticle. The arolium is coated with viscous secreted fluids allowing it to work like a wet suction cup.

Scanning electron micrograph of a cockroach tarsus, showing hooks and the arolium. Adapted from Clemente & Federle, 2008.

As the ant plants its foot and applies an inward-dragging force on its tarsus, the arolium passively expands, increasing suction contact with the surface (see below). It is by this mechanism that ants generate the suction-adhesion forces required to carry heavy loads over smooth surfaces. This passive expansion is especially advantageous since it automatically prevents detachment in case of sudden jostling. In addition, if the ant only applies a little pressure on the arolium it does not expand as significantly, allowing the ant to move at a brisker pace when not carrying a heavy load.

Light micrographs of a weaver ant tarsus planting on a smooth surface. The arolium pad automatically expands as the appendage is dragged on the surface. Adapted from Federle, 2002

Weaver ants, like the one in the photo at top, create elaborate woven hives out of plant leaves. Their gathering routs bring them over soil, up bark, and frequently across the undersides of smooth leaves. Therefore they have evolved a tarsus the can grip with both claws and suction in order to carry their heavy payloads home.


  • Endlein, T., & Federle, W. (2007). Walking on smooth or rough ground: passive control of pretarsal attachment in ants Journal of Comparative Physiology A, 194 (1), 49-60 DOI: 10.1007/s00359-007-0287-x
  • Clemente, C., & Federle, W. (2008). Pushing versus pulling: division of labour between tarsal attachment pads in cockroaches Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 275 (1640), 1329-1336 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2007.1660
  • Federle, W. (2002). An Integrative Study of Insect Adhesion: Mechanics and Wet Adhesion of Pretarsal Pads in Ants. Integrative and Comparative Biology, 42 (6), 1100-1106 DOI: 10.1093/icb/42.6.1100

Unbelievable arthropod photography

If you want to get a powerful appreciation for the insane degree of arthropod diversity on the planet; look no further than the photostream of artour_a on Flickr. This guy’s photographic work is unbelievable, both for his prowess with the camera, as well as for the stunning variety of rare, weird, and beautiful creatures he has captured from around the world.

I tried to select a few sample images to represent the spectrum of artour_a’s work, but I couldn’t do it justice. He has uploaded photos of literally thousands of arthropods. Go, get lost in his full invertebrate collections, here.

Arthrophoto: Lysiosquillina maculata

This photograph is amazing for a litany of reasons beyond its aesthetic composition. The mantis shrimp in the shot is Lysiosquillina maculata. This is the largest species of mantis shrimp, reaching at least 16 inches, eyes to tail. The photographer, Laurent Ballesta, has caught the animal mid-strike, as it lunges out of its burrow at lightning speed, extending its raptorial appendages to spear a passing fish. You can purchase a book of underwater photography by Laurent Ballesta, here.

Here is an extreme slow motion video of this same species lunging for a piece of meat in a lab. Also, check out this excellent video of Sheila Patek discussing her work on the mantis shrimp’s strike.

Arthrophoto: Limulus polyphemus

Photo: DKoontz

The horseshoe crab, Limulus polyphemus, is not actually a crab. It is a chelicerate, akin to spiders and scorpions. They have served as a spectacular model organism for research into arthropod vision. In the spring, huge numbers of these animals come ashore on the Mid-to-North Atlantic coast of America to breed.

I have moved.
Arthropoda can now be found here.

Michael Bok is a graduate student studying the visual system of mantis shrimp.

Flickr Photos