A Photographic Redo: Fungus-Growing Ants 7 Years Later

I first visited Ulrich Mueller’s lab at the University of Texas in 2007, where I took this photo in one of his lab colonies of Mycocepurus smithii:


The photo shows a worker on a strand of fungus that grows in ant nests. The fungus eats bits of detritus that the ants gather from around the forest, while the ants eat the fungus. It’s a true agricultural system. Plenty has already been written about these fungus farms, so I won’t bore you with further detail.

Since I was back in Austin a couple weeks ago, I figured I’d have another go at shooting the ants. Have a look.

Mycocepurus smithii

I used the same lens & an upgraded camera back, but this time I was armed with two more significant weapons: a pair of remote flashes that I could position freely, and seven additional years of experience to guide where I put those flashes. This time I arranged a diffused side light at left, and a diffused back light at the right, with nothing but empty laboratory space behind. The effect, I hope you will agree, gives a bit more zest than my first go.

photo details:
Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5x macro lens on a Canon EOS 20D (top) or 7D (bottom)
ISO 100, f/13, 1/2oo sec (top)
ISO 400, f/11, 1/200 sec (bottom)
Diffuse macro twin flash (top)
Two diffuse off-camera strobes (bottom)


5 thoughts on “A Photographic Redo: Fungus-Growing Ants 7 Years Later”

  1. It must be really satisfying to be able to document your progression as a photographer. It’s something that really makes me want to just make time and learn how to use my camera properly!

    1. Indeed it is, xanthocryptus!

      For even more context, here is a Mycocepurus I photographed in 2002, five years earlier, with my first little Nikon Coolpix digicam:

  2. The gaster rim light is particularly nice in the new one – but I think I prefer the composition of the other one (even with a bit of an awkward ant pose). The giant column is just more dramatic to me.

    1. Yeah, I can see what you’re saying, Seth. Looking just at the silhouette, the first image has a starker, simpler composition. Could really have used the nice lighting, though.

Leave a Reply