Caligo, the Owl Butterfly

An owl butterfly (Caligo sp.) rests among the Papyrus, slowly flexing her wings.

Midway through my recent Ecuador trip an ant photographer’s nightmare came to pass.

My trusty MP-E 1-5x macro, the lens responsible for 95% of my images since 2003, died. The electronics failed with the iris stuck full open, rendering it incapable of providing any depth of field. It became a doorstop, essentially, and there was no easy way to replace such a rare and specialized lens while traveling through a country too small to host a single Canon dealer.

I can’t describe the frustration. (more…)

Resistance Is Not Futile

As we noted previously, Eciton hamatum army ants feed on the brood of other social insects.

Their erstwhile prey, however, sometimes mount a defense. Ferocious little Azteca ants on the Jatun Sacha station grounds seemed to know what the army ants were up to and weren’t having any of it.  This photo series depicts Azteca guards capturing and killing Eciton raiders that stepped into their territory.


Eciton hamatum, orange scourge of the social insects

Eciton hamatum workers return from an afternoon raid bearing mouthfuls of pilfered ant brood (Ecuador)

Meet Eciton hamatum.

This is a delightfully orange-colored army ant from Neotropical rain forests, big and charismatic, like the iconic E. burchellii. But- and here’s a secret trick of the wiley nature photographer- it is a much friendlier insect. If you’ve got an assignment to shoot army ants and your editor neglects to specify the species, I’d hold out for these guys. You won’t get swarmed over, gored, bitten, stung up, or otherwise assaulted anywhere near the amount you suffer by approaching the vicious E. burchellii.


Friday Beetle Blogging: Agra

Agra sp. (Carabidae), Ecuador

It’s Friday, I have new photos, so let’s resurrect the Friday Beetle!

Agra is a tree-dwelling predator found from Texas south to Argentina. It belongs to the family Carabidae, the ground beetles, which is unfortunate as most Agra are canopy species found nowhere near the ground.

Agra is one of those sprawling hyper-diverse tropical genera that readily yields new taxonomic discoveries. See, for instance, these examples by Agra expert Terry Erwin. With so many novel species, Erwin has become rather playful with his nomenclature.  Agra vation Erwin 1983 remains one of my favorite names.

I photographed this handsome specimen at the Maquipucuna cloud forest reserve on Ecuador’s western Andean slopes.

photo details:
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM macro lens
Canon EOS 7D camera
Indirect strobe in a white box
(top photo) ISO 250, 1/160 sec, f/16
(bottom photo) ISO 400, 1/125 sec, f/14

Ectatomma guarding a treehopper

Ectatomma is a large, conspicuous ant that prefers to hang out at eye level in the forest understory.  As a consequence it is among the most commonly encountered tropical insects, and one of the most photographed. The world does not need more Ectatomma photos, but when I happened across this scene just up the trail from the Jatun Sacha station buildings I couldn’t help myself:

Ectatomma tuberculatum & membracid nymph, Ecuador

At the time I did not notice the water droplets in the backdrop, but in my opinion they really make this shot.

photo details:
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM macro lens on a Canon EOS 7D
ISO 200, f/16, 1/200 sec
Indirect strobe positioned for the double duty of backlighting the leaf and bouncing indirectly off white paper above the ants for foreground lighting