Elongate Twig Ants (Pseudomyrmex ejectus)

Pseudomyrmex ejectus at the nest entrance (Florida, USA)

Why are Elongate Twig Ants (Pseudomyrmex species) so slender?

All the better to fit into the narrow crevices of their twiggy lodgings:

Pseudomyrmex twig ants don’t carve their own nest chambers the way most other ants do. Rather, they inhabit old burrows in twigs and stems dug by the larvae of other insects, especially beetles. Their flexible, elongate bodies allow them to maneuver in tight cavities:

Elongate twig ants comprise about 200 species found in the tropics and subtropics of the Americas. Their above-ground nesting preferences make them vulnerable to winter freezing, which is presumably why they don’t extend far into the temperate zones. That’s a real shame for we northern myrmecophiles. With the exception of a handful of hyper-aggressive ant-plant species, Pseudomyrmex are delightfully gentle, quirkly little insects.

Honey Bee in Flight

Here’s a simple image of a worker bee circling in for a landing at her hive.

It’d be nice if I could say I used my mad photography skillz to snap a few shots and walk away with this winning photo. But the reality is that the process took two weeks and several thousand exposures of trial and error.  Most looked like this, give or take a few unfocused blobs:

Leaving aside the obvious- that I snapped continuous servos along the bees’ landing path with the result that one of every 30 had a bee in focus somewhere in the frame- I spent considerable time working out the more effective combinations of camera angle, sunlight, time of day, lens, and camera settings.

I tried my 35mm prime lens with and without an extension tube, the 17-40 wide-angle zoom with extension tube, and the 100mm macro. I tried exposures of 1/800 to 1/5000 sec, ISO 800 to 3200, apertures of f/2 to f/6. But mostly, I waited for the right conditions of ambient sunlight and fired away.

I quickly discovered a one hour window in early afternoon with ideal natural light. Then, the sun hits the hives at such an angle that incoming bees are backlit against a shadowy background, while light reflecting off the front of the hives provides a slight fill. On days when I could arrange to be home around lunchtime, I sat next to the hives and shot until the lighting had passed.

The photo at the top came yesterday. A thin overcast took the glare off the sunlight, but not so much that I had to slow the shutter speed to compensate. Then it was just a matter of taking enough shots to get lucky. About 700.

photo details:
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 macro lens on a Canon EOS 7D
ISO 2500, 1/4000 sec, f/4.0

A minor change in lighting, a major effect

Here are two photographs depicting a bevy of young caterpillars skeletonizing a parsley leaf:

In the first, light is provided by two diffused strobes from above. In the second, the diffuser is removed, eliminating the even reflection off the surface of the leaf, and one of the strobes is shifted to bounce off a plain surface behind the leaf, effectively back-lighting the shot.

It seems that half my posts on photography concern lighting, but there’s a reason for that. Photography is all about capturing light, and the best photographers exercise obsessive control over illumination. The second shot conveys the effect of skeletonization much more strongly, in my opinion.

Incidentally, do any of you recognize the caterpillars? I have a terrible time identifying young lepidopterans.