For those of you accessible to central Illinois, I will be hosting a free insect photography workshop next Sunday at the University of Illinois Pollinatarium. The workshop is offered in celebration of the 3rd annual National Pollinator Week. Details are as follows:
Archbold preserves 5,000 hectares of Florida sand scrub, some of the last remaining patches of an ecosystem now largely lost to agriculture and strip malls. The sand scrub is an odd place, a fossil beach from when sea levels were high enough to restrict peninsular Florida to a narrow sandbar. Water runs right through the coarse sand, leaving the scrub looking much like a desert in spite of regular afternoon rains. Cacti thrive. It is a paradoxical place.
The scrub is also remarkable for receiving more lightning strikes than anywhere else on the continent: about 50 strikes per square mile per year. So the scrub burns all the time, and has come to depend on frequent fire to maintain the structure of the forest. This unique system has birthed dozens of sand- and fire-adapted plant and animal species that are found nowhere else.
The trip was a spur of the moment decision for me. Budding myrmecologist Fred Larabee, a student here at the University of Illinois studying the evolutionary ecology of Odontomachustrap-jaw ants, was driving down to collect Archbold’s three resident species. I hitched a ride.
Myrmecos seems to have caught the eye of the editors at ScienceBlogs, and I’ve been contracted to inaugurate a new photography site for their network. Photo Synthesis will be a rotating showcase of science imagery:
The internet is home to a wealth of captivating science images, from the many microscopic components of a cell to the remote corners of the universe captured by Hubble. On Photo Synthesis, we aim to bring you the best of what’s out there. Every month we will feature the work of a different photoblogger, exposing worlds both small and large, familiar and exotic. We will let the power of the lens take us where we ourselves are not able to go.
Don’t worry about changing your bookmarks- the Myrmecos Blog itself is staying right here in its happy home at wordpress. For the month, though, posting will be lighter than normal. I’ll keep the myrmecology content here, but photography-related articles and images will go to Photo Synthesis. Things should return to normal by mid-May.
The latest upload concerns three species in the subfamily myrmicinae that have been traveling about the globe with human commerce. Solenopsis geminata, the tropical fire ant, is the most worrying of these tramps, but the other two, Pheidole moerens and P. obscurithorax, are rather poorly known and probably merit more study than they receive. Click to visit the gallery.
Incidentally, if I’d known at the time that Solenopsis geminata confers hero status on their collectors, I’d defintely have spent more time pointing them out to everyone within earshot when I photographed these in Durban, South Africa last year.
I’ve created a set of desktop wallpapers to fit the newer 1680 x 1050 widescreen monitors. To put any of the following on your desktop, click on the image. Once the large version loads to your browser, right-click and select “Set as desktop background.”
Priacmaserrata is an enigmatic insect from the conifer forests of western North America and is one of a handful of species belonging to the relictual beetle suborder Archostemata. It is often thought of as a “living fossil”, bearing a strong resemblance to the earliest known beetles that pre-date even the dinosaurs.
Males are attracted to the scent of bleach, presumably because it resembles a female pheromone, and are sometimes collected off air-drying laundry. In spite of its unique evolutionary position, the biology of Priacma has not been adequately studied.
photo details: Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5x macro lens on a Canon EOS D60
ISO 100, f/13, 1/200 sec, flash diffused through tracing paper
Leafcutting ants of the genus Atta have perhaps the most complex caste systems of all the social insects. Mature colonies contain millions of workers of varying shapes and sizes. Here are two sisters from opposing ends of the spectrum.
photo details: Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5x macro lens on a Canon EOS 20D
ISO 100, f/13, 1/250 sec, flash diffused through tracing paper