I have recently discovered that ants are a lot of fun to photograph! It’s funny, but before this summer I can’t remember ever photographing ants in my home country. It’s particularly odd in that I have certainly photographed ants in the tropics: endless streaming masses of army ants; solitary bullet ants with their painful and dangerous sting; long lines of leafcutter ants each carrying…in my files I have plenty of 35 mm slides of those. Heck, ants are so common in the tropics you really can’t avoid them. As far as I’m concerned they own Latin America. But somehow, I just never got around to local ants until I photographed one sneaking up from below to sample a salmon carcass (Macro photographs of insects feeding on salmon: take 2). It was that experience that really got me thinking about ants. It struck me that ants are everything that a macro photographer looks for: they are small (pretty much a prerequisite for macro), attractive (some of them at least) and best of all, they do interesting things. My next experience (About insects: macro photography of an ant having an evening snack) clinched it: I needed to go on an ant hunt!
It so happens that during my treks to Deas Island I had tripped across a good sized nest of western thatching ants (Formica obscuripes). These ants build their nests in the shape of a large mound, so I literally almost tripped across it…This nest was the planned destination for my first bug hunt to Deas Island, but I didn’t make it because I found so many other great critters to photograph (Macro photography in the field: bug hunting with a camera on Deas Island).
I took these photos yesterday and as you can see, these ants are very photogenic with their bright red head and thorax. And they are not very shiny, which also a plus for photography. I went directly to the nest which sits in an open clearing with a well established “ant highway” running from the nest into the bush. Yesterday was a hot day and the ants were incredibly busy running back and forth on the highway. It was fascinating to watch the constant progression of ants returning to the nest with their booty: mainly grubs, caterpillars, small flies and the bits and pieces of larger insects. The number of insects and insect pieces spoke volumes about the impact this nest has on the surrounding arthropod populations. I guess maybe ants own North America too…
I tried to get some good photos of all this activity, but the ants were moving too fast and it was too hot. I need to go back and try again when it is a little cooler and the ants are (hopefully) moving a little slower. However, about 20 metres from the nest I found a low bush that was infested by several groups of aphids. [What the heck do you call a group of aphids? A cluster? A pod? A herd? There must be a name…]. Sure enough, these aphids were being tended by ants from the nearby nest. The ants protect the aphids from predators and the aphids secrete tiny drops of honeydew for the ants to consume. You can see this activity in the photo above—which is a tightly cropped version of the picture directly below. A few more pictures follow…
I was using the same equipment as my previous shoot on Deas Island: an Olympus e-620 DSLR body, Zuiko 35mm macro lens and a Manfrotto monopod with a small ball head (for details see More macro photography in the field: bug hunting with a camera on Deas Island).
Like the nest, the bush was in the open in bright sunlight so this was hot work. And of course none of the groups of aphids were high enough in the bush for me to stand up, or low enough to allow me to kneel. I spent the next hour in a semi-crouch taking pictures—by the time I was finished my monopod was propping me up as much as my camera! I eventually wandered off hot, sweaty and with wobbly legs. It was great fun and I can’t wait to go back and do it again.
Does that make me a bit of a masochist?
The technical stuff:
Camera: Olympus E-620 digital SLR
Lens: Zuiko 35mm macro
Settings: manual exposure (F16 @ 1/60 sec)
Lighting: Olympus RF-11 ring flash (manual; 1/2 power)