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See the uncommon beauty of the common ant

by News all Today
See the uncommon beauty of the common ant

Published March 9, 2023

7 min read

A toddler’s curiosity can be infectious. Walking to a park in their London neighborhood a few years ago, Eduard Florin Niga and his young daughter met an ant on the pavement. The girl stopped to examine it. “Where are the ant’s eyes, Dad?” she asked. Her father, a teacher—and a former police officer in his native Romania, where he documented crime scenes—knew photography would provide the answer.

Ants are one of Earth’s most abundant and successful animals. Fossils indicate they arose between 168 million and 140 million years ago. Today more than 15,000 species may exist. Some 12,000 of them have been described, and dozens have portraits in Niga’s debut book, Ants: Workers of the World.

Niga’s mode of macrophotography is painstaking, whether he’s magnifying a thing to 10 times its size or a thousand. He works alone at night in the back of his house, where vibrations from passing vehicles won’t disturb his setup. The room’s only illumination is the light he trains on his subjects. (Read about a photographer’s painstaking steps to get just the right image of fire ants.)

Collaborators send Niga specimens of ants and other insects, or he orders them online. Some arrive alive; they’re returned to the sender after the photo shoot or live out their days in colonies Niga keeps. Other specimens arrive preserved, often in ethanol. To ready a dead specimen for its close-up, Niga carefully rehydrates it, cleans it, pries open its jaws, and pins it in a lifelike position. (“It’s a little world,” he says, “so every little thing matters.”) He then takes hundreds of magnified images of the insect’s parts. To make the final portrait, Niga combines 150 to 500 of the images using a process called focus stacking, in which similar images with different focal points are blended to achieve a more profound depth of field. Completing one of these portraits can require a week or longer.

Cataglyphis bicolor, North Africa

Cataglyphis bicolor, North Africa

Combining images doesn’t work with live models—movement can make an ant look, for example, as if it has several heads—so capturing a satisfactory photo of a live insect can take Niga a couple of days. He says he isn’t a patient person in most situations, “but with this, I don’t know where the patience comes from. It’s probably because I absolutely love it.” Niga hopes his images foster a greater appreciation of the world’s tiny creatures—eyes and all.

A freelance writer and researcher, Hicks Wogan recently wrote for National Geographic about a New Zealand government plan to tax farmers for their herds’ greenhouse gas emissions.

This story appears in the April 2023 issue of National Geographic magazine.

original source: See the uncommon beauty of the common ant

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