The weird world of the small

by Matthew Cobb

It’s not often I’ll cite the rightwing UK newspaper The Daily Mail, but yesterday they picked up on an amazing set of photos by Polish amateur photographer Mirosław Świętek. Świętek, a 37 year old physiotherapist, went out into the woods at about 3am and took these stunning photos of dew-covered insects. There’s a Drosophilid in there, just for me and Jerry. Apart from their beauty, these photos show the way that physical characteristics change depending on what size you are. When you are the size of an insect, being covered in dew is primarily a problem of aerodynamics and temperature, not getting wet! You can see more of Świętek’s amazing macro photos here. [UPDATE: a far wider selection of his photos (not all macro) can be seen here. For those interested in the technical aspects, he uses a Canon EOS 40D camera, with a Tamron SP 90 mm/2.8 1:1 macro. And a lot of patience.]

h/t: Nelly Gidaszewski

23 thoughts on “The weird world of the small

    1. Kristen, I do a lot of close-up photography, and the answer is that you work–harder than you ever imagined. Shots like these typically demand a ton of homework (so you can find the critters again in the dark when the dew is on them); long hours of creeping and crawling through unspeakable muck; eternities spent in cramped, uncomfortable positions (your depth of field is minimal at close range, so you have to get to exactly the
      right spot); and absolute familiarity with your camera, lens and flash (because you can’t really make adjustments in the dark, and a flashlight would kill your night vision). Oh, and you overshoot every subject, and only show people the ones that come out. LOL

      It’s very addictive, though, so be warned: once you start taking close-ups, it’s amazingly difficult to stop no matter how much pain it causes.

  1. Ha, Matthew, I’d already prepared a post of these for tomorrow a.m. (saw them on your Facebook page), but you saved me the trouble! Quite a water load for small beasts, eh?

  2. Maybe the dewdrops help keep them still for the photoshoot?

    Pretty amazing to be carrying that % of water vs. body weight and not need it contained in a balloon!

  3. On that blue one, noticed how the drops acts as magnifying lenses, and feature the facet eyes?

    1. John, I was thinking of it from the insects’ side. Imagine what a bunch of droplets (fish-eye lenses?) must look like through a compound eye while some biologist tries out some flash photography!

  4. Do compound eyes have pupils? It looks like there are black circles, like in the fourth picture ( the blue dragonfly) or, is that just a christian-like-delusion?

    Or is it an artifact or illusion?

    1. Haven’t yet found an explanation regarding the pupil like appearance but the hexagonal shapes are called facets and each has their own optic nerve. So for the dragonfly it has 30,000 facets which each send a little piece of the image to the brain which then has to mush it all together.

      So it would seem that dragonflies are smarter than christians after all, whodathunkit.

      http://www.sdnhm.org/kids/eyes/basics-compound2.html

      1. The dark spot also exists in my flies’ eyes, where it’s called a “pseudopupil”. I think it’s just an artifact of the way pigment is distributed in the ommatidium (the eye cell).

    2. Close, notagod–it’s a damselfly. The darker spots are no illusion, but they aren’t pupils. They’re regions of high visual acuity. Not sure how they’re formed, but my hypothesis is that individual ocelli can be moved slightly to align several in exactly the same direction, so that you’re looking past the suface coloration into their darker depths.

      1. No, Jerry’s right. Insects can’t moved their ocelli. The pseudopupil moves as the observer moves their point of view – the dark spot isn’t in a fixed position, it’s a function of the viewer’s point of view. The pseudopupil tells us about the way the ommatidia are arranged, as described here: http://tinyurl.com/pseudopupil

        1. Thanks, Matthew. I’ve long wondered about the pseudopupils, but I’m a photographer, not an entomologist. Now, off to read that reference!

          The pseudopupils do appear to move around, as I have many images of some species of Odonata–as well as many images of the same individual–and they’re always in different spots.

          1. And thanks Pete for the correction on the dragonfly/damselfly mix up. Some day I hope to remember the difference.

  5. Artistically speaking — quite beautiful.
    — lovely photographs.

    It seems that the fine, pointed, hair-like projections on insects may serve as condensation nuclei. Of course the resulting nearly spehrical shape, like all dew drops results from the surface tension of the water.

    How does this temporarily added mass affect the the insects’ vulnarability to say predation or other environmental stresses, if at all? How do they deal with this?

    Maybe a good topic for a graduate student.

    John Blase

  6. These photos are so amazing, it’s hard to believe they were taken by an amateur. Thanks for sharing!

    1. They breathe through spiracles, tiny holes in the body through which air diffuses. So long as the body isn’t completely covered with water, which it isn’t they can breathe, and they don’t need tons of oxygen when they’re resting.

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