Plectroctena, on white

Plectroctena mandibularis, South Africa

Every now and again someone asks how I get the white background on these sorts of stylized ant shots. Pretty simple: it’s a sheet of cheap white printer paper. Overexposing the shot slightly by boosting the flash evens out the white.

I set the ant down on the paper under a petri dish or a lens cap, let her settle in, and remove the cover to get a few seconds of a relaxed ant before she’s off to the races.

Photo details: Canon mp-e 65mm 1-5x macro lens on a Canon EOS 20D.

ISO 100, f13, 1/250th sec, diffuse twin flash


  1. #1 TGIQ
    February 11, 2010

    Why is she curling her abdomen like that?

  2. #2 Adrian Thysse
    February 11, 2010

    Great shot.

    Is that a defensive position, or was she caught in the act of grooming?

  3. #3 Warren
    February 11, 2010

    I believe E.O. Wilson was the first to document this fascinating behaviour in his 1971 book The Insect Societies. This is what ants do when they’re alone on a Saturday night.

  4. #4 Dave
    February 11, 2010

    Very spectacular shot!

    Looks like a more or less defensive (or perhaps aggressive would be better) pose to me, but if she is relaxed, then I guess appearances can be deceiving.

    OT, but on on unusual positions of the gaster, I used to see a rather spidery looking ant in Queensland that held its gaster over the body (possibly members of the genus Leptomyrmex). Does anyone have an hypothesis supported by data as to why they do this? I was always told they were mimicking spiders, but that never made a lot of sense to me.

  5. #5 myrmecos
    February 11, 2010


  6. #6 myrmecos
    February 11, 2010

    This ant was mellow throughout the photo shoot, and she’s grooming in this shot.

    Dave- the Leptomyrmex spider ants have potent defensive chemistry, as do all dolichoderines. I presume that they’re running around with their weaponry ready to fire. Quite striking insects, as you note.

  7. #7 Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist
    February 11, 2010

    so cool!!!

  8. #8 Mike from Ottawa
    February 14, 2010

    You pics of ants on white are my favourites. They are very beautiful and it is neat that there is behind them, literally, such simplicity.

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