On Assignment: Mosquito Larvae

Aedes triseriatus, Eastern Treehole Mosquito (Larva)

I have a symbiotic relationship with other scientists. They let me in on their cutting-edge studies, giving me and my camera unfettered access to their charismatic little subjects. When the research is published and the science press picks up the breaking story my photos go along for the ride, sometimes garnering license fees. If the story is big enough, the photos are also positioned for the textbook market. In return, the researchers get photos that help them promote their work in talks and on laboratory web pages.

On Monday I stopped by the Illinois Natural History Survey to shoot Barry Alto's mosquitoes. Barry has some work coming out soon about the ecological interactions between a native species (Aedes triseriatus) and an introduced species (Aedes albopictus) and needed photos of mosquito larvae. That's a new subject for me, so I was happy to take them on.

How to get a natural-looking shot out of a lab colony? Here's the set:


With a flash head positioned behind the beaker, the backlit leaf glows. A second flash from the front provides a bit of fill at low power. The lighting arrangement proved effective:


I used a different strategy for the introduced species, Aedes albopictus. They were thick in their rearing containers, so I just backlit the mass of pupae and larvae and took a few shots until I had one that worked.


The full session took about 500 exposures to get about 10 good images for Aedes triseriatus and about 200 more for Aedes albopictus. Digital photography has its advantages. Here is a screen capture from my RAW conversion program showing a small part of the workflow:


Technical details (close-up shots):

Lens: Canon MP-E 1-5x macro lens
Body: Canon EOS 20D
Flash: Canon MT-24EX twin flash
Settings: variable

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Fantastic work, Alex! Just stumbled on this blog via a link at the NY Times. Glad I did. Absolutely fascinating, and I learned a lot, too. I'll be back. Thanks for sharing.

By Keith Richardson (not verified) on 15 Apr 2009 #permalink

Digital photography has definitely been a life-saver for nature photographers (and I guess other photographers too).

Being free from worry about wasting valuable film allows you to get a much better selection of shots to pick the best of the best from.

I have a question:
When taking photos of with flash - do you worry that the flash can damage, harm or distress insects or other light sensitive organisms (I'm thinking mostly small invertebrates)?
Is this something that you (or others) have looked into, or has it not really been something you have thought of?

Thanks guys.

Z- I know that some vertebrates are sensitive to flash, but I've never seen evidence that insects have problems with it. Flies will often jump when the flash goes, smaller-eyed insects don't seem to even notice. And insects I've photographed repeatedly don't seem to show any signs of vision degradation. This may be because insect eyes are robust across a wider range of light intensity, as they lack the delicate aperture of the vertebrate iris & ultra-sensitive retina.

In any case, the flash can't be as damaging as the ethanol I use to pickle those insects that are destined for museum collections after I'm done with them.

Excellent photos! Looking forward to seeing many more - you are a great addition to SB!

By ctenotrish (not verified) on 16 Apr 2009 #permalink

In any case, the flash can't be as damaging as the ethanol I use to pickle those insects that are destined for museum collections after I'm done with them.