A photo of an ant under a microscope caused nightmares online
Scientists estimate that there are about 20 quadrillion ants living on Earth with us (a quadrillion is a number with 15 zeros). Ants are found everywhere except Antarctica. We are accustomed to them and even admire their hard work and cohesion, how much these little guys can do together. They are the subject of cartoons and cautionary tales.
But, as The Washington Post writes, one photograph can completely change the way we think about ants. This is a macro photo of a carpenter ant's head taken by Lithuanian photographer Eugenijus Kavaliauskas, who won a prize at the Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition in 2022.
The photo was shared on Twitter. Rebecca McKendree, a filmmaker, scientist, and horror movie fan, posted it with the caption: "A shot from a horror movie? No. This is a real ant head. Ants. Now you'll have to think about this all night." Her followers responded that such images should be hidden under a warning plate, and also posted similar images from horror films and even recalled Paul Rudd as Ant-Man from Marvel movies.
The insect does look quite predatory in the photo, like a fantastic monster or alien. Kavaliauskas made this shot by enlarging the image of the ant five times under a stereomicroscope with 10x magnification. The Lithuanian began his career as a photographer by taking pictures of birds of prey, winning several professional awards for them. But four years ago, he became interested in the idea of revealing the secrets of the microcosm and started shooting through a microscope. "There are no horrors in nature, only a lack of knowledge. When I started microphotography and before that, I was like everyone else - all bugs and insects were monsters for me. Now the situation has completely changed. Many insects are not as pleasing to the eye as a cat, but it all depends on your point of view," explains Kavaliauskas.
The idea to photograph the carpenter ant came to him when he was looking at these creatures in the forest near his home in Tauraz, Lithuania. The resulting shot does look ominous, but in reality, it's not that scary. The small, close-set red eyes are actually where sensitive antennae are attached to the head. And what looks like sharp yellow teeth are sensitive hairs that ants use to communicate and sense their environment.
"If you took a picture of the same ant's head from a little further away, it would almost be cute," says Miles Maxer, a National Science Foundation research scientist in the Department of Entomology and Nematology at the University of Florida. According to him, some ants even look fluffy from a certain angle.
In reality, scientists point out that the carpenter ant from the frightening photo is a very useful creature. These creatures help to spread plant seeds, loosen the soil, enriching it with air, and recycle a lot of natural waste, including rotten wood.
Carpenter ants also have their own "livestock". They have entered into a symbiosis with aphids, tiny bugs that feed on plant juices, turning them into honeydew. Ants love this nutritious liquid. Therefore, they began to protect aphids from predators and keep them warm in the winter months to get their favorite food from them.
"These ants are raising aphids, just like people raise cattle. We protect our dairy cows, feed them, make sure that nothing harms them, and in return we get milk. Actually, carpenter ants do the same thing, but they get honeydew," says Maxsser.
The scientist also described this species of ants as outstanding engineers who use incredibly complex architecture to build their nests. Carpenter ants have also mastered agriculture and grow mushrooms. And they are also very social creatures with organized colonies that can compete with any large city in terms of orderliness. So these "monsters" actually have a lot in common with humans.
That's why Miles Maxer urged us not to be influenced by the frightening photo by Eugenijus Kavaliauskas. Moreover, ants are crucial for the stability of ecosystems. If you remove them from an area completely, it will face dramatic changes and even ecological disaster and complete extinction without all the work that these little bugs do. And you should think about this before you crush an ant or lose sleep over a photo on the Internet.
As OBOZREVATEL wrote, the contest for the best wildlife photo was won by a picture of a bee orgy.