Black ants - messing with macro

by Robin Fuller August. 29, 2020 225 views

Black ants are found across Europe, in parts of North and South America, Asia and Australia. They are so small that they go about their busy lives mostly unnoticed - until the occasion they swarm into our houses, when most people resort to chemical warfare. I decided to take a close up look.

Every day unless it was wet - and that was very rarely this summer - a twin line of Black ants went back and forth across our terrace. They made a long commute between the garden and somewhere under the foundations of the house. Some were carrying food or waste but others just followed in convoy. They followed the exact same lines, day after day - out foraging I suppose?

I thought such small subjects, just 4 mm long, would pose an interesting challenge to the macro capability of the RX10 iv camera. These are some results.

Lines of ants go back and forth. The lead ant here has what appears to be food. Oddly it is heading away from the nest. Maybe it was waste disposal.

Lines of ants go back and forth. The lead ant here has what appears to be food. Oddly it is heading away from the nest. Maybe it was waste disposal.

This ant is off line and searching for the trail. It seems to have bit of dissected bee to carry home for the colony.

This ant is off line and searching for the trail. It seems to have bit of dissected bee to carry home for the colony.

The ants moved quickly, so close-up images tended to be blurred. A tiny piece of apple placed on their route has slowed them down enough for me to take photos.

The ants moved quickly, so close-up images tended to be blurred. A tiny piece of apple placed on their route has slowed them down enough for me to take photos.

The ants take a break to eat some apple. The camera has caught quite a lot of detail considering that these ants are just 4mm long. And this is the same camera and lens that I use to take telephoto shots of distant birds. Great versatility!

The ants take a break to eat some apple. The camera has caught quite a lot of detail considering that these ants are just 4mm long. And this is the same camera and lens that I use to take telephoto shots of distant birds. Great versatility!

On a hot day in July, the ant colony swarmed. Virgin queens, about 9 mm long, climbed to the top of a low wall as they prepared to make their nuptial flights. Swarms from different colonies tend to syncronise, so mating can be between queens and males from different colonies.

On a hot day in July, the ant colony swarmed. Virgin queens, about 9 mm long, climbed to the top of a low wall as they prepared to make their nuptial flights. Swarms from different colonies tend to syncronise, so mating can be between queens and males from different colonies.

The male Black ant - centre - is smaller than the queen but larger than a worker at about 6 mm long. They have large wing muscles - note the 'power bulge' on the top of the thorax  -  all to aid their pursuit of a mate. But that is the male's sole purpose in life.

The male Black ant - centre - is smaller than the queen but larger than a worker at about 6 mm long. They have large wing muscles - note the 'power bulge' on the top of the thorax - all to aid their pursuit of a mate. But that is the male's sole purpose in life.

The worker ants busy themselves around the queens as the latter prepare to fly, rather like the ground crew tending an aircraft on the tarmac.

The worker ants busy themselves around the queens as the latter prepare to fly, rather like the ground crew tending an aircraft on the tarmac.

This queen is ready for lift-off. The workers seem to know and get out of the way.

This queen is ready for lift-off. The workers seem to know and get out of the way.

And then it all goes horribly wrong! Did the worker ant which has just arrived disrupt her take-off? I expect the worker got the blame!

And then it all goes horribly wrong! Did the worker ant which has just arrived disrupt her take-off? I expect the worker got the blame!

The queen crash lands back onto the brick wall, tumbling over before she comes to rest.

The queen crash lands back onto the brick wall, tumbling over before she comes to rest.

And then the workers fuss around yet again, as if to inspect for damage and prepare the queen again for her second attempt at a 'maiden' flight.

And then the workers fuss around yet again, as if to inspect for damage and prepare the queen again for her second attempt at a 'maiden' flight.

Once mated, a queen will return to the ground, shed her wings, dig a nest and lay eggs to found a new colony. This process of dispersal explains how, with the right tail winds and maybe over millions of generations, the species has managed to colonise every continent except Antarctica - on a par with humans!

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Bob Chappell 3 months, 1 week ago

Interesting article, with some useful photography Robin. I often find my 150-450 telephoto excellent for macro shots of dragonflies and butterflies, despite a minimum focus distance of 2 metres.

3 months, 1 week ago Edited
Björn Roose 3 months, 1 week ago

Great series! I'd say: keep on messing smile

3 months, 1 week ago Edited
Robin Fuller Replied to Björn Roose 3 months, 1 week ago

Messing about with the camera is the best way to be ready for that really special shot, which will come along without warning. I learn something new about the camera and its use every day. And I often get caught out and lose a photo opportunity. But the challenge is the fun.

3 months, 1 week ago Edited
Nancy Andrea D 3 months, 1 week ago

Wow,what an interesting post! Thank you!

3 months, 1 week ago Edited
Robin Fuller Replied to Nancy Andrea D 3 months, 1 week ago

Thanks, glad you like it. I usually do a bit of research before writing a blog so I learnt some interesting things too: like Black ants are almost worldwide in distribution.

3 months, 1 week ago Edited
Camellia Staab 3 months, 1 week ago

Excellent captures! Curious to know, how low to the ground is your camera?

3 months, 1 week ago Edited
Robin Fuller Replied to Camellia Staab 3 months, 1 week ago

The great thing about the RX10 iv in macro is that it will focus sharply using full telephoto zoom at a distance of 72cm or more. That means you can stand fairly well back from the action, not spooking the target you are aiming at. It's fairly good from say 2 metres. That means you can photograph butterflies and dragonflies for example without them flying off. A good size dragonfly can almost fill the shot at 2 metres distance, with enough detail to see the compound eyes. Just as important, you don't have to get so close that you and the camera cast shadows over the subject. Sony have done the really clever stuff; so I can just enjoy the photography.

3 months, 1 week ago Edited
Camellia Staab Replied to Robin Fuller 3 months, 1 week ago

Robin thank you for your response. Not being familiar with the RX10 iv had to go read up and according to Ken Rockwell's site (I always check his reviews, find them to be pretty accurate)  it is  one of the best and most fun cameras to own. I sort of wish I had known about this Sony camera before purchasing my last camera. The fact that you do not need to switch lenses all the time, is very appealing.

3 months, 1 week ago Edited
Robin Fuller Replied to Camellia Staab 3 months, 1 week ago

It's the camera that I always wanted. Yes, a larger sensor would give me better capabilities. But enlarge the sensor and lenses get bigger and heavier. I wanted the flexibility of an all in one system. If I broke or lost it, I would buy the same again. No one makes the camera I would rather have, not at the right price anyway. Not yet!

3 months, 1 week ago Edited
Andy Truscott 3 months, 1 week ago

Very interesting!

3 months, 1 week ago Edited
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