Photos of Insects Reveal Extraordinary Beauty

| 11/19/2014 10:01:00 AM

As with so much in life, a lack of familiarity with the natural world can breed fear and a sense of alienation. What we don't know makes us shudder.

In the case of insects, though, the rule might be, "The closer you get, the cooler they look," and biologist Sam Droege, head of the bee inventory and monitoring program at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), has prepared a number of them for their close-ups.

Droege and his colleagues at the USGS began to inventory all the North American bee species in 2001, in part because of the insects' importance to the U.S. agriculture industry. Their work got an important boost when they encountered the work of the U.S. Army's Public Health Command, where, in 2008, molecular biologist Tony Gutierrez devised a camera system that would enable soldiers throughout the world to take detailed photos of biting insects.  Disease is a major concern for the Army, and Gutierrez needed to create better identification methods to discover if the mosquito that bit a soldier in the field, for instance, was one of the handful out of 80,000 species in the world that could actually transmit disease.

Applying Gutierrez' complicated photographic techniques — which Droege says can expand the image of a tiny bee to "the size of a German shepherd" —  to his work in the field, Droege was able to create an astonishing series of images that give the viewer a whole new appreciation of the beauty of small creatures.

Though Droege cleaned up some of the images in Photoshop (the process of catching and preserving them can leave tiny insect bodies a little shopworn) and removed the pins that supported them, the biologist says he didn't manipulate the color in any way. The jewel tones and iridescence are just as nature made them — and nature made them snazzy. Some are even — dare we say it? — adorable, and others breathtaking, miniscule works of art. Textile artists and painters, take note: amazing textures and colors await you.

On one hand, they're just flies, just bees, just those little bugs we see hopping out when we disturb the grass or sand. But very close in? These images form an exuberant celebration of the other-worldly artistry of the itty bitty.

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