A close-up of an ant’s face is spreading fast

Suspension

There is an estimate 20 quadrillion ants all over the planetexcept for Antarctica – a bummer, given the name of the continent.

But the close-up of a carpenter ant starting to do the rounds last week bears little resemblance to the cute cartoon faces featured in films like Disney/Pixar’s “A Bug’s Life” or DreamWorks’ “Antz.” Instead, Lithuanian photographer Ogengos Kavaliauskas’ image is reminiscent of a horror movie, with the antennae of diggers ants protruding from the frightening red circles and their jaws looking like the grin of a saber-toothed alien.

Image who was honored Discrimination In the Nikon 2022 Small World Photomicrography Contest – Twitter users were quick to call it nightmare fuel.

However, for Kavaliauskas, the photo he took at five times magnification of an ant’s face under a 10x stereo microscope is an example of “God’s designs and many interesting, beautiful and unknown miracles under people’s feet,” he told The Washington Post.

A lover of all things nature, Kavaliauskas began his career in wildlife photography by taking pictures of birds of prey – including some that earned him Awards. But four years ago, he was inspired by a desire to reveal the secrets of the world, a passion for the “invisible corner” and lessons from his friend and fellow photographer Solius Goges. microscopyOr take pictures under a microscope. He said the craft completely changed his outlook.

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“There are no horrors in nature, only a lack of knowledge,” Kavaliauskas said. “When I started microscopy and before that, I was like no one else – all beetles and insects were monsters to me. Now the situation has turned upside down. Many insects are not as pleasing to the eye as a cat, but it all depends on your point of view. “

Scientists have counted the number of ants on Earth. The number is so great that it is “unimaginable”.

The idea to photograph a carpenter ant—a species that chews wood in order to engineer tunnels for its nests—came from looking at tiny insects crawling in trees in the woods near its home in Taurago, Lithuania. He landed on the image by playing with shadows and light hitting the ant’s face.

In fact, the magnified image makes the ant look more dangerous than it should be. For example, the red balls in the ant’s seemingly sarcastic face are not its eyes, which were hidden in the shot; They are where his antennas begin. And the sharp objects sticking out of their jaws are actually very small trigger hairs, which are used to communicate and sense their surroundings.

“If you took a picture of the ant’s head itself just a little further back a little bit, it would have been almost nice,” said Miles Maxser, a National Science Foundation graduate research fellow in the University of Florida’s Department of Entomology and Helminthology. . “I swear some ants can be really cute and mysterious!”

Where some are horrified, scientists see a species that helps plants disperse, aerate soils and keep ecosystems clean by serving as a sort of top-notch waste disposal and recycling service.

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said Maxser, who is also a manager ant networkIt is a scientific communications organization.

Digger ants have a “semi-domesticated relationship” with aphids, which are small insects that suck the juices of plants and then turn them into honey dew, a sugary liquid they secrete and an important source of food for the digger ants. Aphids are their “most pathetic defenders of their own body,” he said, so digging ants take it upon themselves to protect them from predators, guiding them and keeping them warm during the winter months.

“What these ants do is grow aphids, like the way humans raise livestock,” Maxer said. “We protect our dairy cows, we feed them, we make sure nothing is going to hurt them, and in return we get the milk. Well, the borer ants do the same thing, but they get aphids.”

Ants are great engineers, Maxier said, taking incredibly complex architecture to build their nests. They are also engaged in agriculture by growing fungi and are very social beings, with organized colonies that could rival any large city.

And ants – although a little terrifying up close – are considered “Main typesOr a functional organism that acts like the glue that holds the habitat together.

“What ants are doing in ecosystems is really far-reaching,” Maxser said. “If you take ants out of most ecosystems around the world, you’ll see that the ants change dramatically, and in some cases collapse.”

You might want to keep this in mind before crushing one — or losing sleep over that agonizing photo.

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