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Compound Eye

The many facets of science photography
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Compound Eye: the many facets of science photography

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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A compound eye is a visual sensory organ composed of numerous small lenses. This charming South American grasshopper sports an especially large pair.

Welcome to Compound Eye, a Scientific American photography blog!

The blog is new, but the blogger is not. My name is Alex Wild. I am an entomologist and nature photographer based in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, and I have been writing about insects, science, and photography at Myrmecos Blog since 2007.

While Myrmecos will continue at its present location with more or less the same content, Compound Eye is a new venture featuring:

  • Spectacular photographs from across the sciences, accompanied by interviews with the people behind the images.
  • How-To articles on photographic technique. I’ll cover tricks from cell phone cameras to professional SLRs to microscopy.
  • Commentary on issues related to scientific imagery: emerging technology, intellectual property, social media, and cultural contexts.
  • Essays of my own, mostly natural history images.
  • A selection of reader-submitted work.

This being a photography blog, a photo essay should serve as an appropriate introduction to my work:

Collecting ants in Amazonian Ecuador, January 2011. My primary research interest for the past 10 years concerns the evolution and taxonomy of ants, especially South American species.

Leafcutter ants (Atta species) are among the more spectacular insects of the American tropics. I had a love/hate relationship with these when I was a dewy-eyed Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay in the 1990s. These charismatic ants have a simply astounding biology, but they also razed my garden, repeatedly.

I received my Ph.D. in Entomology in 2005 from the University of California at Davis, where I revised the taxonomy of the ant genus Linepithema. This photo shows a queen and worker of Linepithema humile, better known as the Argentine ant and one of the more damaging pest insects worldwide. As part of my dissertation, I determined the native distribution of this ant in Northern Argentina/Paraguay.

As a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Arizona, I assisted the NSF-funded "Assembling the Beetle Tree of Life" project, hoping to infer the evolutionary relationships among major lineages of beetles.

My current research at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign concerns the taxonomy of parasitic wasps in the family Braconidae. Here, a female Cotesia wasp lays an egg on a hapless hornworm in lab culture.

A scanning electron micrograph of Heterospilus, the wasp subject of my current project. Costa Rica alone contains more than 300 undescribed species in this genus. Also, I would be remiss if I did not point out this insect's large compound eyes.

During the summer I teach what is possibly the most fun class ever offered at any university: Introduction to Beekeeping. I try not to drone on during lecture, although this drone (at left) probably can't help it.

I am continually impressed with the active community of entomologists here at the University of Illinois. This photo shows an evening collecting trip last Saturday.

In 2003 I started a small, part-time business supplying magazines, textbooks, museums, and other natural history venues with entomological imagery. This book cover is a recent example.

Finally, for those who don’t know me, a smattering of other creations:

Compound Eye is a shiny new blog. Too shiny, even. It still emits that lingering New Blog Smell.

Help break it in by trying out the comments section below. Introduce yourself, leave a suggestion for topics you’d like to see discussed here, or just give a link to your own images. I mean that last bit, too. Once we’re running on a regular schedule (about 2 weeks from now) I’d like to feature reader photos.

Then, once you’re done with the comments, have a look around the new Scientific American network. Bora Zivkovic has shepherded as impressive a stable of blog talent as can be found anywhere. I know I’ll be spending much of today exploring!

A 13-year periodical cicada showing telltale red eyes.

Alex Wild About the Author: Alex Wild is Curator of Entomology at the University of Texas at Austin, where he studies the evolutionary history of ants. In 2003 he founded a photography business as an aesthetic complement to his scientific work, and his natural history photographs appear in numerous museums, books and media outlets. Follow on Twitter @myrmecos.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. MorganJackson 11:44 am 07/5/2011

    Congrats Alex! Good luck with your new venture and I can’t wait to see even more fantastic photography!

    Link to this
  2. 2. biophoto 12:08 pm 07/5/2011

    Congratulations Alex, I’ve enjoyed your Myrmecos Blog. I look forward to this new venture-

    Link to this
  3. 3. Alex Wild 1:12 pm 07/5/2011

    Gosh. Thanks guys!

    I’d like to add that the current system where comments require SciAm login will likely change to a less restrictive version (still TBD) later this week.

    Link to this
  4. 4. Sean McCann 2:37 pm 07/5/2011

    Congrats on the new blog. I hope to visit often, and hopefully one day offer some interesting photos and stories for you to use. I already incorporate photography and videography heavily in my scientific work (for data collection).
    When it comes to communicating results, imagery can be amazingly effective as well.
    As for your question, there are all kinds of topics to be covered…I am sure you have some great ideas, but discussion of photo/video data collection by scientists, as well as how the lay public can contribute to this would be great. Some web resources to consider discussing: Bugguide, Internet Bird Collection, flickr, Encyclopedia of Life…I am sure there are many more.
    Anyway, good luck with the new blog. If you would liek to use any of my imagery , go for it.

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  5. 5. Alex Wild 2:55 pm 07/5/2011

    Whoa. Your widow photos are simply sublime, Sean- I’m adding you straight to the queue!

    Link to this
  6. 6. Aur_ora 3:07 pm 07/5/2011

    Hi Alex!
    Even though I rarely (if ever) commented there, I’ve followed you over from Myrmecos. I really enjoy your writing style, and you’ve reminded me of the things I used to love about entomology classes during my zoology degree. Plus, my boyfriend is a professional photographer, so I look forward to sharing lots of your posts here with him, too.

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  7. 7. Alex Wild 3:22 pm 07/5/2011

    Glad you stopped in to comment, Aurora!

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  8. 8. RhiPea 4:19 pm 07/5/2011

    That is one eye catching South American grasshopper!

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  9. 9. StephenZozaya 7:59 pm 07/5/2011

    I’m very excited about this new blog. While I mainly photograph reptiles and amphibians, I have always loved Myrmecos and have found Alex’s images inspiring and his advice applicable. I can’t wait to see what comes of Compound Eye.

    Things I would like to see include lighting and diffusion techniques, post-processing, and maintaining a clean sensor (challenging for the down-and-dirty wildlife photographer).

    My own photos can be viewed at:
    (Warning, snake and lizard heavy)


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  10. 10. Lou Jost 9:37 pm 07/5/2011

    I look forward to learning some photographic tricks from you! Thoughts on color management, and monitor and camera profiling, and color gamut would be really appreciated. Nobody discusses these important aspects of digital photography.
    I live in Ecuador and study mostly orchids–see
    Also check out the foundation that my friends and I started, EcoMinga, which saves cloud forests here. We donated cheap point-and-shoot cameras to our reserve guardians, and they have taken some amazing pictures. They are proof that fancy equipment is only a small part of the photographic equation. See for some of their (and my) photos.

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  11. 11. Steve Esposito 12:10 am 07/6/2011

    Hi, Alex! I’m glad that I stumbled my way onto your blog — your photos are stunning!

    Entomology is an interest of mine, though not one that I have pursued academically. I share a lot of insect information and photos with my 7 year old nephew who is just as intrigued as I am when it comes to insects and arachnids. I’d imagine — with all your amazing photos — I’ll be showing him stuff from Compound Eye a lot!

    Good luck with the new blog; I’m looking forward to reading frequently!

    Link to this
  12. 12. cassierodenberg 9:01 am 07/6/2011

    Really beautiful work, Alex! Can’t wait to see more buggy close-ups and glad to be a fellow blogger here with you.

    Very appropriately, I’m currently reading Bitten ( and am on the ant chapter. Endlessly amazed by those little guys.


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  13. 13. HBG_Dave 9:23 am 07/6/2011

    Hi Alex,

    Good luck with the new blog.

    I’m a professional entomologist (in a broad sense) with an amateur/hobby interest in urban insect conservation about which I blog at the Home Bug Garden

    Re suggested topics, photographic techniques are fine, but it would be nice to see some interpretation as well. I think this would add more depth to the blog. I have two topics to suggest:
    (1) How photographs of insects and other arthropods are used/perceived in human society. You touch on this occasionally, e.g. posts on cute ants, and on misuses as in the taxon-fail posts and rants about people stealing your images. But I think you have the experience and ability for a deeper/ more thoughtful approach to analyzing what the use of insect images says about our perceptions of bugs and the rest of the natural world (including ourselves).

    (2) The history of insect photography. I don’t know if you know anything about this, and I certainly don’t, but insect photography must have a history and it would be interesting to learn about it (yes, this means I am too lazy to do the research myself).

    Link to this
  14. 14. 7:36 pm 07/6/2011

    Congratulations regarding the beginning of the new blog, Alex. I’m looking forward to following this blog and the directions it will take as it develops!

    I’d like to learn of your recommendations regarding equipment, studio and natural setting photographic strategies, as well as the trials and tribulations of being a nature macrophotographer.

    I was introduced to macrophotography during a one hour workshop you gave two years ago at the Pollinatarium at the University of Illinois and have been hooked since that experience. Images can be accessed from my blog, Things Biological (

    This’ll be a lot of fun. Thanks for your dedication and willingness to share you knowledge with the rest of us!

    Link to this
  15. 15. Neil Losin 9:21 pm 07/6/2011

    Alex, well-deserved congratulations for a blogging slot among so many great science bloggers! I’m excited to see a blog about the interface between science and photography.

    I’d love to see examples of how photography is being (or can be) used to make science more accessible to non-scientists. There are some good examples out there, but I’m always looking for more.

    Insect photography is not really my forte, but I do use my photography to capture animal diversity and behavior. You can see lots of my images at

    Looking forward to more!

    Link to this
  16. 16. rustyburlew 10:48 am 07/8/2011


    Congratulations on your new blog. I have been particularly interested in Thrifty Thursday at Myrmecos and I’m eager to learn other photography-related bits. Thanks for the effort you put into your material. Your photos are over the top.

    Link to this
  17. 17. NotablyCurious 2:29 am 07/11/2011

    I got lured over here from myrmecos and I’m looking forward to some (even more) photography-heavy content.

    I’d love to see posts about photography techniques, especially tips and tricks for field work, lightning, and nature makro photography for beginners.

    My photos can be found over at flickr:

    Link to this
  18. 18. NotablyCurious 2:33 am 07/11/2011

    Sorry I messed up the link. Hopefully second time’s the charm:

    Link to this
  19. 19. NotablyCurious 2:35 am 07/11/2011

    That didn’t work so well either. Anyway the link gets you close enough to my flickr photostream so I’ll leave it at that.

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  20. 20. Dana Hunter 2:39 pm 07/29/2011

    Took me way too long to pull this together, but here be dragonflies (in case the link doesn’t work: Taken with a Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-HX5V. Incidentally, if anyone can identify the first dragonfly in the sequence, I’d be grateful!

    Loving the tips and tricks I’m getting here – my $300 camera could end up taking some very expensive-looking photos even in my amateur hands. Thank you! And best of luck with the last week o’ class!

    Link to this
  21. 21. workerbee 3:03 pm 02/14/2012

    Great blog and fantastic photos, Alex!

    Link to this

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