I went on a modified storm chase today hoping to get to a vantage point and take some storm and lightning shots.
Unfortunately the rain clouds kept coming after the main storm producing low cloud and preventing vision of the cumulonimbus structures or the lightning, so I headed to my favorite forest to smell the Eucalypt leaves in the air after the rain and watch the hurried activity of the ants coping with the flash flooding.
For those who have not been to Australia, one of the conspicuous features of Australian fauna is the ubiquitous bullant – short for bulldog ant as it aggressively defends its nest and has a nasty little sting in its tail which may be lethal to those who are allergic to it.
The bullant species belongs to the ant genus Myrmecia which only exist in Australia, apart from a rare species in New Caledonia, and its nearest relative is a fossilised ant which lived some 135 million years ago.
The most common species of the bullant in my area is a medium sized black ant approximately 1cm long and which creates a nest often 1-2 metres in diameter at the surface, and often on gravel paths in forests.
We also have much larger bullant species and I had the pleasure of watching them busy at the entrance of their nest while I was waiting for the rain to stop.
I decided I would try out continuous AF of the Panasonic GH-1 Micro Four Thirds camera with its unique 14-140mm 10x zoom lens which is the only dSLR-like camera – lens combination which allows continuous autofocus during HD video.
The light was very poor necessitating ISO 1600 and 1/80th sec at f/5.8 at 140mm focal length and white balance was set to cloudy, video set to 720p motion jpeg, while digital zoom was set to 2x which in effect gave me focal length reach of ~ 560mm in 35mm terms, and this was hand held.
The continuous autofocus was surprisingly good given such magnification and a relatively fast moving ant which measures only 2-3cm in length.
I had to make sure they didn’t crawl onto my feet as I was only 2 feet from their nest and they have good eyesight and aggressively chase away and sting intruders.
The short unedited video complete with rain drops in the audio can be seen on Youtube here.
One could have used intermittent autofocus but this would have been difficult with the ant running around so much and would add noises of the half-press of shutter button to the audio track.
For those wanting to know more about this amazing little ant, check out the Australian CSIRO web page on Myrmecia nigriceps.
In addition, biologist and photographer Alex Wild has many awesome photos of ants from around the world on his website, and a couple of them I have selected to post here, the first is this species, Myrmecia nigriceps:
and the second demonstrates a Myrmecia piliventris stinging him:
Next time I might bring my Olympus Ring Flash and try some macro still shots.