Nicole Ottawa and Oliver Meckes from Eye of Science recently produced spectacular images for the German book, Wandlungskünstler: Die geheime Erfolgsgeschichte der Insekten, written by Veronika Straaß and Claus-Peter Lieckfeld. The title of the book translates loosely to “Quick Change Artist: The Secret Success Story of Insects.”
Up until very recently, scientists lacked the technology to observe in great detail what happens behind the shells of insects undergoing metamorphosis. However, modern advances in X-ray technology have now enabled us to capture the fascinating transformation of larvae into adult insects using scanning electron microscopy (SEM).
Nicole and Oliver used this innovative technique to photograph the metamorphosis of various insects for Wandlungskünstler. After several days of preparation, SEM ultimately produces three black and white images which are transferred to digital imaging computers. From there, masking techniques are used to separate different aspects of each image, such as the wings, eyes, hair and legs of the specimen, into layers. These layers are then delicately colored—a process which may take up to three days for each photograph!
Oliver explains how the Eye of Science duo came about this project:
“Nicole and me are always thinking about new ‘stories’ we can tell with the scanning electron microscope. So, one summer day we saw insects circling over our pond in the garden and we thought about their lives before they were able to fly.”
Oliver and Nicole proceeded to collect water insects, maggots and caterpillars from their pond; some of the adult insects were used directly for SEM preparation, while the rest were kept in aquariums or terrariums and fed until metamorphosis.
In Wandlungskünstler, a handful of the photographed larvae and insects are displayed in pairs to compare the considerable changes that can occur within a “pupa,” the resting life stage before a larva becomes an adult insect. The SEM techniques utilized by Nicole and Oliver allow us to analyze these differences in impeccable detail.
In the images below, the larvae are pictured on the right and the adults on the left.