Colorfully patterned frogs played a starring role in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology 2016 Photographer at Large Contest, however, birds and insects took home the top prizes. Once again, scientists and photography proved to be a natural pairing during the ninth annual contest, which drew over 50 photographs shot from Ann Arbor backyards to the plains of South Dakota to shade coffee farms of Chiapas, Mexico, the rainforests of the Peruvian Amazon and points between.
Congratulations to the new Honorary Photographer at Large, Jianjun Jin, whose ebullient National Geographic worthy image “Botanist vs. Cranes” captured the most votes. Jin is a visiting student in Professor Stephen Smith’s lab. Smith captured second place with his dueling hummingbirds whose frenzied flying is frozen in “Out of My Way.” Jin’s “Botanist vs. Mantis” took third. It was a “hat-trick” by the Smith Lab!
The vote count was so close that five Honorable Mentions were awarded: “Always a Line,” Smith (another!); “Groundhog’s Day of Zen Meditation,” Chuan Li; “Dendropsophus triangulum,” Pascal Title; “Pebble Mimic,” Talia Moore; “Oxyrhopus formosus,” Pascal Title. Jin is a Ph.D. candidate in his third year in Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Kunming, China. He studies phylogenetics and biogeography of several plant clades, and is currently working on the phylogeny of legumes and structure evolution of legume chloroplast genomes.
Jin, who has been fascinated with cranes since he was an undergraduate student, took the winning photo of the white naped cranes (Grus vipio) on his most recent trip to Xianghai Wetland Natural Reserves with a couple of friends. “The two dancing cranes were not too far away from the observing station,” he said, demonstrating that they weren’t afraid. He thinks they were fully recovered rescue cranes. “I thought they just enjoyed themselves that afternoon. So did we.”
Jin shot the mantis picture on a field trip with a good friend, a mantis expert who helped Jin find and photograph so many mantises that day. As he looked through the camera, Jin was appreciating these natural gifts, but as he was shooting the photos, “ I was thinking about not losing focus and not shaking.”
Smith says his photo “Always a Line” that shows a bee queuing up at a flower behind a butterfly, was “just a lucky shot taken at the Arb.” For “Out of My Way,” Smith said, “I sat by an area that I knew had hummingbirds and just waited. I was lucky to see both a male and a female and they kept swooping back and forth. One shot came out ok and this was it.”
Li captured “Prairie Dog’s Day of Zen Meditation” on a three-week road trip with her husband from Ann Arbor to San Diego last summer. They encountered the meditative groundhog while camping at the Badlands National Park. “There are hundreds of prairie dogs on the grassland.” This one was just a few meters away, watching them with “a peaceful facial expression, no curiosity, no fear, just very calm and relaxed.” The way it was sitting reminded Li of Buddha.
Title, who photographed the snake and frog that were honorable mentions, was part of a team made up of University of Michigan, Australian and Peruvian herpetologists from several institutions. “Our overall interest is in species discovery and evolutionary ecology. Many species of squamates (scaled reptiles) and amphibians have not been well studied across their known geographic range, and relatively little is typically known about habitat preferences and diet for these species. Our goal was to collect data on as many aspects of these species' genetics and ecology as possible, including information on diet, habitat usage, morphology, microbiome, physiology and genetic relationships.”
“Oxyrhopus formosus is a member of a genus of coral snakes mimics” explained Title. “It is thought that their bright coloration and strong patterning resembles that of highly venomous coral snakes that occur in the same regions, allowing them to be dupe predators into thinking they are much more dangerous than they actually are.
“Dendropsophus triangulum is a nocturnal treefrog from the Amazon Basin. They can exhibit a large amount of variation in terms of their color pattern. Both were found while doing night surveys at Los Amigos Biological Station, in Madre de Dios, Peru.”
Moore found the pebble-mimic dragon (genus Tympanocryptis) while she was collecting small mammals in Western Australia for her Ph.D. “After stopping on the side of the road to take pictures at the Tropic of Capricorn, we randomly tried flipping over a few big rocks to see what was under them,” she recalled. “My colleague spotted this lizard immediately, but it was such a good mimic that it took me a minute to see what he was so excited about. After getting this photo, we replaced the rock and let the lizard carry on with its mimicry.”
Now, you can carry on and view all the photo submissions in a Google web album. The contest is held in honor and memory of David Bay, EEB and predecessor department’s self-proclaimed “photographer at large” for over 30 years.