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USGS Bee Lab

The United States Geological Survey’s Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab tracks the health and habitat of native bees, which includes creating a visual archive that helps researchers identify bee species in North America. Headed by researcher Sam Droege, the Bee Lab has created over 1400 finely detailed macro photographs, which more closely resemble portraits than mere scientific documentation.

“When we started looking at these pictures, I just wanted to gaze at these shots for long periods of time,” Sam recalls. “I had seen these insects for many years, but the level of detail was incredible. The fact that everything was focused, the beauty and the arrangement of the insects themselves — the ratios of the eyes, the golden means, the french curves of the body, and the colours that would slide very naturally from one shade to another were just beautiful! It was the kind of thing that we could not achieve at the highest level of art.”

The imaging process itself emphasized both of art and science. After being collected from sites across the country and abroad, the bees are carefully washed and blow dried before being photographed in front of a solid black background by a 60 mm macro lens that fills the entirety of a full-frame image sensor. A series of images is taken, each taken incrementally closer to the subject using a rail system. The photos are then merged together using software to create a single image entirely in sharp focus.

The system was developed by Dr. Anthony G. Gutierrez, and the photographs were taken by Brooke Alexander, Sue Boo, Heagan Ahmed and Sierra Williams.

Native bees are estimated to pollinate 80 percent of flowering plants around the world, and while they are not affected by colony collapse disorder like their honeybee brethren, they do face adversity due to habitat loss and exposure to pesticides.

Browse artwork by the USGS Bee Lab.

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