I really wish I had a photomicrography setup like the one that Sam Heads has at the University of Illinois for imaging preserved specimens. Alas, insect taxonomy is “just a hobby” for me, and any specimen photography I wish to do must be done with my field camera equipment. Of course, poverty prompts creativity (not that I consider a Canon 50D with an MP-E 65mm macro lens and MT-24EX twin flash unit a sign of poverty), and after a bit of tinkering and fiddling I’ve figured out a way to setup the specimen and flash units to create images of pinned specimens that I think are more than adequate for publication in taxonomic papers.
Here is one I did recently of the jewel beetle Actenodes calcaratus (family Buprestidae). This species is broadly distributed from the southwestern U.S. through Mexico and into Central America, where it breeds in dead branches of a variety of mostly fabaceous trees such as Acacia and Prosopis. During several trips to southern Mexico in recent years, Chuck Bellamy and I collected two new species of Actenodes that look very similar to A. calcaratus but differ in several important characters, primarily surface sculpture, the form and male coloration of the face, and male genitalia. A manuscript describing these two species and containing this and similar images of the new species was recently submitted for publication. Though not quite as razor-sharp as images created through focus-stacking processes, it still shows good detail and even lighting. What do you think?¹
¹ For those who find the pin head distracting, I am not a proponent of cloning out pin heads, debris, or other imperfections on images of preserved specimens in taxonomic papers. Other enhancements such as levels, sharpness, contrast, etc. are fine since these are all influenced greatly by lighting, but otherwise I believe the specimen needs to be presented exactly as it appears. A possible alternative is to remove the pin for imaging, but this presents a risk of damage to the specimen that is of questionable benefit in the case of non-type specimens—and downright irresponsible for primary types. Another alternative is to thoroughly clean and image the specimen prior to mounting, but this is rarely feasible as in most cases it is only after the specimen is mounted and studied further that its status as a new species is realized.Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013