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Field Notes
Yellow Fruit Fly
Photograph by Mark W. Moffett
Mark W. Moffett

What was your best experience in the field covering this story?

Army ants migrate every night to a new nest site, and hundreds of thousands of them will move along in a dense column. One night at about ten o'clock while I was watching them move, I saw a mass of soldier ants surrounding something. So I brushed them aside and discovered that they were protecting their gigantic queen. I ended up getting one clean shot of her face, which is rare to capture in nature (see NGM August 2006, page 143).

What was your worst experience in the field covering this story?

The kind of storm you only see in the tropics exploded within a couple minutes of taking a picture of the queen. Meanwhile a couple dozen of her soldier ants locked their fish-hook mandibles into my face. A half hour later and completely soaked through, I was back in my cabin with a mirror and literally cutting the solider ants off with my Swiss army knife. I then used tweezers to remove their jaws. With my face completely scarred and inflamed, I didn't look so great for the next few days.

What was your quirkiest experience in the field covering this story?

You have to get down real close to watch ants, which is tricky because you also don't want them to notice you. They'll notice warm air instantly, so I got in the habit of holding my breath for as long as possible. Then I would have to turn away from the ants and gasp for air over my shoulder.

One of the times I was doing this, I had a sweat bee shoot right up my nostril and, well, I'd rather forget the rest.