Edgar Muller

IrelandFrolicking on glacial ice on a summer’s day? Part illusion, thanks to Edgar Müller’s perspective painting "The Crevasse." Created over five days on a pier’s pavement in Dún Laoghaire, the faux precipice covers more than 2,000 square feet.

PHOTO: EDGAR MüLLER

Atlantic Ocean Viperfish

Atlantic OceanFearsome predator of the deep, a viperfish displays its meal-clinching assets: bioluminescent spots thought to lure prey in dark waters and a set of ferocious fangs. The teeth are strictly for seizing, as food is swallowed whole.

PHOTO: SOLVIN ZANKL, NPL/MINDEN PICTURES

EnglandThe shell of Brighton’s West Pier emerges in snowy outline during a night exposure lit by promenade lamps onshore. A bustling site for entertainment in the 1920s, it fell into neglect before a 2003 fire left only bare bones.

PHOTO: TOBY SMITH, REPORTAGE BY GETTY IMAGES

Brighton’s West Pier
Western Green Mambas

Variously colored despite their name, western green mambas are highly venomous.

Serpent Still Lifes The first time I photographed a snake up close, I nearly fainted. I’d always found them terrifying, but also fascinating—an attraction-repulsion I think most people experience when they encounter beautiful animals that creep or crawl. My goal with this series is to explore that intersection of human emotions.

I started out doing commercial work, but I wanted more control. Still-life shoots led to a project on venom, and that’s what got me here. Now herpetologists, museums, and shops furnish me with snakes in all colors, textures, and dimensions. They also provide invaluable expertise. When eight easily riled cobras got loose, I knew not to budge.

Each photography session takes about 45 minutes. The expert corrals the snakes into a cloth-lined, clear plastic-sided box. Then I stand two feet away, pull back the top, point my camera—I still prefer the look of film—and wait for patterns and curves to emerge.

This series has been good therapy and education for me: I can handle snakes now and have learned a lot about different species. But I’ve learned most by watching people react to these images. Their fear and desire reveals something primal about our species. —Guido Mocafico

Guido Mocafico is based in Paris. More images from this series can be seen in his book Serpens, published by Steidl.

PHOTO: Guido Mocafico, hamiltons gallery

    
Bush Vipers from Africa

These bush vipers from Africa are less than two feet long but filled with venom. I was drawn to the variety of colors that occur within a single species. Even after years of photographing snakes, I’m always astonished by their diversity.

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PHOTO: Guido Mocafico, hamiltons gallery

    
Copperheads

Copperheads all look the same to me, but it’s an appealing look. Everything about their appearance and behavior, from their matte-looking scales to their quiet nature, makes me almost want to caress them. Of course, I never actually would, since they’re also venomous.

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PHOTO: Guido Mocafico, hamiltons gallery

    
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Like most California king snakes, these adults are low-key. Unlike most, they’re albino, not black-and-white. In this series I digitally obscured the sides of the boxes in post-production, but I didn’t alter or edit any of the snakes’ colors.

www.guidomocafico.com

PHOTO: Guido Mocafico, hamiltons gallery

    
Nonvenomous Rhinoceros Rat Snakes

To me, the aesthetic allures of nonvenomous rhinoceros rat snakes are their odd, lustrous colors and their snout protrusions. I’ve photographed some 120 different species in this series, but I’ve barely scratched the surface—there are more than 3,000 in the world.

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PHOTO: Guido Mocafico, hamiltons gallery

    
Epicrates cenchria cenchria

Epicrates cenchria cenchria

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PHOTO: Guido Mocafico, hamiltons gallery

    
Naja samarensis

Naja samarensis

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PHOTO: Guido Mocafico, hamiltons gallery

    
Naja pallida

Naja pallida

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PHOTO: Guido Mocafico, hamiltons gallery

    
Vipera aspis

Vipera aspis

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PHOTO: Guido Mocafico, hamiltons gallery

    
Boa constrictor imperator

Boa constrictor imperator

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PHOTO: Guido Mocafico, hamiltons gallery

    

Python regius

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PHOTO: Guido Mocafico, hamiltons gallery

    
Elaphe taeniura friesi

Elaphe taeniura friesi

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PHOTO: Guido Mocafico, hamiltons gallery

    
Apodora papuana

Apodora papuana

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PHOTO: Guido Mocafico, hamiltons gallery

    

Leiopython albertisi

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Leiopython albertisi

PHOTO: Guido Mocafico, hamiltons gallery

    

Leiopython albertisi

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Leiopython albertisi

PHOTO: Guido Mocafico, hamiltons gallery

    
Antananarivo, Madagascar
       

Rindra Ramasomanana
Antananarivo, Madagascar

As the sun rises in Bekily, Madagascar, mango-eating children cast long shadows on the dry ground. Ramasomanana, a 27-year-old freelance photographer, took this shot from a bridge. He was documenting the island nation’s parched southern region.

Ireland’s War Memorial Gardens

Steven Nestor
Dublin, Ireland

At Ireland’s War Memorial Gardens, Nestor, 38, a photo technician at Griffith College Dublin, captured his son cycling through a drained pond strewn with petals. The site honors Irish soldiers—like Nestor’s grandfather—who fought in World War I.

      
Red dye made from cochineal insects.

Red AlertA brilliant red dye derived from tiny insects once treasured by the Spanish conquistadores gives some modern foods and cosmetics an alluring blush. In a small number of people, though, it can cause swelling, rashes, or respiratory problems. The U.S. has now mandated that the coloring be identified as “cochineal extract” or “carmine” on product labels. Previously, vague phrases such as “color added” were acceptable.

Native to the New World, cactus-eating cochineal bugs are dried and crushed to produce a powdered dye. Beginning in the 16th century, Europeans of wealth and status wore clothing reddened with rare cochineal. The deep, durable color was even used to produce the British Army’s famous red coats for more than 200 years. Cochineal harvesting declined after the invention of cheap synthetic dyes in the 1800s, but it has rebounded—mostly in Peru and the Canary Islands—with the dye’s use as a natural alternative to artificial colorings. —A. R. Williams

Red dye made from cochineal insects (enlarged above) colors a range of products.

Textiles
Cosmetics.
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Food and Drink

Candies, cookies, yogurts, gelatins, and juices may contain cochineal, but enhanced reds in the U.S. usually come from artificial red No. 40.

Textiles

Embroidery thread, fabric for art, and couture gowns are still hand-colored with cochineal. Industrial dyers tend to use cheaper synthetics.

Cosmetics
Anything red, pink, or brown in the makeup aisle—lipstick, blush, mascara, eyeliner, eye shadow, nail polish—may contain cochineal.
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Return of the King

How heavy is the head that wore the crown? About five pounds. It also bears distinctive knife cuts, a pierced ear, and a lesion near the nose. Those forensic clues, along with preserved tissues and organs, helped a multidisciplinary team confirm that an embalmed skull (right) belonged to Henry IV, the beloved French king who was assassinated in 1610.

After the ruler’s remains were desecrated during the French Revolution, his head vanished for more than a hundred years. A pate said to be Henry’s was sold at a Paris auction in the early 20th century, then moved quietly among private collections. From 1955 until last year it was in a tax collector’s attic.

Now, after nine months of scientific and historical scrutiny, it’s in the hands of a royal descendant. With its reinterment at the Basilica of St.-Denis near Paris, this weary head may finally be able to rest in peace. —Jeremy Berlin

The head of France’s King Henry IV lies with a Legion of Honor medal that bears his portrait.

King Henry IV Coin

PHOTOS: STÉPHANE GABET AND PIERRE BELET, GALAXIE PRESSE; NATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE LEGION OF HONOR, PARIS (LEFT)

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29 Names, Same Plant

In 1753 Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus published Species Plantarum, a book describing some 6,000 plant species that became the foundation of modern plant nomenclature. The list of names has since ballooned to 1.05 million, but of those, only around 300,000 are now confirmed to be unique species. Nearly half a million others, it turns out, are redundant.

The scientific moniker for English oak has 314 synonyms, the common daisy (left) 29, and the giant sequoia 18. Those are just a few identified so far in the Plant List, a working database created in 2010 by the Missouri Botanical Garden and London’s Kew Gardens after years of vetting. “It’s like people. We have different eye colors, shapes, and sizes, but we’re all people,” says botanist Bob Magill. “There’s huge variation within a species.” —Luna Shyr

ART: OLIVER MUNDAY

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Hybrid Bears on the Move

In the past five years two odd-looking bears, with white fur and brown patches, have been killed by hunters in the Canadian Arctic. DNA tests confirmed it: Polar and grizzly bears, after starting to diverge 200,000 years ago, are interbreeding in the wild. Climate change seems to be driving their reunion. But to what end?

Evolutionary biologist Brendan Kelly says that as natural barriers like sea ice vanish, 22 Arctic species are at risk of rapid hybridization. That could be bad news for polar bears, which rely on specialized adaptations to survive. Kelly says if “pizzlies” in the wild lack some of those vital Arctic traits—as zoo-born hybrids* (left) seem to—interbreeding could further imperil an already threatened species. —Jeremy Berlin

*A mix of polar and brown bears, of which grizzlies are a subspecies

PHOTO: ZOO OSNABRÜCK

Media leaf cutter ants

A Second Career

As the foragers of their colony’s caste system (left), media leaf cutter ants start out with mandibles as sharp as surgical scalpels. But over the course of their lives, the repetitive slicing of leaves into small disks dulls their V-shaped blades. Rather than retire, the ants shift their role to just carrying sheared-off vegetation to the nest, where food production begins.

Observing Panama’s Atta cephalotes, University of Oregon’s Robert Schofield and his team found that ants with dulled blades used about twice as much energy and time to carve a leaf as their still sharp colleagues, triggering the job switch. “It’s an advantage of social living that we’re familiar with,” says Schofield. “Humans who can no longer do certain tasks can still make worthwhile contributions to society.” —Erin Friar McDermott

PHOTO: KONRAD WOTHE, MINDEN PICTURES.

ET CETERA

Ten elements in the PERIODIC TABLE, including carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen, are getting revised atomic weights. A study finds that several CORAL SPECIES around Japan have shifted north some 700 miles, possibly due to warmer oceans. KOREACERATOPS: the name given to a dinosaur, based on a rare fossil find on the Korean Peninsula. California’s COASTAL FOG occurs some 33 percent less frequently than in the early 20th century, say University of California, Berkeley scientists.

At a rate of 30 miles a day, it would take around 15 months to walk through the Americas from Alaska to Argentina.

Walk through the Americas from Alaska to Argentina

GRAPHIC: ÁLVARO VALIÑO

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Hop to It

Back in 1973 Professor Terence Dawson had some unusual guests working the treadmills at Harvard University. “One young lady hopped for half an hour,” recalls the animal physiologist, who, like his subjects, was visiting from Australia at the time. “She’d come out of the pen and stand on the treadmill, waiting for us to turn it on.” Dawson spent the next four decades back in Oz studying what is mostly a curiosity to others: how a kangaroo moves.

Observing red kangaroos, he and colleagues found that longer strides, not more frequent ones, increase speed. Hopping strides range from 2.5 to 17 feet. Walking changes to hopping at around four miles an hour. And top speeds reach about 35 miles an hour.

Specialized body features (next page) give kangaroos superb power and mechanical efficiency, says Dawson. Hopping marsupials may have evolved from tree ancestors some 40 million years ago—plenty of time to patent a signature gait. “It’s an incredibly graceful way of moving,” he notes. “They appear to be just gliding along.” —Luna Shyr

Walk This Way

At slow speeds these graceful jumpers use their forelegs and tail to hold themselves up while swinging their hind legs forward.

ART: BRUCE MORSER. SOURCE: TERENCE DAWSON

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AA kangaroo’s heart is a powerful pump—1.5 times larger than a similarly sized mammal’s.

BEighty percent of total muscle mass is packed around the pelvis. These muscles are loaded with capillaries and energy-producing mitochondria.

CLarge tendons and calf muscles compress and release like a spring.

Built to Bound

ART: BRUCE MORSER. SOURCE: TERENCE DAWSON