A venomous frog, luminescent shrooms and bug sex. Got your attention? If not, how about ember writing on a starry night, an iguana back scratch session and a mystical fiery sunset over a vernal pool. These are the subjects of the photos that placed in the 2017 10th annual Photographer at Large Contest by the students, postdocs, faculty and staff of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

Anat Belasen, graduate student, captured first place thereby becoming this year’s photographer at large, an honorary title in remembrance of David Bay, the department’s photographer for 34 years. His humor, good nature and expertise touched a multitude of lives. Bay died in February 2009.

Belasen shot her photo, “More venomous than a pitviper (yes, venomous)” at the Michelin Reserve near Igrapiúna, Bahia, Brazil.

“I was so excited to find this frog! This is only the second Aparasphenodon brunoi on record in the history of the Michelin reserve," said Belasen. "It’s also really rare to find one that looks like this – it’s a teenager, so it has the beautiful coloration of a baby (light grey patterned body and red eyes, which give way to a brown body and brown eyes in adulthood) but also the characteristic giant bony-plated head of an adult. When I go to Brazil for fieldwork I'm definitely the newb of the group – I hire field assistants who are local herpetologists and spend most of their time in the forest chasing after reptiles and amphibians. They basically grew up doing this, and are incredibly skilled. I'm always trying to learn their techniques and get better at finding and capturing frogs in the rainforest.”

Belasen spotted this particular frog facing away from them sitting on a broad leaf a few meters off their walking trail one night. “This was definitely one of our cooler finds, and I was so proud to be the one that found it!” As she was taking the photo, Belasen was thinking, “what a beautiful, amazing little frog.”

“Aparasphenodon brunoi is one of only two frog species in the world known to be venomous. To be venomous (rather than poisonous, like most toxic frogs) means that the animal produces and delivers venom from venom glands via a delivery system. Often we think of a viper's hollow fangs as this delivery system, but in the case of this species, venom is delivered via a line of skull (upper lip) spikes that pierce through the venom glands on the head. By weight, the venom of this species is 25 times more potent than that of Brazilian pit vipers (jararacas*). The other cool thing is that they live and breed in bromeliads (the frog in the photo is sitting on a colorful bromeliad leaf). The bony-plated head is thought to be used to seal off the opening of the bromeliad, as the frog's tadpoles develop underneath in the little pools of water held between the bromeliad leaves. This would not only protect the tadpoles from predators, but also prevent evaporation of the water so that the tadpoles do not desiccate.”

Second place: Dan Rabosky, Mushrooms in the floodplain, Peruvian Amazon.

Dan Rabosky, EEB assistant professor and assistant curator, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, scored second place with “Mushrooms in a floodplain,” shot at one of his field sites in southern Peru, in lowland Amazonian rainforest. “It’s incredibly muggy and buggy, and also one of the most biodiverse places on Earth,” he said. The scene brought to his mind “the ubiquity of fungi in warm and wet tropical places.”

He captured this image in March, the end of the wettest part of the rainy season. “There was a lot of standing water lying around, because much of the forest floods during the wet season. And in the dim understory light, I just saw this interesting piece of rotting wood floating in a temporary pool, with a ghostly pink row of mushrooms on top. Tim James directed me to someone who provisionally identified them as Cookeina speciosa from the photographs.”

Third place: Marc Ammerlaan, Spoon in June, Ann Arbor.

Marc Ammerlaan, Hiroshi Ikuma Collegiate Lecturer, placed third with “Spoon in June,” taken on a Sunday morning in his yard in Ann Arbor, Mich. “I sometimes pick a lens and see what pictures I can take with it. I hadn't used my macro (close-up) lens in a while. You force yourself to see different things when you choose a new lens.” As he was capturing this image of Japanese beetles, he said “I was mostly hoping they would turn and give me a better angle. They must have been caught up in the moment.”

Honorable mention: Rumaan Malhotra, EEB PhD students enjoy a starry sky at Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan.

Rumaan Malhotra, an EEB doctoral student, scored an honorable mention with “EEB Ph.D. students enjoy a starry sky at Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan.”

Malhotra and friends were on the southern end of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore along Lake Michigan, feeling warm and mellow on a perfect autumn evening.

“Fieldwork has taken me to a lot of places, and I don't usually expect to find good stars unless I'm way out in the middle of nowhere. Being able to see the Milky Way that close to a population center surprised me, so I had initially taken my camera out for some star photography. Kenzo Esquivel was playing with some of the embers, and that caught my attention. We were writing things out in the air with the glowing tip of one of the sticks in the fire, and so the photos started to center on the fire instead of the stars (though you can see a hint of the Milky Way over Kenzo's head).” Emily Laub and Teresa Pegan are also pictured. Meagan Simons was present but not in the photo.

Honorable mention: Kristel Sanchez, I scratch you, you scratch me, Galapagos, Ecuador.

Kristel Sanchez’s “I scratch you, you scratch me,” shot on the Galapagos Islands during summer, also earned an honorable mention.

While exploring the coast around the Charles Darwin Station on the Island of Santa Cruz, iguanas were roaming all over the rocks and beaches and clearly not afraid of people, Sanchez recalled. “This specific group looked very cute sunbathing one on top of the other.” They were curious about the behavior, wondering if they get more warmth from cuddling or if it’s protection against predators, until they realized they have no land predators on the island. 

“The simplicity of the Galapagos Island system and its organisms is where its true beauty lies.” Having the opportunity to observe what Charles Darwin saw in the place where he reached some of his evolutionary conclusions made this location sublime.

Honorable mention: Rudi von May, Vernal pool, San Joaquin Valley, California.

Rudolf von May, an EEB postdoctoral fellow, won honorable mention with “Vernal pool, San Joaquin Valley, Calif.” He wanted to capture the incredible colors of the sky at sunset above the natural vernal pool surrounded by grasslands, a scene he and his colleagues were lucky to see a couple of times when they worked into the evening. He visited the area several times in 2010 and 2011, while studying the ecology of amphibians and invertebrates in vernal pools. While shooting the photo, von May wondered what animals were living in the pool. “Vernal pools are used by many aquatic organisms, including fairy shrimp (several species), tadpole shrimp, California tiger salamanders, and several frog species.” 

From sunrises to sunsets, the rest of the funny to fabulous entries range from snakes and stacked frogs to a crab named Sally, maize and blue birds, wildflowers, a toucan fight at a fish market, and even a game of peek-a-boo with a rhino.

Kudos to the winning photographers and thank you to everyone who submitted photos and/or voted in the contest. Eighteen EEB shutterbugs submitted 45 stunning entries and over 80 people voted. There’s a whole year ahead to get creative behind your lenses for the photo contest when it returns next fall.

Watch for an upcoming LSA Today feature on EEB’s photo contest winners. 

*A jararaca photo was submitted for this contest.

View all submissions in a Google photo album