Life Science Noteworthy

Superb soil mesofauna photos by Andy Murray

I’ve never met Andy Murray in-person, but I feel like we’re kindred spirits when it comes to how we feel about natural history.

Andy is the self-described photographer, writer, entomologist, and traveler behind a superb site called A Chaos of Delight. It’s superb not just because of its drop-dead-gorgeous images of mesofauna, but also because of Andy’s obvious enthusiasm for scientific inquiry in general. In his own words,

“All forms of science are powered by a sense of wonder. Without it, there would be no passion or drive to discover anything new. Dry, jaded cynicism has never found a new plant or planet. Find someone who studies slime moulds or sub molecular particles and ask them why they do what they do. You’ll see them getting as excited as a child in a tree house while they tell you. I have biologist friends who, between them, study moss, beetles, slime moulds, millipedes, and Collembola, like me. Everyone lights up when conversation is brought around to their pet passion/obsession. It’s both endearing and delightful.”

A Peeudachorutes species eating a slime mould/myxomycete fruiting body
“A Peeudachorutes species eating a slime mould/myxomycete fruiting body. From Cape Tribulation, Australia, April 2016 from regrowth rainforest.”
© Andy Murray
A giant collembolan from Tasmania
“A beautiful 11mm giant collembolan from Tasmania. (Milkshake Hills, September 2014)”
© Andy Murray
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I can’t agree more. While earning my Bachelor of Science in Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution, I remember sitting in undergraduate courses encountering my fair share of “dry, jaded cynicism” that dampened the underlying enthusiasm for the natural sciences that led me on the path to that field of study in the first place. It’s refreshing to see the foundations of scientific inquiry expressed so emphatically.

A giant collembolan from Tasmania
“A giant collembolan from Tasmania. (Under wood in rainforest, Spion Kop, Tasmania, December 2015)”
© Andy Murray

Philosophical similarities aside, I also relate to Andy’s affinity for soil mesofauna; the oft-overlooked invertebrate denizens of the dirt which range in size between 0.1mm and 2mm. I remember, as a child, spending who knows how long laying prone in my backyard with a magnifying glass staring at all the tiny organisms going about their lives in garden soil, under logs, and in piles of leaves. 

It was a powerful early lesson in biodiversity and a reminder that small scale didn’t mean a lack of sophistication.

“A wet tropics collembolan from Cape Tribulation, Australia (under wood, January 2016)”
© Andy Murray
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I’m a visual person and I’ve absolutely fallen prey to Andy’s strikingly well-composed mesofauna macro photography. They are well-composed and technically masterful. I’d go as far to say that they are, hands down, the best images of soil mesofauna I’ve ever seen.

They go beyond simple documentary photography. There are subtle narratives and themes that can only be captured by a photographer with deep regard for the subject. Andy’s passion and the pride he takes in his work are palpable.

Giant springtail from Tasmania
“Another beautiful giant springtail from Tasmania. Milkshake Hills, under wood, NW Tasmania, Sept 2014”
© Andy Murray

Though he has a clearly-stated preference for mesofauna of the Collembola variety, Andy is building a fine catalog of Protura, Diplura, Acari, Pauropoda, Symphyla, Forcipomyiinae, and other tiny soil creatures.

You can check out more of Andy’s work below, but I encourage you to spend some time on his site. It’s awesome in the literal sense of the word. Andy, if you’re reading this and ever need someone to hold your lighting rig or something while you’re down there in the dirt, just let me know.

Pseudachorutes species
Pseudachorutes species
“A beauty from regenerating kauri bush, Tairua, New Zealand, Feb 2016”
© Andy Murray
Sminthurides species
Sminthurides species
“A juvenile aquatic male and female practice their courtship display by the side of a river. (Cape Tribulation, January 2016)”
© Andy Murray
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I. plumosus and juvenile S. aquaticus
I. plumosus and juvenile S. aquaticus
“Found on a pond, Walton, Nr. Wetherby, W. Yorkshire, Nov 2014”
© Andy Murray
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