Anand Varma

I am a National Geographic photographer who loves to share science stories from around the world.

80 posts 94,029 followers 113 following

A Black-chinned Hummingbird flies in a wind tunnel in Chris Clark's lab at UC Riverside. This is part of Sean Wilcox's research to measure the flight performance of hummingbirds in order to better understand their courtship displays out in the wild. I put a homemade fog machine into the wind tunnel in order to visualize the air flow. The birds are safely released after the data is collected.

@thephotosociety #hummingbird #research


An Anna's Hummingbird dries itself off by shaking vigorously back and forth. This movement is too fast to see with your naked eye so I had to film it at 3000 frames per second and slow it down 100 times. This video was part of my hummingbird story for @natgeo that shows how scientists study these amazing creatures. This bird was released unharmed after the video was recorded.

The video was taken in Professor Chris Clark's lab at UC Riverside. I used a simple hand held mister to simulate rain. The original experiment was conducted by Victor Ortega Jimenez at UC Berkeley using the same little spray nozzles you see in grocery stores used to keep the lettuce looking fresh.
#hummingbird #highspeed #phantom4k @natgeocreative @thephotosociety @hivelighting #litbyhive


Taking a slight detour from my normal science content to show off my brother Ravi's amazing foldable, portable lamp. Back in April, he asked me to help shoot the video for his Kickstarter campaign, so I busted out the rain machine and fog machine I built for my hummingbird story (see previous post) to show off the durability and design of this sweet light.
Ravi is an industrial designer and lighting engineer. He has built custom macro lights for me on occasion and he is the first person I call when I need help with tools, adhesives, and general hacking/tinkering skills, which all together end up being critical to my process. If you like what you see, head to the link on my profile to grab a Mesa light on Kickstarter while you still can (and see the full video which I shot at my house in Berkeley using my housemates as "models"). Shot on a RED Epic using a fluid video head as a quick and dirty makeshift turntable.
@mesalight #bringontherain #shotonred @reddigitalcinema



An Anna's Hummingbird flies in a wind tunnel blowing at 26 miles per hour. These birds may be small, but they are much more powerful than you would think! This video was part of my hummingbird story for @natgeo that shows how scientists study these amazing creatures. This bird was released unharmed after the video was recorded.

I used a #visionresearch Phantom Flex 4K to shoot this video which starts at 2000 frames per second and ends at 3000 frames per second. That means by the end, it is playing 100 times slower than what you would see in real life. @hivelighting generously lent me some amazing plasma lights to help illuminate this shot, which was taken in Chris Clark's lab at UC Riverside. I modified an industrial humidifier to create a make-shift fog machine so that the air movement in the wind tunnel would be visible.
#hummingbird #highspeed #phantom4k @natgeocreative @thephotosociety


A Cuban Bee Hummingbird perched on a penny to show scale. This male weighed roughly 1.8 grams. In comparison, that penny weighed about 2.5 grams. That makes this species the smallest bird in the world! However, a couple species of woodstars (also hummingbirds) in South America come very close. The penny was supported by a tiny wire which I hid by cropping the image tightly. I trained it to perch here in front of a piece of white plexiglass inside a flight cage. Dr. Chris Clark from UC Riverside uses the flight cage to study the courtship display of this species. This male was released unharmed after being measured and photographed.
#hummingbird #science #scale #research @thephotosociety @natgeocreative


An Anna's Hummingbird sitting in a virtual reality tunnel that is designed to study hummingbird vision. The researchers can control everything the hummingbird sees in this tunnel. By manipulating the thick and thin bars and then observing how the bird responds, they can better understand how hummingbird visual perception works. This particular experiment was being run by Roslyn Dakin in Doug Altshuler's lab at the University of British Columbia. #hummingbird #science #research #vision @thephotosociety @natgeocreative



An Anna's Hummingbird shakes itself dry. A long exposure image shows the trajectories of individual water droplets as they are flung from the hummingbird's body. This image was based on research done by Victor Ortega Jimenez from the Dudley lab at UC Berkeley. Thanks to @hivelighting for providing the plasma light that made this image possible.

#hummingbird #biomechanics #science #litbyhive @thephotosociety @natgeocreative


An Anna's Hummingbird hovers inside a special chamber that is designed to measure the forces produced during its flight. Each of the three rectangular shapes you see is an extremely sensitive sensor that is attached to the ceiling of the flight chamber and together they measure the tiny pressure wave generated with each beat of the hummingbird's wings.
This device allows researchers to understand the mechanics of hummingbird flight with much more detail than before.
The chamber was built by Rivers Ingersoll, a graduate student in David Lentink's lab at Stanford University. The photo is part of my story on hummingbird biomechanics in the July issue of National Geographic.
#hummingbird #biomechanics #flight #science #research @thephotosociety @natgeocreative


Here Chris Clark is set up to record the courtship display of a Cuban bee hummingbird in Palpite, Cuba.
His strategy for studying this behavior is to catch a female bee hummingbird and put it in a cage on a male's territory. When the male sees her, he flies up about 50ft in the air then turns around and dives down at her at about 40 miles per hour. Chris thinks they do this to show off their speed and agility. Because the male always dives right above the female and the female can't escape, Chris is able to get careful measurements of the kinematics (movements) and the sounds produced during the dive.
The plastic dish in the center is called a parabola and is used to focus sound onto a microphone. Chris is standing next to his high speed camera, waiting for the male to perform. Bernabé (whose backyard this is) is looking over Chris' shoulder. This is part of a story on hummingbird science in the July issue of natgeo.

#cuba #hummingbird #research #science @thephotosociety @natgeocreative



A wooly false vampire bat (Chrotopterus auritus) flies out of its roost in a Mayan temple found at the base of the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico. This carnivorous bat in lives in small family groups of 4-6 individuals.

I took this photo while documenting research being done by Rodrigo Medellín (@rodrigomedellin1223) and Ivar Vleut (@ivarvleut)
#bats #flight #onassignment #Mexico #Yucatan #Maya #temple @thephotosociety @natgeocreative


A wooly false vampire bat (Chrotopterus auritus) in flight. This species is one of the largest bats in the new world and hunts birds, rodents, and other bats. I photographed this male in a hotel room in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico using a long exposure to show the shape of its wing stroke. See previous photo for how we trained this bat to get this shot.

#bats #flight #onassignment #Mexico #Yucatan


Rodrigo Medellín, also known as “the Batman of Mexico” (@rodrigomedellin1223) trains a male wooly false vampire bat (Chrotopterus auritus) to fly on cue inside a flight cage.

Rodrigo started by feeding the bat small pieces of chicken and then playing a sound on his iPhone. The bat learned to associate the sound with the food so within a couple of days, it would fly to Rodrigo whenever he made the sound with his phone. Because I knew where the bat would fly ahead of time, I could set up a long exposure shot that would reveal the shape of the bat’s wingstroke. Photographed for an upcoming story on carnivorous bats in National Geographic Magazine.
#bats #flight #onassignment #Mexico #Yucatan @thephotosociety @natgeocreative



This is a Baron’s Hermit feeding from a Heliconia flower in Ecuador. Any guesses what that tiny speck is halfway down the bird’s bill? (hint: see last two photos) @natgeocreative @thephotosociety #hermit #hummingbird #heliconia #flower #Ecuador


Close up of a female Coppery-bellied Puffleg hummingbird. Can you find the nose mite? Photographed outside of Bogota, Colombia. **correction: I was told by Dr. Robert Colwell, the world's foremost expert on these mites, that the proper common name is "flower mite" since there are other mites that live in hummingbird noses that actually do cause damage. Who knew it could be so crowded in there?!


This is a hummingbird nose mite hanging out on the bill of a Green Violetear hummingbird. These mites feed on nectar and use hummingbirds as transportation between flowers. It is just under 1mm long. When a hummingbird visits a flower, the mite scrambles onto its bill and takes shelter in its nostril. The mite can tell when the hummingbird is feeding again and it runs down the hummingbird's bill and jumps off onto the new flower. They don't appear to harm their hosts. Photographed in the Santa Marta mountains of Colombia as part of an expedition in search of the elusive Santa Marta Woodstar.
#hummingbird #Colombia #SantaMarta #mite #itchynostril



Close up of a Magnificent Hummingbird’s face. Photographed in Costa Rica.

#CostaRica #hummingbird #iridescence #feathers #Magnificent


A male and female Oasis Hummingbird perched next to each other in a makeshift photo studio in the Atacama Desert. Photographed a few years ago as part of an ongoing project to document the bee hummingbirds with Professor Chris Clark at UC Riverside. Females are often larger (and sometimes meaner) than males in this group of hummingbirds.

#oasis #hummingbird #Chile #shestheboss


A Peruvian Sheartail performs a “shuttle display” to a female by spreading his impressive tail and flying rapidly back and forth in front of her. He was so focused on trying to make a good impression that he completely ignored my presence. At one point he was displaying so close to me that his outstretched tail feathers whacked me in the nose as he flew by.
#hummingbirdlove #Chile #Atacama #courtship #display #dangerousfieldwork



An Oasis Hummingbird feeds her two chicks in Chile’s Atacama desert. Hummingbirds build their nests by collecting spider webs and using them to glue together tiny bits of lichen, leaves, and natural fibers. I was standing very still just a few inches away from the nest to get this image. One of the two babies wriggled up the edge of the nest, stuck its butt out, and sprayed my face with steaming hot baby hummingbird poo. Guess I was too close... #hummingbird #Chile #Atacama #chick #nest #dangerousfieldwork


A one day old Oasis Hummingbird chick begs for food. Its nest was built in an olive orchard in the Azapa Valley at the edge of Chile’s Atacama desert. I went there to search for hummingbirds with Professor Chris Clark several years ago as part of a multi-year project to document the courtship displays of bee hummingbirds (a group of the smallest hummingbirds in the world)

#hummingbird #Chile #Atacama #chick #nest


These are the feathers of an Anna’s Hummingbird magnified 5x. Check out how the structure of the feathers changes between the iridescent gorget feathers and the white body feathers. Microstructures in the gorget feathers interfere with light to create this brilliant color. (p.s. Happy Birthday @mlilihanna!) #hummingbird #feather #iridescence #color #AnnasHummingbird


In honor of bat week, here is a pallid bat flying in Khaleel Razak’s lab at UC Riverside. The lab studies how bat brains process auditory signals. The pallid bat is a gleaner, which means it uses its big ears to listen for insects which it picks off the ground. They can even eat scorpions and appear to be immune to their venom. When they are resting, they can fold down their ears like an accordion to minimize heat loss.

#bat #batweek #UCRiverside #flight #pallidbat


Want to know a good place to see stars? Try 15000 feet up in the Peruvian Andes. I took this timelapse of the milky way while hiking the Inca trail with my family.

#timelapse #incatrail #milkyway #nightsky #Andes


Sloth attack! I was trying to move this two-toed sloth from my neighbor’s fenced-in backyard to a nearby patch of forest. As soon as I set down the branch it was hanging onto, it showed its appreciation by chasing me back towards my house. I photographed this when I was living in Gamboa, Panama a few years ago and working with @christianziegler on a @natgeo story about balsa trees. It turns out two-toed sloths can be very aggressive and a neighbor in Panama told me she was sent to the emergency room by a sloth that had swiped her with its sharp claws. The two-toed species is apparently much meaner than its more common three-toed cousin. I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite as awkward as an angry sloth trying to gallop across a lawn.
#angrysloth #awkward #animalattack #panama #gamboa #stri #sloth #rainforest #wildlife @thephotosociety @thephotosociety


This two toed sloth had wandered into my yard in Gamboa, Panama when I was working there a few years ago. I took a few photos and then left it alone. Later on that night, I went to check on it and found it had somehow wandered into the neighbor’s fenced off back yard and was having trouble finding its way out. Using a branch, I lifted it across the fence and took it to the nearest patch of forest. Looks like it is just hanging out and having a good time right? Well, that’s where anthropomorphizing can get you into trouble. Wait until you see what happens next... #sloth #panama #rainforest #weirdanimal #chillin #Gamboa @thephotosociety


Alright folks, it’s time to give the bees a rest for now and move on to …. sloths! This is a two toed sloth I found in my driveway while working and living in Gamboa, Panama a few years ago. Gamboa is surrounded by rainforest so I suppose this fellow was just trying to cross from one patch of trees to the next. You almost never see them close to the ground, much less at eye level!

#sloth #panama #rainforest #weirdanimal #Gamboa @thephotosociety


Chris Trefil opens a hive at the Harry Laidlaw Honeybee Research Facility, which is part of the University of California, Davis. I spent a lot of time at the Laidlaw bee lab while working on the bee story for National Geographic. Chris and his boss Billy Synk were a huge help as I tried to figure out how to photograph bees in new ways. Here Chris is helping me test out different lighting techniques which I later used to photograph a beekeeper in southern California.

#beekeeper #honeybees @thephotosociety


A worker unloads beehives from a truck just before sunrise. These bees spent the summer foraging on wildflowers in South Dakota and were shipped to California to pollinate almonds. The trucks have to keep moving during the day because bees don’t like flying in high wind and the movement of the truck keeps them inside their hives. Offloading them has to happen in the dark while they are still dormant.
#onassignment #honeybees #beekeepers
@thephotosociety @natgeo


I photographed these workers last October while on assignment for my @natgeo story on honeybees. They are squaring up hives that have just been dropped off on a desolate ranch in southern California. These bees spend two days traveling by truck from South Dakota and are shipped to California to be ready for the almond bloom that happens for just two weeks in February. Almonds are such a profitable industry that growers pay beekeepers up to $180 per hive to move their hives into the orchards to ensure good nut production. Since the orchards have no other flowering plants and they bloom so early in the season, there are no other pollinators available other than these managed honeybees that are trucked in from all over the country.

#onassignment #honeybee #beekeepers


These vials all contain different pesticide formulations used in American agriculture. There are thousands of chemicals used in the country’s farms and orchards and tens of thousands of formulations, or combinations, of these chemicals. Typically the active ingredients are registered and regulated by the U.S. government. However, these formulations also contain many “inert” ingredients that are considered trade secrets and therefore don’t have to be listed. The problem is, many of these compounds turn out to be not so inert. Dr. Chris Mullin at Penn State University uses chemical forensics to figure out what additives are used in agricultural sprays and has discovered some of them have adverse effects on the health of bees. For example, they harm larval bee development and interfere with the memory and learning ability of bees (see previous photos of bee larva and bees licking q-tips that were photographed in the Mullin lab). #onassignment #honeybee #pesticides #chemicals
@thephotosociety @natgeo