GPB News' Orlando Montoya interviews UGA's Jena Johnson, insect photographer.

Jena Johnson

Jena Johnson, a lab manager at the University of Georgia’s College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences Department of Entomology, photographs insects including the mosquito for study.

Credit: Peter Frey / University of Georgia

If you hear a familiar buzz and start swatting this time of year, you know it’s mosquito season in Georgia.

Jena Johnson welcomes the insect.

She works as a lab manager at the University of Georgia’s College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences Department of Entomology, where she raises seven species of mosquito for study.

As a lab manager, Johnson is responsible for everything from hands-on research and data collection to managing the laboratory and its experiments. 

She considers herself a facilitator for the 12-15 scientists on the team, making sure they have everything they need to succeed in their research.

However, she sees her work with mosquitoes as an art, not just a science.

Credit: Jena Johnson

Her love of bugs began while she was a college student.

After viewing predatory wasps under a microscope, she was amazed by their intricacy.

Although Johnson has her master’s degree in entomology, she found her passion for macro photography after she picked up a film camera to document insect behavior.

"While I am trained to be a scientist," she said, "my real love is just the beauty and the art, the visuals and the behavior of insects."

Johnson belongs to a group of insect photographers called BugShot. At first, she was a participant in the group's macrophotography workshops, but she has since has traveled with the group and is now one of its instructors.

Her work has also been featured at a two-person photography exhibition at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia.

Credit: Jena Johnson

“Looking at an insect … under high magnification, you see all of the beauty of them," Johnson said. “You see the hairs, the symmetry, the color, the way light reflects. Sometimes insects are iridescent, sometimes they’re fuzzy, sometimes they have cute little antennae. It’s a very personal experience, because it’s you alone, looking through a microscope.”

She also compared the life cycle of a mosquito to that of a butterfly.

“Mosquitos go through the same developmental processes and to this day, I think most entomologists are still absolutely fascinated by the transformation that occurs inside a pupa,” she said.

Credit: Jena Johnson

Johnson spoke reverently about the insect’s unusual journey.

“Even though I’m a scientist, I still use this word … magic happens,” she said.

“I think I’ve made the most out of my job,” Johnson said. “I think I’ve succeeded at making a long-term career interesting and creative.”

Culex Quinquinmaculata Larvae
Credit: Jena Johnson

Larvae feeding
Credit: Jena Johnson

Aedes Atropalpus Pupae
Credit: Jena Johnson

Aedes Aegypti
Credit: Jena Johnson

Gambiae bloodfeeding
Credit: Jena Johnson