Ants up close: Ladina Ribi

14 March 2014

Ladina Ribi has spent a lifetime looking at ants and insects, and believes drawings of the tiny creatures are better than photographs at showing microscopic details.

The 64-year-old Swiss scientific illustrator has built an international career out of her joint love of drawing and insects.

“With drawing, you can take some things that are more important and make them stand out. With photographs, sometimes you can’t see very important parts of the animal,” she says.

For the past six months, Ladina and her husband, Professor Willi Ribi, have been studying ants and insects at the ANU Research School of Biology (RSB).

Ladina came to RSB as a visiting fellow, working with researchers studying Australian ant species.

“I really like the Australian insects in particular ants, which are incredible, and how they behave in the field,” she said.

“We went out and studied them. Each one has their own personality.”

Ladina says she first started drawing Christmas cards for her husband. Her interest soon turned to ants, and she has found her illustrations are in strong demand for a range of publications, including text books and scientific papers.

She is no stranger to the ANU campus. Her history with ANU dates back to the mid-70’s when she was a graphic designer, followed by a stint a scientific illustrator at RSB from 1976-78.

In her most recent visit, she and her husband have been at ANU for almost 6 months, and they are already planning a return visit.

“The time has been really tight, so we are coming back in October again to continue the work, so by then there are more ants to probe,” she says.

“And if you know how many different ants there are in Australia, I think I’ll never finish.”