Archive for the 'Insect' Category

Wasp Nest Paper

Tuesday, October 11th, 2016

Several weeks ago we were given two fragile layers from a paper wasp nest. They were and are very beautiful, though they seemed ready to fall apart. The layers were placed on blotter paper, covered with more sheets and were put in a small old fashioned book press that we use to press paper, flowers, leaves and bark. There were several wrinkles in the sheets. Pressed flat and slightly stabilized made it possible to photograph them without shattering.

Paper wasps are members of the Polistes subfamily of wasps. There are 22 species in North America. These wasps use tiny bits of wood and plant materials mixed with their mouth secretions (saliva) to construct their nests. Sometimes they really do use real paper that they scavenge.

The nest begins with making a stem (petiole) to which they add a brood cell and subsequent six-sided cells around it in a single layer. They cover the brood cells with many waterproof layers of ‘paper’ similar to very thin sheets of papier-mâché. Some describe the shape as an upside down umbrella with a very short handle. The large egg-shaped structures may be found in trees or under the eaves of buildings.

We wonder what these wasps used to make this paper. The color variation is unusual as most we have seen were more uniformly gray or brownish. Most of the stripes are gray; probably from old wood. The tan, brown and cream colored areas must be various plant fibers. The darkest inserts are a puzzle.

While as abstract images they can be placed vertically or horizontally, we preferred this orientation. The top image flows from top to bottom, while the bottom image seems to lead into the image from lower left to upper right. Even though there are no figures or objects to lead the eye, the brain seems to have a need to make order and often does.

Day of Insects

Monday, April 11th, 2016

On last Saturday we attended the 8th Annual Day of Insects at Reiman Gardens in Ames, IA. As usual it was a great gathering of people who admire and value  insects. Some study them. Others photograph or write about them. Others manage properties where insects are studied and photographed. And still others encourage the general public to value and support pollinators. It is always a place to catch up with old friends and acquaintances and make new ones.

There were several presentations about Monarch butterflies and efforts to provide more habitat and appropriate plants for the larva and the adults. One of the projects had a screen cage full of Monarch butterflies for people to enjoy. There were times when there were several with the proboscises in the sliced green grapes on the plate in the lower right. Photographing through the screen mesh cage modifies the colors slightly even while the image is sharp.

This image was made with our “pocket camera” – a Canon Powershot that does make raw files. The light at the top of the cage was rather harsh. Having a raw file that was able to be processed to reduce the glare is one of the many advantages to making raw captures.

The variety of presentations is always fun and informative and sometimes even poignant, as in the case of Lulu Berry who was an expert on raising moths early in the 20th century. Three insects that convert other insects into zombies were met with gasps and giggles. Moths that overwinter as adults under the snow were surprisingly attractive. College students contributed a study comparing bees, butterflies and ground beetles in remnant and planted prairies. A report on a searchable database of the 2156 species of moths in Iowa encouraged people to submit more records. These are just a few of the 15 presentations.

Now we wonder what Nathan and MJ will plan for next year’s Day of Insects.

Pasque Flowers

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

Yesterday afternoon we headed to a preserve in eastern Iowa where Pasque Flowers (Anemone patens) were found several years ago. They are thinly scattered on the top and north and east sides of a hill among Eastern Red Cedar trees and little limestone outcrops. The lovely buds and open blossoms looked like they are wearing mohair sweaters. When they go to seed, the fruits will be fluffy star bursts often on longer stems.

Several open blossoms were being visited by ants that seemed to be picking up pollen that had fallen under the stamens. Sometimes we saw them walk across the stamens or onto the petals but mostly they stayed deep in the bowl. We think they are Winter Ants (Prenolepis imparis), a common species that they resemble.

This trio invited a vertical composition with the larger blossom at the top rather than at the bottom of the frame. Sometimes subjects suggest compositions that are atypical or unusual.

The tangle of old grasses over and around most of the tiny plants needed a bit of “gardening” to reveal some of the blossoms. Most we found were less than 3 inches tall.  This pair seemed to be looking up and out at the world.

Just as Snow Trilliums are harbingers of spring in woodlands, Pasque Flowers are the ones that announce the equinox on dry hill prairies.


Thursday, July 23rd, 2015

We just checked on the Monarch caterpillar. It is definitely showing the characteristics of the third instar. It is 13 mm long and its tentacles are growing. The black, white and yellow sections are darker and more distinct. It is velvety and much less reflective than in earlier instars.

It is interesting to note that it sometimes eats in between the larger veins like the one above it. That must be a way it controls the amount of latex it consumes.

This image was made with a 100 mm macro lens with a high quality close-up lens attached. A ring flash was used with different powers on the left and right sides so there is a soft shadow on the lower side of the caterpillar. As we said in an earlier caterpillar post we are trying a variety of lens, tele-extender and extension tube combinations. The close-up lens is another tool to consider when photographing small subjects.

We have a variety of step-up and step-down rings so the close-up lens and ring flash can be used together and/or with our lenses, other than the long telephotos.

As it gets larger we will try other combinations.

To Bee

Friday, January 16th, 2015

While applying additional keywords to the image files we made in 2014, several bee photos caught our attention. They were made on a drab cool day with occasional sprinkles.  We were in the truck cab deciding where to go next when a bee landed on the passenger side window sheltered from the wind and stayed. So this became a photo op to try to represent a bee from both sides.

We both changed our lenses to macros. Linda uses a 100mm f/2.8 macro and Bob uses a 180mm f/3.5 macro. He likes having the extra working distance, especially for insects. Because the light was a bit dull both cameras were set to ISO 800 with plus 1 stop exposure biases.

Linda made the ventral side image above  from inside the pickup. The bee was backlit by the hazy sky. A raindrop on the window is just below the bee. The light was a pale gray. The window must have a pale green cast which the white balance correction in Photoshop did not completely eliminate. While processing we decided we liked it so did not do more to eliminate the color cast.

While Linda held a card near the window inside the truck to block the interior and provide a plain background, Bob made this dorsal image outside. The raindrop is visible at the lower right of the image. No flash was used but there is a double shadow probably caused by diffraction and the angled light coming from above and behind Bob’s head. One shadow seems to be on the window and the other is on the card. The glass probably contributed to the diffraction. Light bending around edges usually it objectionable but this seems to add a third dimension to a two dimensional image.

The interesting parts of the ventral image are the pollen gathering combs and pollen basket (corbicula) on the right hind leg. Backlighting was the reason we can see it. Usually the basket is seen when full of yellow pollen.

As we wait for Spring, we think we will try to find and make pairs of images (ventral and dorsal) of other insects. This will mean making a small box of optical glass to temporarily hold subjects so we can photograph both sides, if they choose to hold still. While the color cast is not objectionable for these two images we would prefer a more neutral glass to see as much detail as we can.

Bugshot Benefits

Saturday, May 31st, 2014

Orchard Spider

We attended the latest Bugshot workshop led by Alex Wild, Piotr Naskrecki and John Abbott held at the University of Georgia Marine Institute on Sapelo Island, Georgia. One of the things we learned about was to use extension tubes more often and in combination with other tools. Ordinarily we use extension tubes with our longest telephoto lenses to shorten the focusing distance for nearby birds.

This elegant, mysterious appearing Orchard Spider was at eye level back in a tree and was working on its horizontal web. Bob used his 180mm macro lens plus a 1.4x tele-converter and a 25 mm extension tube to capture it about life-size. He was not able to get closer with his tripod so the tele-converter and extension tube were useful. Because of the location, a breeze and the added extensions, a bit of fill flash was also required.

One of the benefits of participating was what was called “The Toy Room” where all sorts of tabletop setups and a wide variety of specialized equipment was available for tryout. There was a table called the Zoo where participants could put small containers with insects, toadlets, etc. for others to borrow when practicing with the equipment.

There is always something to learn when a group of photographers gather as was done under the watchful eyes and gentle teaching of three outstanding natural history photographers.


Day of Insects

Sunday, March 30th, 2014

Attacus atlas female

The 6th Annual Day of Insects was held at Reiman Gardens in Ames, Iowa yesterday. It was wonderful seeing old friends and meeting other people who are fascinated by insects. Often people have their favorite group or species and become experts. Others love to photograph their life cycles or beauty or behaviors. Still others have stories to tell about something they have done or learned.

As in the past, the 15 presentations were fun and informative. MJ Hatfield and Nathan Brockman find people to present who share their experience, enthusiasm and expertise with a wide range of interested attendees. This year about 120 people came, filling all the seats in the Reiman Gardens meeting room.

Some of the topics included: writing an e-book about garden pests; teaching 7 year olds about insects at an outdoor science laboratory; the confusion in identifying Crescent butterfly species; photographing insect life cycles; etymology and entomology (naming new species); and the experiences of a new bee keeper. All the presentations were engaging and from the questions asked, everyone (from novice to expert) was learning something.

Because Reiman Gardens has a glass house butterfly exhibit, it is a good place to visit in one of the meeting breaks. This year among the flitting tropical butterflies was a recently hatched Atlas Moth (Attacus atlas) female. Atlas moths have the largest wing area among moths, though there is one with a slightly wider wingspan – White Witch Moth, (Thysania agrippina). The Atlas Moth is native of Southeast Asia and the White Witch to Central and South America.

She was perched low on a plant with sunlight sifting through vegetation from the left and with the right side less lit. The background was close behind her and rather messy with lots of leaves and stems that were showing their age.  It also had some distracting dappled light spots that competed with her spots.

We prefer to make portraits with the background really in the background which softens the focus everywhere but on the subject.  It usually is not polite, nor possible, to ask insects to move to a more photogenic location.  She needed to be photographed where she was while trying to keep distractions to a minimum.

To do her justice, this background was softened by making a selection in Photoshop to under-expose and blur it a bit. When a background needs to be darkened and softened we try to have the light fall off  across the background similar to how it falls off across the subject. Of course, it would have been better had she chosen a spot more to our liking.

Autumn Asters

Saturday, October 12th, 2013

October is here with warm weather and asters and the variety of bee mimics that feed on them. This hoverfly (probably a Helophilus fasciatus) is on a Smooth Blue Aster (Aster laevis). There are many hoverflies in the garden on the asters. There are also a few turtlehead blossoms remaining though everything else has gone to seed – goldenrods, coneflowers, compass plants, etc. There was a hawkmoth at the turtlehead the other evening.

Helophilus means sun lover which they certainly are. These and other hoverflies seem to wait until the sun has warmed the nectar in the afternoon to come in numbers.

Along with the Smooth Blue Asters and New England Asters, there several white ones. There are tiny Frost Asters (Symphotrichum pilosus) and these larger ones are probably Heath Asters (Symphotrichum ericoides). The Frost Asters absolutely buzz with tiny hoverflies. The larger blue and purple ones attract larger flies.

Asters have such subtle differences in identification and their scientific names have been changed so finding identifying information is sometimes more time consuming. They are lovely and make interesting compositions are their leaf, stem and flower arrangements differ.

Crane Fly

Saturday, June 8th, 2013

Crane fly

One of the pleasures of photographing insects is how much one learns while trying to identify the species, if it is not already recognized. Even the common ones often have shapes, structures, colors or patterns that add to vocabulary or other knowledge.

The new vocabulary word we learned is halteres. Behind the wings of this crane fly are two short structures with small dark spheres at the ends. These are halteres and are thought to function like gyroscopes to assist in flight. The flap up and down and assist in aerial manuevers.

This crane fly landed on a violet leaf and seemed to be resting. It was told to wait until one of us could get a camera, macro lens and tripod. Ususally they do not but this one did. It has been cool and wet and we are not seeing many insects in the yard. Several frames were made before it moved to another leaf.

Crane Flies look a bit like giant mosquitos. They are 1 to 2.5 inches long with very long, fragile legs.  Like Mayflies, adult crane flies do not eat, but only exist to mate for the next generation. This one was about 1.5 inches (4 cm.) long.

We are puzzled as to the species. It looks a bit like photos and descriptions of Tipula dorsimacula or Tipula senega. So many crane flies look similar. The mottled wings seem to fit the descriptions of these two flies. It is probably a female because it seems to have a long oviposter at the end of its body. Many crane flies are said to have tan bodies. This one is definitely orange with black trim adding to the puzzle.

For the time being, these two species will be entered as tentative keywords in the file’s metadata. Keywording image files is an important part of image storage and retrieval. Most plant and animal files have species and location keywords. Other information may include: sex, behaviors, environment and other attributes.

The keyword file is a controlled vocabulary of descriptors that can be applied to a particular image. It was designed to fit the subjects we have in our image files and is used in Lightroom. It is hierarchical with general categories and terms within those categories. Applying the keywords within Lightroom keeps consistency in the terms applied. Our keyword file is a work in progress as we add new subjects. It is guided by the structure already in place.

Day of Insects 2013

Sunday, April 7th, 2013

Yesterday we attended the 5th Annual Day of Insects at Reiman Gardens in Ames, IA. This yearly gathering of bug enthusiasts, researchers and naturalists is one of short topical presentations, long breaks for visiting and a bit of time to enjoy the Butterfly Wing and indoor gardens.

With only a small point and press camera in a pocket and little time to wait for the perfect butterfly, we did not photograph much. These sat still several times.  Both are longwings. The one above is probably a Doris Longwing (Heleconius doris). They are long lived for a butterfly so are popular in tropical butterfly exhibits. Longwings are found in Central and South America.

This one is probably a Sara Longwing (Heliconius sara). Longwing butterfly species have many similar wing patterns and colors.

The 15 presentations were as diverse as nature itself. From tiny parasites on wasps to government regulations on agricultural pests, the discovery of an Ozark dragonfly species  on a northern Iowa river to changing fire management strategies, citizen scientists monitoring water insects to assess streams to observing the lives and companions of digger bees under a porch, there was much to learn. We also enjoyed the insights and images of several photographers.

The most important concept presented was the idea that climate change is a meta-disturbance. As weather patterns change the disturbances are greater and more complex than often realized. The disturbance becomes a long term environmental influence rather than a passing event.