Tagged: studio

Empty House

Hornet's Nest
Hornet’s Nest

My parents are remodeling their house, which is one of those processes that will, invariably lead to all kinds of surprises. This is a close up of a very large hornet’s nest that they found inside of one of the south walls — I’ve keyed it out as Vespa.

It’s always shocking to me that insects that people think of as dangerous and aggressive, like these hornets, can establish themselves next to humans and remain unnoticed for years before evidence of their existence is even discovered.

Gas Station Finds

I love gas stations. This is partly because I drive an SUV with terrible mileage (I know! I am a bad person! But it was an affordable vehicle on my grad student budget.), but also because gas stations have wonderful, bright lights and ready resources of sugary garbage. The net effect of this is that I often find quite good insects at gas stations, especially late at night.

Most gas station attendants are a little weirded out if you just go at it with a bug net, but I try not to let the little things stop me.

So, for example, when I was driving home from Omaha late on Sunday night, I had to stop for gas. The gas station that I stopped at was pretty well deserted (mostly because it was about one in the morning), and the lights were full of little buzzing insects … and one very large, flying insect.

I at first assumed that this insect was a hunting dragonfly that had, for some reason, stayed out past its bedtime … but something wasn’t quite right about its flight pattern. When the insect came in to land, I managed to capture it, and this is what I found.

Mediterranean Mantis
Mediterranean Mantis

This is a beautiful adult male Mediterranean Mantis (Iris oratoria). At first, I wasn’t quite sure what he was, since I didn’t realize that this species got to this size … but while I was capturing, I managed to annoy him enough that he gave me a beautiful threat display, which pretty much cinched my species identification.

Iris oratoria

(This lovely photo is not mine — It was taken by Isidro Martínez, who graciously CC licensed it for the Encylopedia of Life collection — but I figured that you all needed a photo of just how cool this display really is.)

Since Mediterranean mantises are invasive, I didn’t feel a particular need to let him go back into the wild — so he’s currently in a Critter Keeper on my desk at home, voraciously devouring an offering of crickets. I’ve decided to name him Sheldon.

I also went herping today, and actually found stuff, in spite of the awful weather we’ve been having in Nebraska — I’ll post those photos for you all tomorrow.

Black and White

So, I was playing around with backgrounds in my whitebox today, and I think that this one is … interesting.

Blue Dasher
Blue Dasher

I’m not entirely sure it’s successful, mind you.

Male Blue Dasher, Pachydiplax longipennis.

I want to be somebody’s buddy

Today, I bought some fresh lavender at the market, because fresh lavender is probably one of the best things in the universe, and also it was on sale, so that was pretty much inarguable. When I got home, I discovered that I had apparently purchased a small friend in addition to fresh flowers.

Crab Spider
Crab Spider

This is a crab spider (family Thomisidae). They’re ambush predators who hide around fruit and flowers, waiting to nab visiting insects.

I am not sure how much prey he’s going to manage to catch inside my apartment, so I’m letting him go outside, even though I was pretty excited to find him.

Photo Details
Konica Minolta Pro Automatic 35mm F2.8 Lens reverse-mounted with 20mm extension tube on a Canon T1i Rebel
ISO 100 at f/22, 1/100 sec
Diffuse flash in whitebox
Image editing in Adobe Photoshop CS5

Gulf Coast Toad

Toads are pretty great animals., and I am very fond of them. There are lots of good, herpetologically sound reasons to be fond of toads, but in my case, they all kind-of boil down to one thing.

Gulf Coast Toad
Gulf Coast Toad

Look at that face! It’s so adorable and grumpy and perfect!

This was an adult female. Adult toads can be sexed fairly reliably based on the presence or absence of a nuptial pad on the forelimb and hand; in adult males, this large, prominent structure is used to hold on to adult females during amplexus (the fancy word for frog sex), while females lack these structures. This photo also shows off one of the key identifying characteristics of this species: tall, thin cranial crests (the bony ridges inside of the eye) that give the skull and face a very angular shape.

Photo Details
Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens on a Canon T1i Rebel
ISO 100 at f/16, 1/100 sec
Diffuse flash in whitebox
Image editing in Adobe Photoshop CS5

Lacewing

Neuroptera is probably my favorite insect order, mainly for their amazing and excellent larvae, but the adults are pretty awesome, too.

Green Lacewing
Green Lacewing

I am guessing that this lovely adult green lacewing is in the genus Chrysoperla, but lacewings are tricky.

Best. Day. Ever.

So, I was at the pond yesterday. At the pond, I collected a very large wolf spider, a very small frog, and a very average-sized grasshopper. I also did a couple of sweeps with my net, which did not, at the time, seem to turn up anything interesting.

However, when I went to go put my net away today, I noticed that there was something moving around in there. So I turned my net inside-out to investigate. This is what I found.

Bombardier Beetle
Bombardier Beetle

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the best animal on the planet.

I know I say that a lot. If people ask me to describe crocodiles or toads or liver flukes or ichneumon wasps, I will probably tell you, at some point, that these are the best animals on the planet. And while all of those are excellent animals, they are not the actual best animals on the planet, because, like Highlander, there can be only one, and it is the bombardier beetle. (If you made me pick a particular species of bombardier beetle, admittedly, it would probably be Stenaptinus insignis and not a Brachinus, but dwelling on that would miss the point of this post, and also I might end up picking Metrius contractus instead, because I’m a contrarian.)

First of all, they are ground beetles, and carabids are my absolute favorite insects. They’re a beautiful, diverse group of (mostly!) predators that contains some of the coolest insects on the planet. Bombardiers are also a particularly beautiful group of carabids; instead of the black color that’s common across so many ground beetles, they go for flashier colors, like this lovely orange-and-blue Brachinus (they also come in lovely spotted patterns). And, of course, the defining feature of these beetles is their ability to eject boiling-hot chemicals from their butts. Crocodiles, what do you have on that? (Yeah, I said it.)

Okay, so, yes, creationists and ID people have co-opted them as symbols of irreducible complexity. This is an annoyingly stupid perspective to have on these beetles, and smarter people than me have dismantled these claims. It doesn’t for a second, demolish the pure awesome of these animals, or my delight at finding one.

Here, have a video of Stenaptinus in action.

Okay. That’s enough carabid linkspam for one day.

Big Damn Spider

Wolf Spider
Wolf Spider

I believe that this is Hogna helluo, although I am by no means a spider expert. I found her while I was out trying to shoot some Acris this evening … which didn’t really work out as well as I hoped, but as long as I get something good out of it, I’m not complaining.

Edit: This is indeed H. helluo, at least according to my highly knowledgeable office mate whose dissertation work is on these spiders.

Photo Details
Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens on a Canon T1i Rebel
ISO 100 at f/16, 1/100 sec
Diffuse flash in whitebox
Image editing in Adobe Photoshop CS5

Completely Adorable Invasive Species

One of the things that I am going to miss the most about living in Texas is the ubiquitous Mediterranean House Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus). Members of the genus can be recognized by the shape of their toes, which have toe pads that don’t go all the way to the end of the foot (Hemidactylus means half-finger, presumably because only half of their finger is toe-pad, and the other half is not). While there are technically three species of Hemidactylus that have been introduced to this state, turcicus is the most common. You can recognize turcicus by the bumpy appearance of their skin — the other two species in Texas either have completely smooth skin (H. garnotii) or just a few bumps near their back legs and tail (H. frenatus). If you’re ever in Texas (or anywhere in the southern United States) these are pretty easy to find during the summer months. They especially like to hang out at night near artificial lights in moderately humid weather, waiting for insects, but I have found them in all kinds of places … including inside one of my classrooms.

Mediterranean House Gecko
Mediterranean House Gecko

They are, unfortunately, not native to Texas, but they are really charming animals. I have yet to see one of our native banded geckos (Coleonyx spp.), but I live in hope.

Photo Details
Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens on a Canon T1i Rebel
ISO 100 at f/18, 1/100 sec
Diffuse flash in whitebox
Image editing in Adobe Photoshop CS5

How to appease wasps (long enough to take a picture)

Working with wasps can be a little tricky, since they’re very active animals that can fly, sting and bite, and they don’t take direction well. So, I’ve tried a number of approaches while working with them in the studio. The most common advice that I’ve seen online is to chill insects in the fridge for a few minutes. While it’s true that this will make them lethargic, they’ll also often adopt very unnatural-looking poses, with splayed limbs and crooked antennae … and as soon as they warm up, you’re back to square one. Similarly, some insects will freeze when startled (as will snakes, frogs and some lizards — if you’re taking herp photos), but I am pretty sure that startling wasps is not a great idea.

Instead, I use two main techniques — the first is just to place the insect under a drinking glass and let them get out all of their energy.  Eventually, the bug I’m trying to work with will stop running and flying around erratically, and will sit still long enough or me to get a photo or two in. (In the case of dragonflies, I do basically the same thing by setting up a perch in a closed white box, then giving them a few minutes to bumble around before landing — they’ll usually end up right where I wanted them.) Sometimes, however, this technique fails, at which point I move on to my second method — bribery.

Black and Yellow Mud Dauber
Black and Yellow Mud Dauber

Insects are pretty good at sitting still while they eat, and they’ll often pause while approaching potential food, which gives me the opportunity to get in some shots, while their little minds are elsewhere.

Photo Details
Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens on a Canon T1i Rebel
ISO 100 at f/18, 1/100 sec
Diffuse flash in whitebox
Image editing in Adobe Photoshop CS5