The Best of The Dragonfly Woman 2012

Alex Wild is encouraging everyone to display their best science and nature photos of 2012, so I’m jumping on the photo sharing bandwagon!  I feel that 2012 was a pretty good year for me photographically.  Aside from moving to a place where there is a lot more greenery and softer light, I also learned how to use my camera more effectively.  I can definitely say that my photography has improved over the last year and that I am looking forward to further improvement in 2013!  There is, of course, always room for improvement and I already have several goals in mind for the coming year.

While looking through the photos I posted on my blog over the year and choosing the ones that I thought represented my best work, I found myself putting them into categories.  That’s what I do – I categorize things.  Honestly, I probably should have become a taxonomist because my brain works that way anyway.  So, I chose my best of 2012 photos by fitting them into categories.   That’s how they’re presented here.  It’s like my own little personal awards ceremony!  Here we go!

Best Cell Phone Shot

Comatose Ants

Comatose Ants

I find photographing insects and other macro subjects with my iPhone a fun challenge.  I have tried a variety of cell phone “macro” lenses and probably took a couple thousand photos with them over the past year.  One day I spent a few hours wandering around in Tucson photographing insects with a new macro lens attachment and came across the ants in the photo.  They were feeding on what I later learned was narcotic Euphorbia nectar and were essentially comatose.  These little flowers were like ant crack houses!  Every single flower on several bushes had ants sitting on them like this.  I like this photo because the colors are bright and bold, about as crisp as possible with an iPhone close-up shot, and the subject was fascinating.  I ended up sitting on the sidewalk staring at motionless ants for a good half hour.  People probably thought I was insane, but what can you do?

Best Aquatic Insect Shot

Thermonectus nigrofasciatus

Predaceous diving beetle, Thermonectus nigrofasciatus.

This was the first year I tried to take photos of live aquatic insects and my first few attempts were good enough that I kept at it all year.  This is, I think, my best photo of an aquatic insect, the predaceous diving beetle Thermonectus nigrofasciatus.  It’s one of my favorite beetles anyway, but there’s something about the way the flash lit up the elytra in this particular shot that I really like.  The beetle almost glows, the way it would in a clear, sunny Arizona stream.  They’re really beautiful beetles, and I feel this shot captured a lot of that beauty.

Best Spider Photo

Phidippus sp

Phidippus sp

I spent years looking for jumping spiders in Arizona and I only came across a handful of them.  Happily, I see them all the time in North Carolina!  I invariably scoop them up, take them home, and do a little photo shoot in my white box every time I find one because I secretly want to be Thomas Shahan and need to practice.  This one, however, is my favorite.  The spider was sitting up on top of the wooden fence at work, so you can see all the nature in the background.  It might not be perfectly crisp (I took this with my point and shoot, which has limited depth of field), but the spider is just so darned adorable!  I took a bunch of white box shots of this spider as well, but I didn’t like any of them as well as this one.

Most Difficult Shot

phantom midge

Phantom midge larva, Chaoborus sp

Have you ever tried to photograph something that’s almost clear and floating in water?  The phantom midge larvae were far and away the most frustrating of my photographic subjects of the year because it was just impossible to focus on them.  I never did get the shot I wanted, but this one is the best so far.  I know where I can get thousands upon thousands more of these larvae though, so I can try again!

Best Insect Eyes

Crisp eyes

Crisp eyes on a blue dasher, Pachydiplax longipennis

I learned something important at BugShot this year: that I was sacrificing crispness for depth of field by turning my aperture up too high.  You’ll notice how none of the photos before this one are very crisp – my aperture was WAY too high on most of those!  This one doesn’t have the world’s best depth of field, but it was my first ever successful shot highlighting the ommatidia, the individual facets, of a dragonfly’s eyes.  I rather like this shot, though I also didn’t diffuse my flashes as well as I could have.  Next year, one of my goals is to get another shot like this with just a bit more depth of field and no twin light spots reflecting off the eyes.

Best Night Shot

happy moth

Happy moth

I took this shot in some terrible, weak light at BugShot.  This was the last evening of the workshop, so I’d traded in my fancy plastic diffusers for the much lower-tech, yet much superior sheets of white plastic we were given at registration.  In doing so, I was able to get some great night shots, some of which I doubt most people would even know were taken in the dark.  This one wasn’t taken in total darkness, but I like how it came out.  It’s rather clear and crisp, so it’s technically good, but there’s something about the jaunty angle of the moth that appeals to me.

Best White Box Photo

Weevil side

Weevil side view

After BugShot and my big aperture revelation, I returned home eager to practice.  I collected many insects and photographed them in my white box so I could try out what I learned.  This was one of those shots and I think it’s the best white box shot I got all year.  I like that I can see all the hairs on the weevil, especially the sporty little mustache.  Plus, it is an absolutely adorable beetle.

My Favorite Photo of the Year

Eastern tiger swallowtail

Eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)

This photo isn’t the most perfect photo I took as the characteristic tails of this eastern tiger swallowtail are hidden behind a bit of shrubbery and the button bush flower and part of the butterfly’s head aren’t in focus.  However, this is my favorite photo of the year because I adore the dreamy, soft light.  It almost looks like a studio shot, but it was taken in the field with 100% natural light.  North Carolina has stunning light, especially when it’s cloudy (as it often is), so I am really looking forward to taking more photos like this in the coming year.

As you can see from the range of photos I’ve chosen as my “Best of 2012,” I don’t have a single style.  I have several goals for my photography in 2013, but developing a signature Dragonfly Woman style is near the top of my list.  Otherwise, I feel that I am improving and I can see that my photos got better over course of the year, but I still have a lot to learn.  Hopefully I’ll be able to share even better photos with you in 2013!

Happy New Year’s everyone!  I hope you all have a great night and a fantastic new year.

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Dragonfly Swarm Project Year-End Report Part II Coming Next Week

Well, I had planned to get Part II of my annual Dragonfly Swarm Project report out last week and was working diligently on prepping my maps for the big reveal, but then I got sick.  REALLY sick.  In fact, I spent an entire week lying on my couch under a big pile of blankets with my dog, checking my temperature obsessively to keep my fever down and moaning about how sore I was.  I couldn’t concentrate on anything because everything hurt, so I just lay there watching Futurama episodes.  For a week.  I was bored out of my mind!  I had a 5 day weekend at Christmas that I had been really looking forward to and I was so sick I couldn’t even enjoy it.  Worst.  Christmas.  Ever!

Unfortunately, being out of commission for a whole week means I am incredibly behind on a lot of things, including my year-end report.  So, here’s the new plan.  I’ll get Part II up next Sunday, then I’ll be back on track for Parts III and IV for the following two Sundays in January.  I had really hoped to get Part II done today, but it just wasn’t in the stars I guess.  Sigh…

Part II is coming next week then!  I’m hoping I’ll get back to a more regular blogging schedule in general in the new year too, so look for the regularly scheduled Monday post tomorrow.  I hope it will be fun to look at!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Friday 5: New Books

I recently read an article on NPR’s website about the Christmas Book Flood in Iceland.  Apparently, the people of Iceland are huge readers and giving a loved one a book has been considered a really classy, wonderful gift ever since World War II.  I ask for and receive a lot of books every year myself, so I think this is a marvelous tradition!  I have my own little one-woman Christmas Book Flood each year.  I received about 20 books altogether this year, including several about insects and other invertebrates.  These are the ones I am most excited about reading (click on the title to view the book on Amazon):

Every living ThingEvery Living Thing by Rob Dunn

I had heard that Rob Dunn was an excellent writer before I met him in person and my limited experience with his writing (mostly work e mails – woo! – and the occasional guest blog post) convinced me that I really needed to read some of his books.  So, I asked for Every Living Thing for Christmas because I like the subject matter: the classification of life on Earth.   There are some truly crazy stories about the quest to classify life and this is something that has fascinated me for a long time, so how could I resist?  I love these kinds of science stories!  And I know Dunn’s storytelling ability is going to make the book a really  great read.  I’ve only read a few pages of it so far, but I already know I’m going to love it.

Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet WormsHorseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms by Richard Fortey

I read one of Fortey’s other books a few years ago, one about his time at London’s Natural History Museum, and was entranced.  That book made me long to work at a natural history museum so that I could have some of the same amazing experiences that Fortey had during his tenure in London.  However, I expect I will like this book even more.  Fortey is a paleontologist who specializes in trilobites, but this book deals with living creatures, those that have existed in a highly primitive state for many millions of years, and describes how they reveal the evolutionary processes that have shaped life on Earth.  I am really excited to learn about the most primitive plants and animals, horseshoe crabs, chitons, hellbenders, clubmosses, and the like.  These sorts of ancient creatures are just so darned interesting.  I know I’m going to love this book!

Sex Drugs and Sea SlimeSex, Drugs, and Sea Slime by Ellen Prager

Anyone who had a subscription to National Geographic as a kid will probably confess to having some level of fascination with marine invertebrates.  Who doesn’t love a good cuttlefish or nautilus?  This book is, according to Prager’s introduction, intended to be an entertaining introduction to the lives and survival of a variety of sea creatures (including a lot of invertebrates) and how their place in the environment is important to mankind.  I’ve heard many bizarre stories of marine invertebrates in the past (lobsters are AMAZING!), so I’m excited to read more of them.  The fact that the author is a marine biologist only makes me more excited.  Who knows more than a marine biologist when it comes to the strange, amazing, and hilarious lives of the creatures of the deep?

How Not to be EatenHow Not to Be Eaten by Gilbert Waldbauer

How can anyone resist that title?  In this book, the wonderful entomologist/writer Waldbauer introduces the reader to the world of insect predator-prey relationships and some of the amazing adaptations insects have undergone to both find food and prevent being eaten.  I’m sure the book is full of poisons and traps and death-defying chases – rather like a James Bond book, if it were filled with insectoid characters instead of British people.  Insects are just so weird!  I really enjoyed Waldbauer’s A Walk Around the Pond, so I expect to love this one just as much.  As a scientist who works with large, predatory insects, I am eager to explore the topic in more depth.

The-Sound-of-a-Wild-Snail-EatingThe Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elizabeth Tova Bailey

This is the only book not written by a scientist on my list here, but I feel that it needs to be included with the rest.  This book is less about science than it is about the joys of close observation of the natural world.  The author, Bailey, was bedridden with a mysterious virus when she received a potted violet from a friend.  The friend had also tucked a snail under the leaves  and Bailey soon found herself enthralled by her snail’s behaviors.  The title of the book is based on an early experience with the snail, one in which she fed a violet to the little creature and realized she could hear it chewing the petals.  Bailey soon created a bigger, better habitat for her snail and began to learn everything she could about it, so the book does delve into the science of snails to some extent.  I love the idea of this story, a person finding some meaning in an otherwise terrible experience through something as small and seemingly insignificant as a snail.  It makes me happy when people become attached to the spineless creatures of the world, so I think this is going to be a thoroughly enjoyable book to read.

But before I read any of these books, I have to finish my current book and one completely frivolous book: Redshirts by John Sclazi.  I know I’m going to love it, but considering my husband told me, immediately upon opening the book mind you, that I had to read it immediately and then I had to let him read it as soon as I was done, I have a feeling he really bought it for himself.  Ever get that feeling when you open gifts?  :)

Did anyone else get any good insect or science books for Christmas?  I’d love to hear about your personal Christmas Book Floods in the comments below!  You all have great book recommendations, so I’m interested to hear about what you’re looking forward to reading.

(In the interest of full disclosure, none of the images in this post are my own.)

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: The Mantid

Part of the BugFest event that my museum held in September was a glorious sand sculpture of an insect out in front of the main building.  I got to watch a bit of the guys carving it the day before Bug Fest, but I didn’t get to see the final product until a few days after it was over.  It was out there for about a week, and I was glad because that thing was awesome:

Mantid sculpture

Mantid sculpture

You know, I wrote a poem for my English class in high school about nearly the exact same thing.  Odd to see it as a giant sand sculpture!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Happy Holidays from DW!

Happy holidays everyone!  I hope this post finds you well, with people you love, and happy.  And because I love to put Santa hats on insects and spiders, I give you this year’s santified arthropod, Saltie Santa:

Santa saltie

Santified is a word, right?  :)

Enjoy your day, wherever you may be!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Friday 5: The Genius of Ed Yong

If you’re reading my blog, it’s likely that you read others. I have a list of over 60 blogs that I follow regularly, everything from insect blogs like mine to other science blogs to cooking and photography blogs. I do have one general science blog that I particularly love. If you’re not reading Not Exactly Rocket Science by Ed Yong, you really should! He is a marvelous science writer and posts clear, concise, and humorous pieces on new scientific discoveries. He has degrees in biology and biochemistry, but he’s quite good at reporting on just about any area of science you can imagine. I enjoy his blog immensely, though I particularly love his frequent insect stories. He likes the strange and amazing stories and the experiments with weird methods that yield interesting results. There are some truly crazy sounding experiments out there and Ed’s (and I’m going to call him Ed and pretend like we’re friends, even though we’ve never met) really good at finding them! He’s posted some great insect stories recently, that include the following:

This dung beetle’s air-conditioning unit is crap. No, really

Dung beetle

Representative, generic dung beetle photograph – not the species in the study

The title alone was enough to make me want to read this one! Insects are exotherms and they have evolved some ingenious means of keeping themselves cool in really hot weather. Take the dung beetle Scarabaeus nigroaeneus, a species that rolls its dung balls in the deserts of South Africa. You should read Ed’s take on this experiment, but the gist of it is this: researchers filmed dung beetles with heat-sensitive cameras to show how climbing on top of the dung ball periodically as they rolled them along was a very effective cooling mechanism. Plus, the experiment involved making little dung beetle socks to protect dung beetle feet from the scorching sands. Click on the link up there and read this piece. You won’t regret it!

The insect that hears like a human, with ears on its knees

Katydid

Representative, generic katydid photo – definitely not the cute little unicorn katydid from the study

This post is great! In it, Ed discusses how humans hear, a complicated series of steps involving several structures in our ears, and then compares it to new structures discovered in a katydid species that allows them to hear in a surprisingly similar fashion. Katydids have their “ears” on their front knees, but otherwise the sound detection structures are quite similar to our own. They even have a structure that is equivalent to our tiny ear bones! This post does a marvelous job of highlighting convergent evolution, how, as Ed put it, “good adaptation are rarely wasted on just one part of the tree of life.” Well worth the three minutes it will take you to read it.

Prisoners do science, help to save endangered butterfly

Variegated fritillary butterfly

Representative, generic butterfly photo – not endangered

I really love stories like this! It features a program in Washington state that gets prisoners involved with conservation efforts by putting them to work in captive breeding programs for endangered butterflies, frogs, plants, and mosses. Apparently these programs are quite successful as the inmates are often producing stronger, more robust organisms than other conservation and scientific groups. The work also has a social impact on the prisoners who participate. According to Ed’s report: “They talk about how it completely changes how they think. Most people are in the prison yard talk about who did them wrong. Then, all of a sudden, guards will tell us they hear people saying, ‘Hey did you see how that moss was growing?’” I don’t know about you, but I LOVE the idea of felons excitedly discussion their mosses! What a great idea, and something I might never have known about without Ed’s help.

Everything you never wanted to know about the mites that eat, crawl, and have sex on your face

(I don’t have any photos of face mites, so here’s a graphical representation of five of them in a group together: • )

I am awed by the diversity of organisms that live on people! There are an unbelievable number of bacteria on humans, and there are also all sorts of little microscopic animals roaming around on us. There are, of course, the species that cause itchy problems like crab lice and head lice, but there are other creatures, such as mites, that readily colonize humans as well. Ed’s post on the subject WILL make you itch as you read it, but it’s an interesting read! It features how one researcher has recently implicated mites as a possible cause of the skin disease rosacea. It’s fascinating to think that a skin problem might be caused by tiny arachnids living in your hair follicles. (At least, I think it’s fascinating! You are, of course, welcome to disagree.)

To find out why this beetle has a spiky penis, scientists shaved it with lasers

seed beetle

Representative, generic dung beetle photograph – not the species in the study

As if seed beetles weren’t cool enough… They have several amazing behaviors, one of which I will get around to sharing one of these days, but I was also recently alerted to the fact that seed beetle males have very spiky genitalia. A team of researchers had studied the spiky seed beetle phallus and could only speculate on what the organ actually did. So, they shaved the spikes off to see how it impacted reproduction. The results generated more questions than they answered and we still don’t know what the leakage of seminal fluids into the female’s bloodstream (the result of that spiky appendage) actually does, but generating new questions is one hallmark of scientific experimentation. Science wouldn’t be nearly as exciting if we did an experiment and suddenly knew everything there is so know!

Hopefully I’ve convinced you that you should read Not Exactly Rocket Science, if you don’t already. I think it’s a great example of science writing at its best, so head on over and see what new and interesting things you can learn about life, the universe, and everything! You won’t regret it! Well, usually you won’t regret it. That face mite post you might regret just a little… *scratch, scratch, scratch*

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Crafty

This is hanging on the outdoor classroom office wall at Prairie Ridge, the field station where I work:

Dragonfly nymph craft

Dragonfly nymph craft

Dragonfly nymph craft!  A green darner from the looks of it.  I’m kind of in love with it, so I think I’m going to have to make one for myself.  How hard can it be?  A few wooden beads, some fake pearls, ribbon, a little glue, and voila!  Instant dragonfly nymph art for your wall!  Who’s with me?

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth