Friday 5: iPhone Insect Photography

I carry some sort of camera with me at all times.  Apart from the fact that I can pull a camera out and document interesting things I see at a moment’s notice, it also gives me a source of endless entertainment when I have small bits of time to kill.  It’s hard to squeeze most work-related tasks into 15-25 minutes blocks of time, but it’s easy to grab my camera and snap a few photos!  Recently I’m found wandering around campus in those little bits of time between activities, climbing into bushes and crawling around on the ground looking for interesting insects and plants to photograph.  I’m sure people think I’m totally nuts, but I’m enjoying it!  Today, I’m going to share 5 insect photos I’ve taken over the last few weeks.  All of these were taken with my iPhone and the Photojojo macro lens attachment because it’s what I happen to have on me most days.

Ants Tending the Herd

Ants love the sugary secretions that aphids excrete as they feed, so you’ll often see scenes like this when you find large groups of aphids.  You can see that the ant most in focus to the left of center is sort of sucking on the butt of one of the aphids – it’s sucking up those secretions.  In exchange for the sugary gifts, the ants will often protect the aphids from predators, though I’m not sure how many things would want to eat a big group of insects munching away happily on a toxic milkweed plant…

Speaking of ants…  I posted this as my “photo of the day” on Google+ a few days ago:

Comatose Ants

These ants were definitely not stuck (even went back a few days later to confirm that was the case), but they were barely moving as they sat on these little Euphorbia rigida flowers.  I am 95% sure they were sucking something up off the flowers, though I can’t say whether it was giving them the best sugar high of their lives or involved some sort of alcohol that was slowing them down or…  They would sit nearly still on these little flowers for 10 minutes at a time, 5-10 per flower, on every flower on the plant.  Strange!  Made for a pretty photo though, if I do say so myself.  (Any ant people reading this know whether these are rover ants?  They were very small.)

And because ants seem to dominate the insects I’ve seen out and about recently, here’s another photo of these beautiful animals:

Ants on Fairy Duster

I’ve come to realize that I like everything about fairy duster plants, from their beautiful tiny leaves arranged in neat little rows to the color of the fruits, but I especially love the Dr. Seuss style flowers.  Apparently these ants found something really great inside these flowers because I watched this flower for a good 15 minutes and saw hundreds of ants climb up the bush, into the flower for a minute, then back out and down.  This isn’t the best photo focus-wise, but I still kinda like it because it reminds me of the experience of watching the ants.  A great way to pass some time!

But how about the other insects of the world?  I’ve been taking photos of insects in my insect collection as part of a 365 project for 2012 (it will technically be a 366 project this year!) that I’ve been posting on Instagram.  I especially love this carrion beetle:

Specimen #9

I think carrion beetles are fascinating, if disgusting, animals!  They’re also stunning beetles.  The fact that I pulled this beetle off a rotting raccoon when I collected it doesn’t diminish its good looks to me at all!  And did you know that one of the carrion beetles, Nicrophorus americanus, is actually on the endangered species list?  I’m shocked, but happy, that an insect that makes “mouse balls” out of dead mice was actually deemed worthy of protection.  I feel that’s a step in the right direction that might pave the way toward greater invertebrate conservation.

And last…

Mantid Egg Case

If I drive down to the end of my street, I end up in a little parking lot that serves the trail that runs for miles along the “river” “flowing” through town (nevermind that on a good year it’s only got water in it about 14 days!).  It’s a great place to take photos of the mountains, so I drive right past my house to that parking lot when the sky is looking particularly nice to shoot some photos.  A few days ago I drove down there and saw the most magnificent naked acacia tree, one of the few trees in the area that lost its leaves for the winter.  I was taking photos of the enormous spines when I found the egg case.  I was so excited!  I have no idea what will come out of it (well, that’s not entirely true: I know they will be mantids!), but I brought the egg case home with me to hatch them out and see what they are.  It’s now sitting in a little cage until the mantidlings hatch, at which point I’ll take some more photos and release most of them back into the wild.  Might keep a few to observe them as they grow.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this photo obsession I’ve developed (darn you BugShot!  Now I spend all my free time and spare cash feeding my addiction…) it’s that there truly are insects everywhere!  I’m learning a lot about insects by photographing them too.  I’ve been trying to ID things whenever possible, so I’ve dramatically improved my identification skills, and I’m getting good at finding very tiny things.  I’ve worked so little with terrestrial insects that I find it all fascinating and exciting.  There’s something new around every corner, under every leaf, so I’ve become an explorer.  I’m loving every minute!


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