Scale

Today’s Photography 101 topic is “scale” and I decided to take a trip to the pond after work today to take this shot:

 
The front half of what you can see in the photo represents about 50% of the territory of the strongest green darner dragonfly at this pond. It will fly back and forth across this area hundreds of times each day that it manages to keep control of the territory. It’s quite a large area for a 3 inch long insect to patrol and maintain control over. In fact, there’s a dragonfly in the photo to give you a sense of how big the space is relative to the insect. Can you find it? Trust me, it’s there, right there:

 
I’m always impressed by how huge the territory for some of the large dragonflies are. Insects never cease to amaze me.

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

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Moment

I knew I wasn’t going to get the right photo to fit today’s Photography 101 theme, moments and motion, because I feel like all the photos I’ve taken that have significant moments associated with them have been utterly serendipitous. I had a perfectly mundane day of meetings and e mails today, not the kind of day where I thought I’d come across a “moment” as I like to think of them.  So, I decided to choose an older photo that represented a good moment for me. For those of you who have been reading my blog for a while, you may remember my sharing another photo from this series a few years ago:


I spent a decade studying giant water bugs (and am still studying them, just not full-time anymore). I absolutely love the species depicted here, Lethocerus medius, and they are giant, scary looking insects that lurk underwater.  I spent several summers collecting and working with the eggs. They hatch late at night, however, and since I kept them in the lab rather than at home, I always missed the hatching.

I got this photo when I was visiting a lab in another city to do some research I couldn’t do at my university. I was in the lab something like 16 hours each day and was just getting ready to leave one night when I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye. The tops of the eggs had popped open and the heads of the little bugs inside were visible. I was unbelievably excited – I was going to get to see them hatch! I spent over an hour watching them, taking photos as they progressed. The bugs all hatched at one time, swaying back and forth in unison as they pulled themselves out of their eggshells. I took several videos of their movement, little synchronized rhythmic insectoid waves. I still watch them a couple of times a year and remember.

A short while after I took this photo, it was obvious the bugs were about to come completely free, so I picked up the stick they were attached to. The freshly hatched bugs spilled out into my hands, a hundred or more all at once, and I dashed across the room so they could fall into the pan of water I had waiting. For me, it was a magical moment, little bugs slipping into the water between my fingers, a moment full of movement and life and pure joy, one that to this day I am thankful I was able to bear witness to.

That’s the sort of moment I thought of when I saw the theme “moments and motion,” the sort of moment you don’t expect and instead fall into randomly. My day today was not the sort of day when magical, memorable moments fall into your lap. Those don’t come so often, but I’m always happy to have my camera with me when they do.

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

Architecture

When I first saw the topic for today’s Photography 101 assignment, architecture, my first thought was, “Well, guess I won’t post anything today because there is no way I can tie buildings into my insect blog!” Then I thought about it a bit and realized the insects build structures too. I’ve heard the phrase “insect architecture” many times in reference to these structures, so I went looking for some examples after work today. Some of the insect-made structures I found were formed from bodily secretions by the insects using the structure. Tent caterpillars build their tents out of silk that they excrete:

 
Some of the tents are getting quite large! I suspect several will get even bigher before the caterpillars abandon them.

This structure is also built from bodily fluids:

 
That’s the backside of a mantid egg case. When the female mantid first lays her eggs, they are embedded in a sort of foam. That foam hardens into a case that protects the eggs inside. And speaking of eggs, this structure started because of the egg of a fly:

 
Goldenrod galls are not built by the insect directly – they make the plant do it for them! The fly lays an egg in the stem of a goldenrod plant and the larva that eventually hatches out hollows out a little space around itself as it feeds. Their feeding stimulates the plant to grow more cells around the larva and, over time, the structure in the photo is formed. The gall feeds the developing larva until it pupates and emerges as an adult. In this case, the structure wasn’t directly built by the larva, rather the insect caused the plant to grow  more vigorously around it.

And last, a paper wasp nest:

 
Or the beginning of one at least. Paper wasps gather bits of dead wood and plants, mix them with saliva, and build these amazing structures. Pretty cool for a home held together by spit!

And with that, my work here is done for the day. See you again tomorrow!

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

Pop & Color

For the Pop & Color theme for Photography 101, I chose this photo:

red-winged blackbird 

Not an insect, but I think the little yellow and red shoulder feathers of red-winged blackbirds really pop, especially when they are photographed against the sky.

Keeping this short today!

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

A Weekend of Clouds

The assignment for my Photography 101 class for the weekend was to explore light and suggested that you compare the light conditions at different times of the day. Given that I post mostly nature photos, my typical outdoor photography was complicated greatly by the cloudy conditions all weekend. Clouds, clouds, and more clouds:

clouds

That meant that the light simply got a little lighter and dimmer rather than changing the direction of shadows so I could really look at how the light changed throughout the day. However, clouds create this lovely, soft, diffused light, so I chose to use that to my advantage and explore signs of spring in my area instead.

The field station for the museum where I work has this amazing open sky and vast horizon compared to many other sites in this area:

Prairie after the burn

Because it’s up on a hill and it’s mostly grassland rather than forest, there’s often a harsh glare when you shoot photos of this field. This weekend, it had this lovely vibrant green color thanks to the low clouds and diffuse light. I took this photo as a sign of spring because the annual controlled burn takes place in the spring and you can see the results – no tall prairie grasses – in this shot. The burn took place just 10 days before I took this photo and the whole field was a blackened, ashy expanse after the burn.  Everything smelled like campfire. It’s amazing how fast things start to grow back after the burn!

I walked down to the pond at one point on Saturday. I’m leading a training for a dragonfly educational program for kids this week, so I have been looking for darners everyday in hopes we’ll be able to find some during the training. The pond looked lovely with the clouds!

Prairie Ridge pond
There was little wind for once too, so the reflections on the water were unusually distinct. However, off to the right of this image is a sort of “input,” a narrow channel where the runoff from the prairie flows into the pond. It’s been absolutely full of tadpoles for a few months now, and they were all coming up to the surface when I walked by:

tadpoles gulping air

Perhaps the cloudy conditions were slowing photosynthesis down sufficiently to drive the oxygen levels of the pond down? I’ve been told tadpoles come to the surface like this to gulp air. Apparently a lot of them needed a little extra oxygen as there were hundreds bobbing up and down in the water. There are 5 tadpoles breaking the surface in this shot, but all those bubbles were the result of other tadpoles surfacing!

There were lots of flowers starting to bloom, and they generally looked great in the diffuse light. The dogwood flowers haven’t opened yet, but the big white bracts had pulled back enough to see the little green flower buds inside:

dogwood flower buds
The bradford pears, a non-native species in North Carolina, have been putting on quite the show recently as well:

bradford pear blossoms
They smell awful, but the flowers are gorgeous! And there are small flowers growing in the ground all over the place, like these little violas:

viola blooms

There weren’t very many insects out, likely because it was relatively dark and cool, but I did come across an area with heavy tent caterpillar activity:

tent caterpillars
We get tent caterpillars in the crotch of trees in the spring and fall webworms at the branch tips in the fall, but neither in big enough numbers to cause problems for the trees. These are another insect I see early in the spring each year:

boxelder bug

The light made this boxelder bug look pretty good, but the overall darkness made getting a clear shot hard. The shutter speed had to be pretty low to get enough light for the photo, which meant that every tiny movement resulted in blurriness in the photo. Motion blur is alway a problem when you take macro photos of moving subjects like insects, but it’s doubly difficult to overcome when heavy clouds are making it dark and you don’t have a flash with you.

It’s been dark, cool, and a little rainy all weekend, so we’ll see what the insect situation next week ends up looking like.  Here’s hoping all those dragonflies and damselflies I saw last week make it through the chilly evenings this weekend.  There’s warm weather coming again just a few days from now!

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

Mystery

Today’s Photography 101 topic is mystery, and here’s my photo:

Stream

I post this photo because I’ve been working on this stream for a while to solve a mystery.  The water quality is good here – surprisingly good for an urban stream – and the insects you find here frequently back that up.  I’ve found riffle beetles and stoneflies here on occasion, insects that are only found in very clean waters.  However, you don’t find them every time.  In fact, you usually find almost no insects at all!

For the past three years, I’ve been working with some high school students to study this stream to try to explain the lack of insects.  What we’ve found so far suggests that flooding is the primary factor influencing the insect population in this stream.  While we still need to collect more data, particularly after a flood event, to be sure that it’s the flow that drives the lack of biodiversity in this stream, but I’m feeling more and more confident that this is the case and that we’re close to finally solving this mystery.

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

Warmth

It has been unusually warm in North Carolina this week.  Things are blooming – in March – and several damselfly and one dragonfly species are out – in March – and I’ve seen several snakes and frogs – in March.  Some of these things are happening a full month early this year, so biological events I might never expect to see in March have been surprisingly visible.  The dragonflies and damselflies are making me particularly happy, so I’ve got another damselfly photo to share for today’s Photography 101 topic, warmth:

Spreadwing damselfly

Spreadwing damselfly

Dragonflies are warm weather insects by and large, so you really only see them when it’s warm enough to boost the water temps a bit and encourage the nymphs to emerge. It’s been sufficiently warm just long enough, in spite of how early it is, that damselflies are starting to make an appearance for the year.  I also like the warmer colors of the background of this photo, which I think contrasts nicely with the cooler colors of the damselfly and the cattail.

I am not 100% sure on the ID for the spreadwing damselfly above, but I believe it is a southern spreadwing.  They’re very common and smaller than most of the other spreadwings you might find in my county in North Carolina.  Unlike the damselfly I shared yesterday that is very easy to identify, the spreadwings, at least in the southeastern US, all look about the same and can be hard to identify without catching one and taking a close look at its undercarriage.  You can see in the photo where the spreadwings get their name though!  Most damselflies hold their wings pressed together over their backs at rest, but spreadwings hold them slightly apart.  These are also quite large damselflies and the family includes many of the largest species in the US.

It’s going to cool down a bit this weekend before the temperatures soar next week, so it will be interesting to see what impact the cooler weather has on the early spring!

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