Edge

The theme for Photography 101 today is “edge,” which immediately made me think of the under surface of the water and the aquatic insects that must visit the surface to breathe.  So, I give you a backswimmer getting air:

Notonectid at surface

Backswimmers swim upside down and carry an air bubble with them underwater that they use to breathe (think scuba tank).  Most of their body is coated with a thin film of air as well, which you can see as the shiny, silvery spots in the photo.  All that air they carry with them only lasts so long, however, so they have to go to the surface now and again to get more.  They break through the surface with their butts and allow air to fill their storage space.  Sometimes they’ll sit at the surface for a little while, but most of the time they’ll dart back underwater where birds and other predators have a harder time getting to them.

I love the look of the water’s surface when photographing things underwater.  My kind of edge for sure!

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

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Glass

I promised pond insects yesterday, so pond insects you shall receive!  The theme for my Photography 101 course for the day is “glass” and that’s perfect for the type of aquatic insect photography I do.  If you want to photograph things in water, there are a few ways to do it.  You can put the subject in a small, shallow bowl and shoot it from above, but then you miss out on a lot of fun angles and interesting behavior shots.  You can get a waterproof camera, but none of them are nearly as good at macro work as I need them to be for the sorts of shots I’m after.  My way is one I learned from an awesome photographer, Steve Maxson, at an insect photography workshop in 2011. It’s more or less the same technique used by a lot of the people you’ll see posting photos of aquatic insects online.  Basically, you fill a transparent vessel (I use a small aquarium) with water, place your subjects in the tank, and you shoot the photos through the side of the tank with whatever camera you favor.  It’s a great method and lets you get some great shots using the equipment you already have, no special waterproof housing required!

So, here are a few new shots of aquatic insects underwater using my 2.5 gallon aquarium setup and shooting with my Canon 7D and MP-E 65 lens through the glass. All of these are predators, so they’re among the meat eaters in the pond.  First up, a couple of predaceous diving beetles, a small one…

Predacious diving beetle

Predacious diving beetle (I am tentatively IDing this one as Laccophilus fasciatus)

… and a larger one:

Predacious diving beetle

Predacious diving beetle (Agabus disintegratus, I think)

And these are true bugs, a giant water bug…

Giant water bug

Giant water bug (Belostoma flumineum)

… and a creeping water bug:

creeping water bug

Creeping water bug (Pelocoris sp., likely femoratus)

The beetles have chewing mouthparts, so they eat smallish things that they can chew up quickly.  They eat a lot of insects, aquatic worms, and other invertebrates, though every now and again you’ll see a bunch of them pile onto something like a sickly or injured fish that’s not strong enough to get away.  The bugs have piercing-sucking mouthparts, so they cannot chew their food.  Instead, they grab their prey, jab it with a hypodermic needle-like mouthpart, and inject paralytic chemicals and digestive enzymes.  The chemicals both paralyze the prey and liquefy its tissues.  Once the tissues are nice and soupy, the bug will suck up the juices through its mouthpart like a straw. Essentially, true bugs are digesting their food outside of their body, which they need the paralytic to accomplish.  It takes a LONG time for a true bug to eat anything! However, the paralytic also allows them to eat much larger food, like larger insects, small tadpoles, and fish.  It also gives their bite a little extra punch, should you accidentally step on one or grab one without realizing it.

Photographing aquatic insects is totally my happy place – and I hope some of you will give it a try.  It’s amazing what you can learn by simply following an insect around a tank with a camera for a few days!

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

Treasure – Close Up!

Today’s Photography 101 theme: “treasure” and close-ups.  I was going to post some very close up photos of insects I found in the pond yesterday, my favorite “treasures” to go hunting for, but I got distracted.  I went to set up my tank this morning so I could start taking photos of them when I noticed that the damselfly from yesterday had just molted, moments before!  So, my “treasure” photos aren’t insects from the pond as planned.  Instead, they represent a treasured moment, the sort of serendipitous moments I come across now and then when I get to see and photograph something ephemeral and special.  This damselfly, an ebony jewelwing, had been free from its old exoskeleton for just a few minutes and was still in the process of stretching out and hardening the new exoskeleton:

Ebony jewelwing , freshly molted

Ebony jewelwing , freshly molted

And an inch away, lying limp, was its old exoskeleton:

Ebony jewelwing exuvia

Shed exoskeleton

For those of you who are new to my blog, those little white strings are part of the respiratory system of the previous stage.  When insects molt, they shed their entire exoskeleton, which includes part of their digestive, reproductive, and respiratory tracts.  Those white bits were pulled out of the little series of tubes that insects use to breathe and the freshly molted nymph walked away with a brand new respiratory lining.

As often as I take photos of aquatic insects, I rarely get to see them molt, so I was thrilled I got to see at least part of this shed!  Apparently something went wrong as this damselfly was building its new exoskeleton though.  It only had two of three gills when I scooped it out of the stream. After it molted, it was down to one, but I got to see the gill stretch out and reach its full length, then start to change from the pale cream you see in the photo above to its more typical brown.  So much fun!

It’s always great to get to see something a little out of the ordinary like this!  And tomorrow, I’ll have pond insects for sure.  :)

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

A Stream Story

The weekends are technically off for the Photography 101 course I’m taking, but they make suggestions for ways to practice for those who are feeling gung-ho.  This weekend they suggested creating a series of photos that captured an entire scene.  It had been a while since I had been to the stream at work to look for insects, so I decided my series would include the stream…

Stream

Stream

… and the things I was able to find in it.  I’ve wanted to get photos of the insects in the stream for a while now anyway for a little field guide I’m working on for an educational program I do with high schoolers.  I did catch one fish and one crayfish that I put back, so this isn’t a complete series.  However, I was really worried either might try to eat this:

Stonefly

Stonefly

A stonefly!  In the oft-flooding, strange stream I wrote about for my “Mystery” post.  I was so excited to find this that I was jumping up and down and shouting.  Happily it was rainy and cool and there was no one anywhere near me to see me make a fool of myself, but I was excited.  I believe my level of enthusiasm for stoneflies is a holdover from the stream insect work I did in Arizona.  Stoneflies require really clean, flowing, cold water, and you only got two out of the three at best in a lot of the streams I worked on in the desert.  Stoneflies were always this amazing thing to find, something absolutely worth getting excited about, because you just didn’t see them often. They’re far more common in North Carolina, but I rarely find them in this stream, so I still feel my reaction was justified.  :)

Because it had just rained a fair bit and the water was muddy, suggesting at least some minor flooding had occurred, I wasn’t sure I was going to find anything in the stream. I was thrilled to find what I went to look for in the first place on my first dip:

Broad-winged damselfly nymph

Broad-winged damselfly nymph

That’s a broad-winged damselfly, an ebony jewelwing.  They like to lurk in the exposed root masses at the base of trees in the deeper areas of this stream.  I tend to overtop my boots a lot going after them, but they are totally worth it every time.  As you can see in the photo, broad-winged damselfly nymphs have a very long first antennal segment, about as long as all the other segments of the antennae combined, which makes them sort of alien looking.  They also have this sort of jerky movement.  I love them!

These little rock clumps I found on the underside of a larger rock contain insects:

Caddisfly pupal cases

Caddisfly pupal cases

There are pupae of caddisflies developing inside those.  Caddisflies are far and away the most common insects I find in this stretch of the stream, so I was not surprised to find these.  I did not, however, find any larvae, just the pupae.  Guess I’ll have to make another trip down there sometime later in the year for those.  Oh darn…

And last, just because I couldn’t resist, a vertebrate:

Salamander

Salamander

North Carolina is a hotspot for salamanders, so it’s always fun to find these.  (This is another holdover from Arizona – I saw one total salamander there in 20 years, despite working in many salamander-friendly habitats!)  I managed to get a good 20 of these little guys in my net today, and all of them were juveniles that still had their gills.  You can see the gills just above the leg.  These salamanders are awfully cute little buggers! I’ll take a few more photos of this little guy in the morning and then back into the stream he’ll go, along with his temporary stonefly and damselfly roommates.

If I had to work on a Sunday, today was a great day to do it!  It was cool and rainy, not to mention Easter, so I had the entire field station to myself all day.  And even though it had rained and the stream was a little higher and a little muddier than usual, I still managed to get a few things I need photos of for my guide.  Mucking about in a stream on a cloudy day – not a bad way to spend a day!

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

Landscape

It’s the end of the third of four weeks of my Photography 101 class and today’s topic is landscape. I didn’t have a chance to get out and take a new landscape photo today, at least not the sweepingly magestic sort of image I think of when I think of landscape photography, so I’m posting one of my favorites from Arizona a few weeks ago:

 

Ah, southern Arizona. What an amazing place! The insects there are fabulous and I miss the joy I got from spotting my first palo verde beetle of the year (and bringing it in the house to terrorize my husband), hearing dozens of June bugs buzzing around the trees, and the desert cicadas that make an enormous racket in the hottest part of the middle of the day. I loved the aquatic insects and the dragonflies, all the strange desert insects I could only find there. Not that I don’t love North Carolina – I really do – but I lived in Arizona for 20 years altogether and some of my best memories are from that crazy, wild, spiky place. It’s hard not to miss it, at least now and again.

Have a great weekend, everyone! Me, I’ll be at work the next few days. But, if you have to work through the weekend, it’s nice to work at a natural history museum field station with a wealth of interesting biological phenomena to observe. I still feel lucky, everyday.

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

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.

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.