Pond Dwellers (Friday Five)

I’ve been spending a lot of time photographing aquatic insects recently.  I’ve been very busy at work, so I find it relaxing to sit and watch my little tank full of insects in the evenings, observing their behaviors and photographing them.  Next week I’ll share another developmental series like the snail series I posted last week, but in the interest of time as the day is almost over, today I’m going to simply share some photos that I’ve been taking.  Here are some of my favorites this week:

Backswimmer

Notonecta

Backswimmer, Notonecta sp. (likely indica)

I’ve had these guys in the tank for a couple of weeks now and they are really fun to watch!  They have all sorts of cool behaviors and they’re absolutely stunning.  I’ve been trying to track down exactly which species these are and I think they’re Notonecta indica, but I really need to get a species key and run them through to be sure. In the meantime, I just enjoy watching them and admiring their gorgeous eyes and the pearlescent blue-white patch on their foreheads.

Creeping Water Bug Nymph

Ambrysus

Creeping water bug, Pelocoris sp.

This particular creeping water bug lives up to its common name in more ways than one.  Not only does it creep along the rocks and the pieces of wood in the tank, but it also peers out at you from hidden nooks and crannies in the tank.  It’s watching you, even if you don’t see it – it’s a creeper!  They’re quite beautiful creatures though, and he crawled out of his hiding spot just long enough for me to get this shot before he dove back under the log.

Damselfly Nymph

Ischnura

Damselfly nymph

This isn’t the best photo ever as I had accidentally dialed my aperture WAY down without noticing and the depth of field isn’t that great.  However, you can see a lot of cool structures inside this damselfly, and that’s why I like the shot.  Judging from their prominent connection to the tracheae (= air tubes that transport oxygen throughout an insect’s body) in the gills, I suspect those brown squiggly lines are large respiratory organs that bring oxygen from the gills to the head.  Pretty darned cool!  (At least it is if you’re me!)

Mayfly

Batidae

Mayfly nymph, family Baetidae

I have very few photos of mayflies in my collection and it’s due in large part to their fragility.  They get eaten by everything (indeed, this particular individual was snagged by a backswimmer just a few minutes after I got this shot) and they do not transport well at all.  Sloshing around in a container of water is really hard on them and they rarely make the trip.  I was thrilled that this one was still alive when I got it home so I could get some photos of it, though it was missing a couple of legs on this side.  I still really want a good, closeup shot of a mayfly’s gills.  They’re really interesting!  That’s going on my photographic bucket list.

Water Strider

Gerris

Water strider, Gerris sp.

This is technically not a true aquatic insect as it lives on the surface of the water and not in the water, but who can resist a good water strider?  These suckers are hard to catch thanks to their amazing vision, and I managed to catch TWO of them at once!  Granted, they were mating, so they may have been otherwise occupied and perhaps paying a little less attention to their surroundings than usual?  I think these are gorgeous animals, well worth the effort of chasing them down in the pond and then again with the camera as they skip frantically around the tank…  It’s always a treat when they slow down long enough for you to get a shot!

And with that, I’m off to sleep.  Lots to do at work tomorrow!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth
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Friday 5: My Insect Art Collection

We all know that I love insects.  We also all know that I take my work home with me in a BIG way.  I’ve got bugs everywhere – some real, some not.  I buy a lot of insect stuff and display it around my home.  (You know you’re an entomologist when someone says they weren’t sure they were at the right house until they looked down and saw the insect door mat!)  I love to support insect artists.  Today I’m going to share 5 pieces of insect art I have displayed in my home.

Dung Beetles, artist(s) unknown

ding beetle sculpture

My dad has always been obsessed with minerals.  I practically grew up in a hole in the ground digging for smoky quartz.   When I was young, we went to the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show religiously and I was thrilled to be able to go again when I moved back for grad school.  The first year, I planned my purchases (I need to have a plan or I’m overwhelmed by choices) and was ready to find the perfect sulfur specimen to add to my collection.  Instead, I walked away with the dung beetle sculpture pictured here.  I found it hidden in a booth of carved stone from Zimbabwe, back behind sculptures of mothers and children and quartz elephants.  I was beyond thrilled!  It’s metal (I LOVE metal sculptures!), came in two pieces (beetle + dung ball), and it was only $25.  The dealer was surprised that someone actually wanted it and said that Americans don’t appreciate dung beetles like Africans do.  He told me that they would be buried in elephant dung without their dung beetles, so the sculpture was an homage to a very important part of their lives.  My dung beetle is still my favorite sculpture – and now I have two!  Had to go back to the mineral show every year for 6 years to get it, but it was totally worth it.

Mayfly, William Wessel

mayfly sculpture

For several years, my art loving aunt from upstate New York spent a month in Scottsdale each January.  Every year we’d spend a long weekend in the Phoenix area going to art galleries, shopping, and eating really good food.  We have similar tastes in art and we fell in love with one particular gallery in Old Town Scottsdale.  It was full of brightly colored art of many different types: sculpture, painting, fiber, jewelry.  While my aunt debated whether to buy a $700 fiber piece, I perused the metal sculptures by William Wessel.  The gallery had a really great one, a three-foot high piece with two damselflies flying among cattails.  I coveted it, but it was $350, more than half what I was paid each month at the time.  I wandered the store pondering the fact that I was too poor to buy it when I came across three of Wessel’s little sculptures.  I was SO happy!  They were only $35, a much more reasonable price for someone with my tiny budget.  I had to choose between a mosquito, a damselfly, and a mayfly and walked away with the mayfly.  Really, how many people sculpt mayflies?  It makes my little sculpture so unique!

Coleoptera, Foster Beigler

beetle print

I featured this one on my Friday 5 about insect artists that I love, but I just have to show it again.  This is my favorite insect art piece I own!  It’s one of a kind, brightly colored, and it’s a linoleum block print, my favorite medium.  This was more expensive than most of the art pieces that I own and a huge pain to get home because I bought it at an Entomological Society of America meeting and couldn’t take it home on the plane.  When I worked out the details for having it shipped to me by the artist, she told me that she would put my name on it right then it so she didn’t accidentally sell it to someone else (as she had done more than once in the past), so I worried that it wouldn’t ever arrive at my house.  It eventually did, and then I spent $250 to have it framed.  It was all completely worth it in the end though!  It has the place of honor in my living room, the only thing on a big white wall that you see right when you walk in the front door.  Love it, love it, love it!

Mantid, Alex Yellich

mantid photo

Very few of you will likely ever hear of this artist.  Alex is one of my colleagues, a researcher at the University of Arizona.  He’s obsessed with insects and photography and spends nearly all his free time outdoors collecting or photographing bugs.  He’s my local photography expert, the person I go to when I have questions because he’s one of the few insect photographers I know that shoots Nikon.  And I love his photographs!  He had a little mini art show in the Department of Entomology office a few years back, and I bought the mantid photo shown here from him at the end of the show.  It’s displayed in a corner of my house with several other insect photos and it makes me smile every time I see it.  I’ve since bought a second photo (a stunning image of a dead tree in the Salton Sea – it’s so beautiful it brings tears to my eyes!) and I hope to buy some more in the future.  I wish Alex would at share his photos online (or, even better, sell them!) because he’s so good – and hardly anyone knows it.

Tawny Emperor, Melissa Buschow

tawny emperor print

Discovering the website Etsy was a bad, bad thing for me.  I like supporting artists and I like to buy insect art, and there are a whole lot of both on Etsy!  I spend way too much on Etsy…  This was one of the first things I bought, a woodcut print featuring a person holding a butterfly.  I can’t even explain why I like it so much, but there’s something about it that just works for me.  Maybe it’s the way the butterfly is being held, gently enough that you know that it’s still alive and will remain alive after it is released.  The print was a mere $18, but it’s always going to have a place on my walls.

Having bug art me so happy!  Insects are so beautiful and I want to share that beauty with others.  Supporting artists is a good thing too.  And buying insect art directly from the person who created it, so you can get the story behind the piece and learn all about the process, is a pure joy.  I highly recommend it!

Do any of the rest of you have insect art in your homes?  If so, I’d love to hear about what you have.  There’s even a handy-dandy comment section below to describe your awesome insect art.  I look forward to hearing what you’ve got!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © TheDragonflyWoman.com

Friday 5: MO vs. AZ

If you’ve read insect blogs recently, you’re probably aware that Bug Shot 2011 took place last weekend.  I am thrilled to say that I was there, a giddily happily part of the inaugural group of insect photography enthusiasts learning from the great Alex Wild, John Abbott, and Thomas Shahan.  If you have a chance to go next year you should because it is a wonderful experience!  I couldn’t have been happier and thought it was time and money very well spent.

I’m writing a post about Bug Shot that will go up on Monday, so you won’t get many more specifics here.  Instead, today I want to discuss something rather tangentially related to Bug Shot.  My trip to Shaw Nature Reserve in eastern Missouri was the first time I’d spent much real time outdoors in the Midwest since I was a kid.  As someone who’s lived in two arid western cities that hover right around desert rainfall levels her entire life, roaming around photographing insects in the more mesic Midwest was a bit of an adventure.  For today’s  Friday 5 I give you five things that make Missouri a very different place to photograph insects compared to my usual Arizona.

1.  Humidity (obviously)

smudgy

Humidity + DSLR = lens fogging = blurry, splotchy photos

Every time I go to Missouri to visit my family, I think I’m prepared for the humidity.  Every time, I am wrong.  The humidity in Missouri is simply unimaginable when you’re a southwesterner.  I stepped off the plane in Kansas City last week and the humidity slammed into my chest like a brick.  Compared to the dry air on the plane, it feels like you’re suddenly breathing pond water!  And the humidity gives Missouri this very distinct smell too – very green with a mild musty undertone.  It was very hot the first few days of Bug Shot (Arizona hot!), but sweat doesn’t dry off your skin there.  You’d sit there steaming in your clothes with sweat pouring into your eyes, making it hard to focus the camera at times.  My camera lens even fogged up a few times, as illustrated by the big blurry spot indicated in the photo (might need to click on the image to expand to see it).  I was also constantly worried my camera was going to slip out of my hands, so I ended up holding it differently than I normally do.  Gave myself a blister!  Still, even with the heat and humidity, the trip was 100% worth it.

2.  Grasses (are evil, evil plants)

grass

Allergen factory! AKA, a gorgeous grass.

I have major grass allergies.  When you live in the southwest, it’s easy to avoid grasses because there just aren’t that many.  I wear long pants to keep the grasses off my legs so I don’t get rashes and I take Claritin when I know I’m going to be out in the field, but those are my only real precautions.  The grasses at Shaw were taller than my head!  I wore long pants and long sleeves most of the trip (which contributed to the problem of #1 above) and took my Claritin, but it wasn’t enough.  My hands were exposed, so they got itchy.  My Claritin wasn’t keeping up.  Of course, it didn’t help that I loved the way the grasses look (isn’t the one above beautiful??!!) and I was getting close to take photos.  And the bugs LOVED the grasses, so you had to get down into them to get good shots.  Yep, grasses are evil.

3. Different insects (duh)

stonefly adult

A stonefly. At a blacklight! At 600 feet elevation!

This is another obvious one, but when you travel 1200 miles to another environment, suddenly there’s this whole new world of insects opened up to you!   In Arizona, I am ECSTATIC when I find a stonefly at a low elevation because their nymphs can’t live in the warm waters that flow through the lower elevation areas of the state.  In Missouri, even though it was hot during the day, there were large stoneflies coming to the lights at night, such as the one pictured here.  A very different experience for me!  The best insect of my trip by far was a scorpionfly I found by the light outside my cabin the last night.  We don’t have scorpionflies in Arizona and I’ve never seen a live one, so I started jumping up and down and going, “Oooh, ooh, OOOOOHHH!” before running inside to grab a vial to catch it.  I found Missouri’s mosquitoes much less annoying than Arizona’s though.  Maybe there’s a trade-off between grass allergies and the intensity of the mosquito bites I experience?

4. Leaves of three, let it be
(AKA, Poison ivy is also evil)

field

Lots and lots of plants. I'm convinced poison ivy lurks in there. It's good at lurking.

Arizona has poison ivy.  I’ve seen it!  I’ve come across about 3 total plants of it in the nearly 19 years I’ve lived in Tucson, so it is here.  Consequently, I go so long between sightings that I forget what it looks like.  I happen to be incredibly allergic to poison ivy and going anywhere I know it grows in greater abundance makes me nervous.  Shaw didn’t have too much of it and it only prevented one activity (a trip to the river to collect aquatics – and everyone aborted that trip, not just me), but there was enough scattered about Shaw that I got a little paranoid.  I mean, look at all those plants in the photo!  I was scared to walk out among the grasses because I was sure there would be poison ivy lurking in there.  I likely I missed out on some insects by sticking to the paths, but I also left Shaw without getting poison ivy.  It was worth it!  (On a related note, I also left with my 100% tick and chigger free record intact!  I don’t think they like me, but the feeling is mutual so it’s all good.)

5. The sun is a mass of incandescent gas

harsh light

As Gizmo would say, "Bright light! Bright light!"

Arizona is famous for its sun.  It is incredibly intense!  You can sit outside for less than a minute in the summer and feel your skin start to cook.  Everything is insanely bright too.  I find the sun annoying, so I don’t enjoy the fact that we get over 300 days of sun a year.  Compared to Arizona, however, the sun in Missouri is downright mild.  The elevation’s lower (Tucson is about 2500 feet while I was told Shaw was right around 600 feet), but the humidity creates this sort of cloudy haze in the air that seems to block a lot of sun.  I can go outside without sunglasses in Missouri whereas I feel like I’m going instantly blind without eye protection in Arizona.  I thought the softer light made taking photos a lot easier because I didn’t have to deal with the harsh shadows that you get in Arizona, such as those in the flower pictured above.   It was great!

There may have been grass and poisonous plants, more humidity than I knew what to do with, and there was a real risk that you might encounter a brown recluse, but Bug Shot was so fabulous that these irritations did little to diminish the pleasure I got from the experience.  Stay tuned on Monday for a real post about this fabulous opportunity!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright ©TheDragonflyWoman.com

Wordless Wednesday: Molting Hissing Cockroach

I was feeding the many live insects we are using to teach second graders science in Insect Discovery a few weeks ago and came across this:

molting roach

molting roach

He had JUST molted, leaving this enormous pasty white, squishy Madagascar hissing cockroach in the cage.  It was so awful looking I just had to get a photo – so I could remember it forever.  :)

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © 2011 DragonflyWoman.wordpress.com

Wordless Wednesday: Beetle Battle

Last summer I found a male and a female palo verde beetle (Derobrachus hovorei) on the same night (hooray!) and decided to photograph them together:

palo verde beetle battle

Palo verde beetle (Derobrachus hovorei) battle of the sexes

In the flurry of motion that ensued moments after putting them together, during which time this photo was shot, the female (on the right) sadly lost both antennae and two entire legs to her overeager and highly abusive suitor.  This image was captured in the heat of the battle.

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © 2011 DragonflyWoman.wordpress.com

Wordless Wednesday: Leaf Cutter Ant

I know my ant photos have nothing on Alex Wild’s fabulous photos of this species, but I was pleased to get this shot anyway:

Acromyrmex versicolor

Acromyrmex versicolor female

This female Acromyrmex versicolor leaf cutter ant was one of several captured during a mating swarm and brought into the lab, where they proceeded to run around like madwomen while I frantically tried to get a shot of one in focus.  It was largely unsuccessful (I got 2 decent shots out of 127!), but I like the way this one looks.

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © 2011 DragonflyWoman.wordpress.com