Skip to main content

Small bugs, beautiful and otherwise

On last Saturday's epic field 20-hour field trip to southern Ohio, I turned my lens to little things, a lot. Macro photography is not easy, and I have been on a more or less constant quest to better photo-document small life forms ever since I got my first DSLR camera. Part of the trick, for me, is getting the right gear to allow handheld shots. Insects, especially, often do not lend themselves to tripod work. Tripods are too cumbersome and time-consuming to arrange, and often the quarry will vanish before one is prepared to shoot it. If you are willing or able to catch the bug and work with it in a controlled environment, tripods can be great. For the most part, I prefer to shoot the animals on their own terms, and that's how all of the following images were made.
 
A Dogbane Beetle, Chrysochus auratus, one of our handsomest insects. Their iridescent colors are dazzling, and change depending upon the light. Investigate dogbane plants (genus Apocynum) and it won't be long until you encounter some of these stunners.

Clad in the colors of Halloween, this Milkweed Leaf Beetle, Labidomera clivicollis, warns would-be predators of its toxicity with bright coloration. The animal apparently sequesters noxious cardiac glycosides that it ingests from its host plants, the milkweeds, and thus enjoys chemical protection.

At one stop, I returned to my car to find this stunning winged ant resting on the roof. When in dispersal mode, ants will sprout wings and thus venture into new terrain. Species unknown (to me).

A Swamp Cicada, Tibicen tibicen, regards your narrator from its perch on a culm of Little Bluestem grass. Annual cicadas such as this are responsible for the loud droning songs that help define the Dog Days of summer.

I was more than pleased to find a beautiful specimen of this Schinia caterpillar still out. Most have gone into pupation by now, but this dotted little jewel's presence allowed me to make my best image to date of this as yet to be described species. I've written about this fascinating moth before, such as HERE.

This caterpillar-like creature did not fare as well as the previous caterpillar. I came across a colony of Dogwood Sawfly larvae, Macremphytus tarsatus, defoliating a Silky Dogwood, and noticed this drama playing out. A pair of Spined Soldier Bugs, Podisus maculiventris, had bookended the creature, stabbed it, and were busily sucking the life from the hapless victim.

A real life grim reaper peers around the flowering head of a Rattlesnake-master, Eryngium yuccifolium. These largish bone-faced tachinid flies (species unknown) were conspicuous pollinators on this day. Tachinid flies are parasitoids; they lay their eggs on insect hosts, and the fly grubs eventually consume their victims.

I found this wasp to be incredibly ornate and visually stunning, albeit on a very small scale. It is a  Wood Wasp, Cryptanura banchiformis, a parasitoid of wood-boring beetle grubs.

Gnat-ogres, genus Holcocephala, are irresistible photographic subjects. These tiny robberflies are a challenge to shoot, due to their small size. This animal would be measured in millimeters, but it is every bit as predatory and deadly as its larger robberfly brethren, just on a much smaller scale.

The late summer flower fields are meadows of doom, teeming with all manner of incredibly dangerous predators. If you are a pollinating insect, your risk factor spikes exponentially when attempting to land on a flower. This is a type of assassin bug in the genus Phymata, and they are everywhere. Looking like little gargoyles, the creatures secrete themselves within flowers, and pounce on unsuspecting insects seeking a nectar bounty.

This assassin bug successfully plies its trade, having captured some sort of small beetle that made the mistake of foraging amongst the disc flowers of this Purple Coneflower. The assassin has jabbed it with a spikelike proboscis and is in the process of sucking out the beetle's innards.

Insect abundance and diversity peaks in late summer and fall, making for a treasure trove on interesting photo ops.

Comments

Your photos are fabulous. I don't think I have ever seen that ghostly looking assassin bug.
Dave Nolin said…
Amazing pics Jim. Another reminder of how much there is to learn about what is going on out there in the weeds
Junior Barnes said…
I just found one of those speckled caterpillars only a week ago!
Judy Ganance said…
Always amazed at your timing, luck and I imagine a very steady hand. You must be free of caffeine and alcohol for such clarity with no tripod. Very enjoyable look into a hidden world.

Popular posts from this blog

The Pinching Beetle, a rather brutish looking bug

The world is awash in beetles, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Few of them can match the intimidation factor of a Pinching Beetle, Lucanus capreolus, though. Those formidable looking mandibles look like they could slice off a finger.

Today was one of those coolly diverse days. I started off down in Fayette County, visiting the farm of a friend. He has restored about 25 acres of wetlands, and the response by the animal community has been nothing short of phenomenal. Blizzards of dragonflies of many species, amphibians galore, and nesting Blue-winged Teal, Pied-billed Grebe, and Sora. Among MANY other things. And all in a short two years. Add water and they will come.

Then, working my way home, I ducked into a Madison County cemetery that has a thriving population of Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels, and shot images of our native prairie dog. Then, I stopped at a spot along Little Darby Creek, waded on in, and procured some pretty nice shots of various stream bluets and dancers. …

Calliope Hummingbird in central Ohio!

A hatch-year male Calliope Hummingbird strikes a pose. Small but tough, the hummingbird was feeding actively yesterday in 39 F temperatures. It frequents feeders and gardens at a home in Delaware County, Ohio, about a half-hour north of Columbus.

Fortunately, the wayward hummer appeared at the home of Tania and Corey Perry. Tania is a birder, and knew right away that the hummingbird was something special. For a while, the identification was up in the air, which isn't surprising. The Calliope Hummingbird used to be placed in its own genus, Stellula, but has recently been submerged into the genus Selasphorus, which includes Allen's, Broad-tailed, and Rufous hummingbirds. The latter two, especially, are quite similar to the Calliope in subadult plumage. Rufous is the default "vagrant" hummingbird here, with dozens of records and birds turning up annually. There is but one Ohio record of Allen's Hummingbird, from late fall/early winter 2009. Ditto the Calliope Hummi…

Ballooning spiders

Fear not, ye arachnophobes. The subject of this entry is indeed about spiders, but the star of the show is about as cute as a spider can get. And you'll want to know what we're about to learn...

On my recent West Virginia foray, we were strolling down a seldom-used lane, when a bright yellow object caught our eye. It was a goldenrod crab spider, Misumena vatia, on top of a post! Not only that, she - it is a girl - was acting extraordinarily goofy. The spider would stilt up as high as she could go on her legs, weave back and forth, jig side to side, and otherwise engage in what appeared to be spider break-dancing.

Click the pic for expansion, and you can see two columns of silk issuing from her spinnerets. This is an important point, as we set about determining what this non-web-making spider is doing.


So fixated was our spider on her task that she even rejected what would seem to me to be a perfectly scrumptious meal. This little caterpillar climbed rapidly up the post and dire…