Friday, August 16, 2013

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.


Lisa at Greenbow said...

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.