The Ohio State University Museum of Biological Diversity is a treasure trove of fascinating subjects. It houses one of the world’s premier insect collections, a vast store of plant specimens from around the globe, a world class archive of bird and other nature sound recordings, and much more. Museum curators have started an interesting blog that showcases their research and collections. It is well worth bookmarking, and reading. Here’s the link: https://u.osu.edu/biomuseum/
Wednesday, September 30, 2015
Monday, September 28, 2015
I haven't let much grass grow under my feet of late. I took much of last week off work to help conduct a photo workshop with David FitzSimmons, then it was off to Shawnee State Park at the opposite end of the state to meet with the Mothapalooza planning committee. Long days and not much sleep, but a lot of fun. Following is a small selection of photos from these excursions.
To get the silky quality with the waves, I used a very slow shutter speed, 1/8 of a second. The camera was tripod-mounted of course - hand-holding would not allow for a sharp image at such a sluggish shutter speed.
Shawnee State Forest. After the Mothapalooza planning committee meeting - yes, this strange but wonderful event will be back at Shawnee in 2016! - we headed afield for a bit. And saw many interesting things, but unfortunately for the others, I found this gem on my way out of the forest, after we all went our separate ways. It is the state-endangered Sampson's Snakeroot, Gentiana villosa. Not quite as flashy as the previous gentian, but it has its charms. More 7D Mark II/100mm macro work here, with settings of f/16; 1/250; ISO 100. A big part of making decent images of stuff like this is getting the flash intensity right, and that's what I tend to play with the most.
I'll be back.
Sunday, September 27, 2015
September 27, 2015
Scotsman John Hunter was an inveterate explorer and officer in Great Britain’s Royal Navy. A natural scholar, Hunter was sent to then largely unknown Australia in 1788. He spent much of the next 12 years there. In 1798, he was made privy to the discovery of a bizarre Australian mammal and promptly sent a specimen to the British Museum.
Curator George Shaw, upon examining the specimen, felt it might be a hoax, as did several of his contemporaries. Their skepticism was understandable. The duck-billed platypus looks like a hodgepodge of various animals sewn together — a seemingly impossible anomaly.
The mantidfly is an entomological counterpart to the platypus. The bugs look like the work of a mad scientist. It’s as if the wings of a dragonfly were bolted to a wasp’s body, and a long skeletal neck was welded to the front. Capping the latter is a small head dominated by huge jewellike eyes. Powerful forelegs are armed with stiff spines, and the creature is held erect by long spindly legs. The mantidfly shown above is Dicromantispa interrupta, one of five species found in Ohio.
If one didn’t know better, he might think the mantidfly is the product of an ornate prank.
Adult mantidflies are predatory, stalking other insects and seizing them with their praying mantislike forelegs. The larvae also are predatory, with a life cycle almost too freakish to believe.
Female mantidflies lay up to 1,000 tiny eggs on the lower surfaces of leaves. The eggs dangle from threads. She places the egg cluster in an area frequented by spiders.
The tiny, freshly emerged larvae are capable of crawling and leaping. When a spider passes by, they attempt to jump aboard. If successful, the mantidfly larva nestles into a crevice and commences to feed on the spider’s hemolymph for sustenance.
Their primary purpose is to hitch a ride to the spider’s nest. If a male spider is boarded, the mantidfly larva will cross over to the female spider when the spiders come together to mate. When the female spider deposits her eggs, the larva debarks and attaches to an egg. It feeds on the contents of the egg via specialized mandibles.
Once the larva matures, it forms a cocoon and pupates within the husk of the spider egg. Later, it morphs into the strange-looking adult mantidfly.
Mantidflies are rare — and with such a life cycle, it’s easy to see why.
Naturalist Jim McCormac writes a column for The Dispatch the first, third and fifth Sundays of the month. He also writes about nature at www.jimmccormac.blogspot.com
Sunday, September 20, 2015
Last Wednesday, I and about 27 other birders boarded the Miss Cindy in Vermilion, Ohio, and headed out on Lake Erie. This was one of Jen Brumfield's freshwater "pelagics", and she and crew have drummed up amazing stuff in trip's past. This day, alas, we were treated to weather much too fine for good lake birding: high in the 80's, little wind, and calm conditions for the prior few days. One highs for cool blustery weather, just rough enough that the boat will still go out.
But in spite of that, it was a fantastic trip and I encourage you to try one of these. Jen's pelagics fill fast, and I'm not sure there will be any more opportunities with her this year. However, Black Swamp Bird Observatory has two trips this year; details RIGHT HERE. Sign up for one of them now!
In spite of the calm weather, we saw lots of interesting things. A Red-necked Phalarope, spotted by the inimitable Jerry Talkington, was a great find. So was a first of season Horned Grebe. Good looks at Common and Forster's terns. And lots of Monarchs - yes, Monarch butterflies! It was amazing to see the hardy insects making the open water crossing from Canada. In all, we sailed 67 miles and made it 12-14 miles out from shore. Monarchs, steadfastly winging south, were seen just about everywhere.
I was shooting my Canon 7D Mark II, coupled to Canon's 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 II lens. This is an awesome setup for bird photography, especially for handheld shots of flying birds from a moving boat.
A big challenge with gulls on a sunny day is overexposure. I almost guarantee that if you leave your camera in full auto, or any other setting with the exposure at neutral, you'll end up with blown-out overexposed images. The gleaming white on the birds really causes significant light blowback. For most of these images, the exposure compensation was dialed down a full stop, sometimes a bit more, sometimes a bit less.
Whatever you call them, gulls are fun to watch, and great practice for in-flight bird photography.
Monday, September 14, 2015
OK, this is the last of the tubular crowd for a while. Check the previous two posts, HERE and HERE, for parts I and II. The first one explains where they all came from, and why and how we obtained the material.
Doug Tallamy, and he had a great photo of a White-eyed Vireo feeding one of these to its nestlings.
CLICK HERE for a description of its effective and bizarre defense strategy.
Friday, September 11, 2015
This big bruiser is an Imperial Moth caterpillar, Eacles imperialis. As one might expect from such a sizeable cat, the moth that it morphs into is also huge - bat-sized. Most of the last or later instar caterpillars that I've seen have been this showy shade of lime-green. But they certainly can vary in hue. Read on...
Buzzard's Roost Preserve in Ross County. It was near another that looked identical. First time I'd such a wild color variant, but they are well known for sporting different coats.
Parasitoids are different than parasites in that they generally kill their host. Shortly after an egg is deposited on the victim, the grub hatches and bores inside the host. It eats the innards until it matures, then does what we see here. In relatively short order, the wasps will pop from the cocoons.
Gruesome as this may seem, such predation is absolutely vital to keep the stocks of other insects in check. The intricacies of the food web at work, just not in a particularly Disneyesque way.
I've got one more batch of really cool cat pics to share sometime in the near future.