Sitting at my computer a few days ago, I was distracted by a tiny bug moving around on the screen. My first impulse was to identify it, and the way it moved, its body shape and what I could guess of its leg-count all said, “spider, not insect.”
My next impulse was to remove it without harming it, and this is the point at which things got really interesting: I discovered that it wasn’t on the screen at all, but inside it. That, naturally (for me, at least) called for a photograph. Out came the camera and the macro lens …
But that was a problem, too, because photographing anything small, moving, poorly lit, obscured by its surroundings, or under glass is a challenge, and this was all five.
A “Nature Photography Challenge” has been circulating on facebook recently. The idea is that each new person challenged has to publish one nature photo every day for a week and invite one new person each day to taken up the same task. When I was challenged I saw it as a good reason to sift through my older photos for attractive images which, for one reason or another, hadn’t already been published here on Green Path. Now, of course they are being published here, partly so that I can expand on the information about them but partly to give them a public life longer than facebook affords.
I began with the Rainbow Lorikeet, above, a photo taken in the garden of a friend on Magnetic Island earlier this year and offered to facebook friends in Southern states as an example of the stereotypically gaudy tropical wildlife. There’s not much more to say about it except that this very common species has recently been split into seven, “three of which occur in Australia: Rainbow Lorikeet (now Trichoglossus moluccanus) in the east; the Red-collared Lorikeet (T. rubritorquis) in the north and the Coconut Lorikeet (T. haematodus) in Boigu and Saibai Is. in Torres Strait,” according to Ian Montgomery of Birdway. That makes our local birds Trichoglossus moluccanus, notTrichoglossus haematodus as they used to be.
I will continue here with the other birds I posted, rather than following my “Challenge” sequence. The Peaceful Dove, Geopelia placida (aka Geopelia striata) is as ubiquitous here as the Rainbow Lorikeet but very much quieter in coloration, demeanour and voice.
The Striated Heron, Butorides striata (another not-gaudy, not-noisy local bird), often squats like this while fishing, unlike Egrets which stand tall and spear down from their maximum height. Aplin’s Weir is on Ross River not far from my home and has therefore oftenfeatured on Green Path.
The last of my bird photos was an exercise in defamiliarisation:
Birds in flight, obviously, but which birds?
Pelicans. Those enormous beaks are hardly noticeable from straight ahead, especially when we are not cued by the contrast between the pink beak and the black-and-white plumage. I took the shot on a Ross Dam walk with the Townsville Bird Observers Club a few months ago.
I was surprised to find myself posting so many bird photos and only one insect, since a few years ago, the ratio would have been reversed. The butterfly, for what it’s worth, is a Common Eggfly, Hypolimnas bolina, one of the half-dozen species most often seen around my garden. If you want to see what the whole butterfly looks like, there are photos here.
I submitted two landscape photos. This one was taken on a trip ‘out West’ four years ago; this post has a couple more and links to yet more.
Bottle trees (Brachychiton rupestris) are fairly common in the dry tropics. The Kurrajong and Illawarra Flame Tree are closely related, but the Boab (baobab) is not related at all, despite the obvious similarity of form.
My other landscape broke my own rule (of finding pictures which hadn’t already appeared here) for the sake of the greatest possible contrast with the Rainbow Lorikeet photo. It shows cattle country near Mount Fox, just over the crest of the Dividing Range a little North of Townsville.
When we are photographing small insects, the available light is crucial: we need a small aperture for the depth of field, which means a long exposure time (in which the bug might move) or a lot of light. We therefore use flash quite often.
The effect is frequently unnatural, since the flash illuminates the subject without reaching the background, but can be attractive. This shot is typical: the little sap-sucker was hanging around in a shady part of the Palmetum late in the afternoon – not the middle of the night as one might think – and the vegetation behind it has vanished into stygian gloom.
Over the last few months I have been exploring the limits of insect macrophotography, primarily by focusing (pun inevitable, I’m afraid) on the tiniest creatures I can find. I will present three collections under the ‘microfauna’ title; the other two will be spiders and flies, the two biggest groups of tiny invertebrates I have been looking at.
Just how big are they?
The biggest insects are moths the size of dinner plates – 300mm across.
The majority of insects that we notice are perhaps in the 5 – 50mm size range – ants and house flies up to hawk-moth caterpillars, dragonflies and biggish butterflies.
Everything on this page and its sequels is in the 1 – 5mm range, or smaller than a house fly. At life size they are roughly the size of a couple of letters of this text.
The smallest invertebrates to be found are smaller still (e.g. the smallest known adult spider is just 0.1mm long) but these are the smallest my camera can see clearly – and I will discuss the reasons for that sometime, too. Clicking on images will, as usual, take you to a larger version but the technical limits mean some are not very much larger.
Anyway, here is my tiny zoo. Its denizens are every bit as varied as their larger relations and some are quite bizarre. Most are unfamiliar because we don’t look properly at tiny bugs but just think ‘fly’, ‘ant’ or ‘dirt speck’ (and are, incidentally, more often wrong than right when we do so).
These nymphs (juveniles) look nothing like the adults. They moult (see a cast-off skin here) and end up looking like one of these bugs … very strange.
There’s another of adult, of a different species in the same family, here. The two nymphs above probably belong to the same family. They look rather like cicadas but are much smaller and are not very closely related.
This moth is probably from the Tineidae family, known as ‘clothes moths’ but eating a much more varied diet than that name suggests – see Wikipedia.
Both these wasps are about 5mm long, so they are among the bigger bugs on this page. Braconid wasps are parasites of other insects. There are 15,000 or more species so identification is quite a task.
Weevils are beetles (Coleoptera) but have strange trunk-like snouts. Some members of the family grow to 15mm or more but the ones in my garden are tiny. There’s a whole page about Aussie weevils on OzAnimals.com.
I will finish this page with a ladybird because it’s such a monster … compared to the other insects in the picture. Can you see two tiny pale greenish critters down inside the base of the bud? Now they are tiny!