We often think of mother love as being a particularly human, or at least mammalian, attribute but it reaches all the the way down the evolutionary tree to the insect world, and to species we usually think of as dangerous, scary or just plain nasty. Perhaps we are usually wrong?
These reflections were prompted by my discovery on January 4 of a centipede mother-to-be curled protectively around her eggs in a cavity under a log. She is not very big, as centipedes go – perhaps 40 mm long.
The internet and digital photography have opened up wonderful opportunities for ordinary people to get involved in citizen science as observers of the natural world. Online meeting places and forums come and go but the best at the moment seems to be iNaturalist – https://www.inaturalist.org.
It’s a global project and the numbers are huge: 54 million observations by 1.4 million observers from nearly every country in the world when I looked recently. That presents a management problem, of course, which is solved by having countries run independent branches, e.g. https://inaturalist.ala.org.au/
Anyone at all can browse the content of the site but people have to sign up to participate. When that’s done (at no cost and very little trouble) they can upload their observations, help with identifying others’ observations, and join the discussion forums. It’s a big and complex site but not too difficult to negotiate because it is exceptionally well planned and because there is no need to use most of its functions until you want to. (I have to admit there are some that I haven’t bothered with in the year I have been a member.)
And ordinary people can make very useful contributions to the project, especially if they (we) are outside the big cities.
I was so pleased with my bee photos (previous post) that I shared them on social media, which led to this exchange:
Friend: Excellent pictures. I have the blue banded bee but, try as I might, I never get a good shot!
Malcolm: Most camera-lens combinations won’t get a big enough image of an insect to get this sort of detail. I use a DSLR with a 100mm macro lens (both Canon) and add a +4 close-up “filter” (really another lens but it screws on like a filter) for the really small stuff. And then I take lots of shots and throw most of them away.
Friend: And I use my phone
Malcolm: Some phone cameras are pretty good, but you have to get so close to the insect that you usually scare it away. Practice on small flowers – see what yours will do.
Friend: That’s a good idea. I do a fair bit of flower stuff for my Instagram but practicing on insects would be fun.
Malcolm: Slow insects would be next, then. Caterpillars patiently munching leaves, assassin bugs and spiders lurking in ambush, etc. Then work your way up to to ants and bees. Butterflies and dragonflies? Only while sleeping, I think.
Friend: Oh dear. I am really not in need of another obsession…
Malcolm: But this is one that can fill in your free time while you’re waiting for a bus or a friend to turn up. All you need is your phone, some sunshine, and any scrap of garden…
My phone is nothing special – mid-range Chinese and three years old – but after that conversation I had to take it for a walk around the garden to see what it could do.
We were pleased to see a big orb web strung between palms, bananas and the cubby-house at the back of our garden towards the end of May.
Its architect, constructor and homeowner was resting, head down, in the middle of it. I introduced our three species of Golden Orb Weaver here so I don’t need to say much about her identity today except that she was an Australian Golden Orb Weaver, Nephila edulis.