Monday color 35

hairy-stem spiderwort Tradescantia hirsuticaulisTake a look at this one for a few moments before moving on, and see what impression you get from it before I provide my own.

This week’s color shot seems to be faintly “wrong” to me – it just doesn’t feel framed right. While the blossom is in an acceptable location while facing into the light, and the background leaf uses the corner well, it just feels like the flower is facing the wrong way. I tend to think this should have been wider, so there was more room to the left where the flower is facing, and it doesn’t seem turned away from the center of the image. It’s subtle, but there’s this hint of rejection, almost of wanting to be somewhere else. Maybe it’s just me.

I tried flipping the image horizontally so it faced the other way, but had the same impression – it should be facing left the way it is, but to the right of center.

This is, naturally, a hairy-stem spiderwort (Tradescantia hirsuticaulis,) but you already knew that.

Keep coming back to ’em

I mentioned in the previous post that I made a pooter, which I’d needed for a while, but there was a specific motivation for it. A few days ago I had found another magnolia green jumping spider (Lyssomanes viridis) and I was frustrating myself trying to accomplish something that’s been on my mind since the first time around.

magnolia green jumping spider Lyssomanes viridis on index cardMagnolia greens are the only species I’ve found that allows one to see the internal workings of the eyes without dissection, because their exoskeleton is so translucent. But they’re a small spider, even more so when only a nymph as the last few that I’ve captured, so seeing this takes some significant magnification – the image here was taken on a standard 3×5 index card, and that’s part of my writing that’s visible. I use fine-point pens, by the way…

With the stop-motion animation hyperactivity of jumping spiders, and the extremely short focus at high magnifications, and the flash recharge times, even getting a couple of sharp images is challenging, much less a sequence illustrating the eye motion. But since the last time I worked with one of the species, I obtained a simple USB microscope capable of capturing video, and there was no way I could let this pass. And so began the saga.

I set up a small leafed branch in the macro clamp (read: soldering jig) and placed that within a broad shallow pan filled with water, to discourage escapes. I tried a few photo sequences, but the spider was incapable of holding still long enough for a few shots in a row, even though the flash was recharging within 3 seconds or so. So after I got a few keepers, I moved the ‘stage’ near my computer and got out the USB microscope, which handily provided its own ring of LEDs for illumination.

magnolia green jumping spider Lyss on underside of leafJumping spider are often nigh fearless, and leaning in close is usually just an invitation to leap aboard, as numerous people on YouTube have discovered. I had to retrieve previous specimens from the camera lens countless times – once on it, they had a grand old time playing keepaway as I tried to transfer them back to my stage – and the USB camera was far more appealing. I struggled to find that balance point between ‘close enough to see detail’ and ‘far enough to discourage jumps’ without ever actually finding it.

magnolia green jumping spider Lyssomanes viridis inside collar of USB microscopeThis is my photo subject sitting inside the front collar of the USB microscope for the umpteenth time; you can see the standard-sized LEDs immediately behind. So, I decided I might try another technique that I’d seen previously, and this is where the pooter came in.

When feeding, spiders naturally enough stop twitching around and hold still, so if I could produce a meal for the arachnid, perhaps I could get it to stay still and ignore the deliciously-inviting camera. Insects that can provide a meal for a 4mm spider are a pretty specific size, and not one that can be caught easily; thus the pooter. With the assistance of the porch light last night, I captured several choice bugs and loosed them within a small terrarium, actually finding another magnolia green while I was at it. The terrarium also held the branch and macro clamp, to encourage the spiders to do their feeding thereon and make my job easier. Not surprisingly, the spiders and their potential meals all seemed more interested in marching around on the sides of the terrarium instead. However, after several hours of checking from time to time, I finally peeked in to find that one of the spiders had snagged a midge. And miraculously, it had done so while perched on a leaf.

magnolia green jumping spider Lyssomanes viridis with unidentified midge preyGently, I took the whole rig out of the terrarium and set it on my computer desk next to the USB microscope. There were a few tense moments (tense in the life of an arthropod photographer – not exactly gripping) as I tried to convince the spider to turn towards the camera more because I didn’t have a good face view past a leaf, and the spider showed signs of abandoning its prey, but it turned to face the right way and, by gum! I got the video I was after. It’s not half as close as I can manage with the SLR, and for some reason it seemed to be recording at accelerated speed so had to be slowed back down, but now you can see just how weird the wandering eyes look.

The midge is roughly the size of a mosquito, if that helps generate an idea of scale. The magnification of the corneas gives a surreal ‘floating’ appearance to the retinas behind them, and this can even be seen without magnification, though it helps to be really nearsighted – it’s disconcerting, to say the least, because you’re focused on the spider’s head but the eyes look closer. It doesn’t show so well in the photos because the depth is so short and I was focusing on the facial features instead. But you gotta love that Lurch haircut…

magnolia green jumping spider Lyssomanes viridis with unidentified midge preyNow, yes, I know that several newer DSLRs now have video capability, but there are a few reasons why I’m not pursuing that avenue. The first is, I have only occasional use for it – two or three times a year. Second, macro focus is so short that a tripod is absolutely necessary unless you want to see video that continually wanders in and out of focus and induces motion sickness to boot. And in most of my uses, a tripod is simply not a viable option – many times I’m leaning over a bush or crouched to get a specific angle. Third, video work isn’t done with strobes, but with constant light sources, which have to be quite bright – this pretty much means expensive batteries or an AC power source, also limiting how and where video can be done. And finally, it’s several hundred dollars in expense, and I generally treat photo expenses as investments whenever possible. If it’s not going to bring in more income, it’s not an expense worth making.

magnolia green jumping spider Lyssomanes viridis with unidentified midge preyOverall, though, I’m pleased with how well this trick worked, and after a frustrating session a few days ago during the first attempt, this one went surprisingly smoothly. I figure I’m due occasionally.

magnolia green jumping spider Lyssomanes viridis with unidentified midge preyRight now I’m trying to decide if I will release the two jumping spiders, or try to maintain the terrarium as a habitat and let them grow to adulthood. Both are females (the pointy pedipalps are a giveaway) so they won’t be breeding unless I find a male too, but having bigger models to work with would certainly be a plus.

I’ll leave you with one of the photos from the previous session, because the oblique angle produced another weird effect that I liked, almost appearing to be ‘shopped. Definitely interesting.

magnolia green jumping spider Lyssomanes viridis showing odd lens effect in eyes

Well, this certainly sucks

After attempting a couple of other techniques that weren’t working so well, I finally broke down and did it: I made myself a pooter.

PooterIf you are not familiar with entomology, you may have a variety of responses to this statement, including, “Congratulations – Al is a big boy now!” and, “Isn’t that a slang term for female genitalia?” But no, that’s cooter… actually, it probably could be either, since it seems anything can be a slang term for female genitalia if you say it right. Doesn’t matter, because that’s not what I’m talking about, and anyway, I wouldn’t make one. That’s… just…

A pooter, at times also called an aspirator if you want to be boring while being just as vague, is a simple bug collecting device, that works pretty much like a shop vac. Two tubes, one jar (let it go.) One tube goes into your mouth, with the other end feeding into the jar. The other tube comes out of the jar and is aimed at the arthropod you wish to collect. Bring that tube close to the subject, give a quick inhalation, and zip! The bug ends up in the jar.

The crucial bit of this is the bit of gauze or thin fabric over the opposite end of the mouth tube, the end within the jar – this acts as a filter so you don’t suck any bugs into your mouth. It may also slow down something nasty produced by the bug when it gets annoyed at being abducted, but don’t count on this – stink bugs and bombardier beetles should probably be avoided.

inside of pooter and transfer pooterIt works amazingly well, and takes very little inhalation to snag the target. I had used a larger mouth tube to be able to draw an insect all the way up the capture tube easily, but this really doesn’t seem necessary. I would recommend, however, ensuring that it’s easy to distinguish which tube is which, lest you put the wrong one in your mouth and a) mash your target bug against the gauze filter and think that you missed it, and/or b) end up inhaling a previous capture. Also, per the advice of someone else, the jar should be clear but not glass, just for safety’s sake.

There is no ‘valve’ on the capture tube to prevent insects from heading back up it, and none really necessary. Provided that the tube extends down into the jar a few centimeters, any flying insect that gets captured will almost never find the exit; they tend to stick to the sides, especially where they can see daylight, and not investigate something poking down from the ‘roof.’ The same design is used for various fly traps and it works quite well.

I even made a smaller version, nothing but a polyethylene pipette with the end of the bulb cut off and a bit of gauze inserted in the middle of the tube, kind of a glorified straw – this is for capturing flying specimens inside the big jar and transferring them to something else. Very gentle inhalation is used and maintained, which keeps the arthropod held against the gauze trap, and once the end in inserted into the new holding facility (say, a small terrarium for photography,) a slight exhalation expels the insect back out of the tube.

For bigger specimens, I just scoop them into a film can, and if I find something that won’t fit in a film can, those are collected at gunpoint.

Now, I made the pooter for a specific reason, and as I was working on the post, it paid off. So another is coming very soon, as soon as I get all the bits together. For now, something that doesn’t suck, in whatever sense of the word: at least one mantis, and possibly two, has moved back into the Japanese maple tree, and this one at least is showing signs of an impending egg sac, so I’m checking for progress periodically. We’ll see what happens.
pregnant Chinese mantis Tenodera aridifolia sinensis


MetalEarth Mars Rover kit in shameless homage to NASAJust in case you haven’t heard the news

Yes, I know the Mars Rovers had nothing to do with the finding, that being accomplished by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. But I don’t have a model of that one…

Monday color 34

green blowfly on green leafPerhaps not everyone’s idea of cheerful color, and it was a grab shot as I was pursuing other subjects, but it’s vivid – ya gotta give it that.

A lot more vivid than what can be seen around here right now, for sure – it’s been overcast and raining for three days straight, and as this posts (hours after I type it,) I either just finished viewing/photographing the lunar eclipse or, more likely, watched in vain for a break in the clouds. If I had any luck at all, that’ll be the next post, but I wouldn’t count on it.

Never trust a trend

supermoon eclipse immediately afterwardThat’s what meteorologists rely on, you know…

We’ve had rain and overcast for three days straight, with the same thing predicted for the next week. Seriously. I looked at the skies a few times over, just in case we’d get a break in the clouds sometime during the total lunar eclipse, but nothing even slightly promising. So I went to bed early.

Woke up, rolled over, and caught bright light streaming past the blind. Grabbed my watch – 1:01 AM EDT. The eclipse was to completely end at 1:12 AM EDT, meaning the moon had fully left the Earth’s penumbra. This pic was taken at 1:11.51 AM, a whopping nine seconds before this occurred.

Not like that actually means anything. Aside from how far off the camera clock might be from locally-altered GMT/Zulu time, the penumbra is the barest hint of shadow, hardly discernible from anything else – it’s the umbra that starts showing the missing chunk. I was shooting through a thin layer of humidity anyway, which would actually darken the moon more than the penumbra except for somewhere around full penetration. At some point I may be back with an animated gif (pronounced “geh-FILL-tah”) showing the wisps blowing past, but right now I’m racing to beat up the already-written-and-scheduled Monday color post and its comments therein, just for perversity’s sake.

full frame moon shot at 453mmThe frame above, by the way, is tightly cropped, and slightly less than full resolution. This one, the same image, shows exactly how big the moon appears in the frame at 453mm focal length, just so you know what kind of magnification it takes for moon photos. For exposure details, 1/100 second at f11, ISO 100 – the typical exposure for full moon shots, provided that it’s not faintly dimmed by haze (basically, at f11, shutter speed should be 1/ISO, what’s often called, “Moony 11″.) A stop or so brighter would have been better, given the glow easily visible around it when observed.

Just because, part 17

I came across this one while sorting images, and decided to put it up large, mostly because the dragonfly and the berries all fell so well into the same plane of focus and thus had sharp details.

blue dasher Pachydiplax longipennis on unidentified berriesI just tried for half an hour to identify those berries, with no luck, but the dragonfly is a blue dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis.) However, it wasn’t until I was just about to upload the photo that I realized I wasn’t seeing dried leaves on those berries at bottom center, but a long-jawed orb weaver spider (genus Tetragnatha) – which was not in the same plane of focus, probably due to shyness. And I’m pretty sure it’s the same species of dragonfly featured in that post, too. Which is two years and one day older than this one. Okay, now I’m getting creeped out…

Tree hugger

something on bark of American sycamore treeThe mantis from the previous post stayed trapped by the rain for several days, finally leaving its position early this afternoon – naturally while I wasn’t watching. While I was wandering around the backyard, hoping to find where she’d gotten off to, I spotted something else, which I won’t identify and simply let you look at the image to the left to try and find on your own. It gives a pretty good idea of what I saw at first, and the kind of things I pay attention to because they often enough lead to new critters to photograph.

As is obvious, everything is still dripping wet from the rains, which helped encourage the subject of the image. Actually, a lot of critters have been encouraged, delighted to finally see some adequate moisture – I have two more than I captured for studio work, and a couple of others that I may be following.

Found it yet? If not, too bad, because I’m moving on – you shouldn’t have been wasting time following the text over here.

Cope's grey treefrog Hyla chrysoscelis on wet American sycamore Platanus occidentalisI am going to identify this as a Cope’s grey treefrog (Hyla chrysoscelis,) with reservations – they cannot be distinguished from the common grey treefrog visually, but so far, the Cope’s is the only species that I’ve confirmed we have around here, solely by their call. This one is not only a quite dark specimen, it’s quite small – had it tucked in its legs as they tend to do, it would have been able to hide completely under my thumb. Just in case you’re still looking for it in the first pic, it’s low to the right, near where two of the vines cross. No, the other place they cross.

These, and potentially the green treefrogs as well, are what I’m hoping to encourage with the backyard pond – it’s hard for me to say whether they will accept this as a breeding ground because it’s limited in size, and most of a brood would have to move on soon afterward; I tend to think the greys will be fine with it, but the greens would need a bigger water source and more bright green foliage, simply from knowing where I’ve spotted them before.

Cope's grey treefrog Hyla chrysoscelis clinging to trunkRemember, look at your thumb – the distance between the tip and the crease of the joint is how long this little bugger is (unless your hands are way different in size from mine.) But this gives a good view of those little blobby pads at the tips of the toes, which help treefrogs cling to such surfaces, and the brilliant yellow lining of the hind legs which often remain hidden from sight. Don’t ask me the purpose of that coloration, because I could only speculate, and poorly at that.

Had the day gotten significantly warmer, or the sun burst forth, my subject here would have sought shelter – they have to remain moist and usually don’t appear in sunlight at all (though there are exceptions.) Yeah, I know it looks bright, but that’s because I was using the flash; the conditions were actually far too dim to permit macro work handheld. If the weather predictions are accurate, however, it can remain here for the next week – it’s gonna be Seattle around here for a while.

Let’s go in very close for the last image, because we can, and see that eye at just shy of full camera resolution for a dramatic Sauron effect. It highlights that frogs have slit pupils too, but horizontal ones, which somehow seems less menacing. At least until you view them sideways.

extreme closeup of eye, Cope's grey treefrog Hyla chrysoscelis


pregnant Chinese mantis Tenodera aridifolia sinensis on porch screenJust a quick one here. I discovered this little lady Thursday night, after the rains had started, sitting up under the overhang of the porch endeavoring to remain dry. The rain continued all day Friday and she stayed in place; the way the ground slopes down in the back yard, she was close to three meters over my head, so I had little choice in shooting angles and was hoping she would eventually move to a more accessible position. I finally shot a few frames where she was, early this morning while the rain had lessened a bit (we’re pretty saturated right now.) With luck, she will stick close and find a place for her egg sac, since that swollen abdomen is evidence that the event is due. With further luck, she will not put it anywhere near her location in this image, where I’d have to be on a tall ladder to do proper macro shots.

Is this one of ‘our’ brood, perhaps the brown one that had resided on the lilies and rose bush for so long? I have no way of telling, since I lost track of that one soon after it molted. But I’m hoping to have an egg sac to monitor next spring, and do some more (and better) hatching photos.


Unidentified hemipteran profileStill involved in many other things right now, so here are a handful of images from the recent past that just never got into blog posts, for one reason or another – some of which may become obvious.

Unidentified Hemipteran drinkingFirst off we have the most recent images from just a few days ago, an unidentified Hemipteran nymph, quite a small one. I am inclined to call it an assassin bug, but so far I have found no species that matches this coloration (the black legs in particular.) Oddly enough, it was spotted on the kitchen counter, with no good guesses as to how it arrived there, though it might have hitchhiked in on a tomato or basil leaf. It measured just 6mm in body length, and appreciated the water provided by the misting bottle, so it may have been indoors for a while.

The long antennae certainly lend them the air of an arachnid, and this may not be coincidental, scamming the predators that don’t like spiders. Or it may simply be a way to seek food while avoiding mites and parasites – you got me. As yet, I’m not even sure if this is a predator or feeds from plants; that proboscis could be used for either, though from the owner’s close resemblance to the pale green assassin bug (Zelus luridus,) I’m leaning towards it having the same habits.

Below, a little bit more of a scale shot, as I deposited it on a geranium bud after the preceding studio images. For some reason, the Canon 30D (at least) seems to over-saturate the reds, and I’m going to have to see what I might be able to do about that. It’s one thing to have vivid colors, but another to look completely unnatural…

unidentified Hemipteran on geranium budOne of the few bits that I’ve accomplished on the backyard pond has been casting a couple of upper ‘pools’ out of concrete, one just large enough to hold a small water pump for a multi-stage waterfall/cascade (there will be a second pump in the pond itself, feeding into this pool.) While there have been frogs in the main pond off and on throughout the season, I found that a small one had decided, for a few days at least, to hang out in the concrete pool. Naturally, it submerged as soon as I drew close, but since the pool is smaller than the average birdbath and holds about 10cm of water, the amphibian wasn’t completely evading detection. I simply sat down nearby and waited it out for a quick portrait.

green frog Lithobates clamitans peeking from concrete poolThis is a green frog (Lithobates clamitans,) and a small one at that, perhaps 5 or 6cm in body length; I get the impression of a teenager camping out in the yard in a defiant display of semi-independence, though I did not actually see any tattoos or piercings…

But while we’re here, I’m going to throw up a couple of illustrative images. Both of the following were taken from the same position (handheld, so not exactly the same, but very close.) The only change was the focus distance.

image focused on frog itself in waterThe one above is focused on the frog itself, and a hint of the incomplete tree canopy can be seen reflected in the water. Below, I changed focus to the reflection itself which, I have to point out, is not the distance to the water surface, but bounced off of it all the way to the trees.

image focused on reflectionThe frog is still there, but defocused to almost complete obscurity. I was shooting from about a meter away from the frog, but the trees themselves were in excess of ten meters off, requiring a radical difference in focus. What also happens in such a case, visible here to some extent, is that focusing actually produces a faint zooming effect, and you may see this a lot in macro work. When composing, you might lean in closer until the subject fits the frame well, but as the focus changes commensurately, it changes the size of the subject within the frame, and you may need to readjust slightly. But certainly, getting both the frog and the reflection focused simultaneously would take a huge depth of field, one that no lens is likely to produce at this distance from the subject.

green frog Lithobates clamitans in duckweed pond with stray flower blossomWe’ll stick with the frogs for a moment longer before changing the subject, as I show off a photo that I haven’t actually had a good use for yet. This was taken at the NC Botanical Garden, in a pond even smaller than mine (the main one, not the concrete pool above,) and is exactly as found, even though you don’t believe me. Hey, if the frog is going to pose that way and the light is good on both the frog and the flower, who am I to pass that up? This pond, in fact, is what I am patterning my own after, including the scouring rush reeds visible at right, though I’m not sure how well the duckweed (the little spot leaves all over the place) will fare with the cascade feeding in, since this pond lacks such a thing. But the frogs adore it, and that’s part of the reason why I’m putting one in. It’s simply a shame that the tree canopy glimpsed above is so complete that there was no place to put the pond that had good light.

unidentified possible syrphid fly on flowerTaken several weeks back now on a student outing, I’m going to take a stab at this being some form of syrphid fly, and leave it at that. It was largely a grab shot as the fly scampered across the flower, but I liked the pollen on the compound eyes and endeavored to get that into focus while shooting in natural light – as you can see, I wasn’t quite bang on. I think we imagine that such a thing obscuring our vision would be very annoying, but who knows how an insect views it? Yet, soon afterward, the fly paused and wiped it away with a foreleg, at least making me feel better.

wheel bug Arilus cristatus cleaning antenna with forelegsSomehow, I missed putting this one up with the others when I posted about this subject in July. I won’t blame you for being confused by what you’re seeing here, if you are – if not, good on ya! This is a wheel bug (Arilus cristatus) seen head-on like the fly above, cleaning its antenna by clasping it between both forelegs and drawing it through; they actually have small combs on the forelegs specifically for this purpose. It’s a surprisingly deliberate and meticulous action for an arthropod, or so we might think anyway, but undoubtedly necessary for them to function properly – specialized body parts and associated actions don’t evolve for no reason. The bug repeated the action several times, which was good because this is high magnification and pinning down the focus while the insect was moving was challenging, to put it mildly – I tossed several frames where I missed. And I certainly didn’t plan it this way, but catching the one foot against the bright spot on the thorax just made those details stand out so much better. Remember the post where I talked about taking enough frames to capture what was needed? Yeah…

And one last one, that just didn’t fit in anywhere else (and probably doesn’t here either.)

unidentified spider, possibly cribellate orb weaver, sporting only three legsOn the same outing as the maybe-syrphid fly above, I spotted this small spider clambering up a web strand just off the walking path, noticeable partially because I’m me, but also because I was almost certain it had only two legs. One examining the photos, I can see three, so it’s not quite as bad off as I originally believed, but still not good, and the motion it was using to climb back up its own web was most unspiderlike. I’m fairly certain this is a variety of cribellate orb weaver (family Uloboridae,) the only spider species that has no venom (I’ll let you speculate on whether that played any part in this specimen’s sorry shape.) I used the flash this time, mostly because I couldn’t possibly stop the action in the deep shade where the spider was, and while I did get some nice sharp images, they still don’t illustrate things very well – you’re seeing the spider from the left side, belly up, abdomen to the left of the frame (it always looks like that, I believe) and a couple of the eyes visible at the base of the shadowed leg. One stump is plainly visible. It would be easy to believe these handicaps would have some effect on the energy of the spider, but not to my observations; the bug-eater was ripping right along. By the way, this was taken at 8:36 am on a bright day, but 1/250 second at f16, aiming into deep shade, was enough to render the background pure black, even at ISO 320 – it’s that ‘every macro photo is taken at night’ trait that can be hard to overcome. Just for kicks, I went in and played with the light levels in the image to see if anything could be discerned in the background, with no luck at all; it’s black. Black black black. It’s just a shame that I couldn’t get a better view of the spider, but it was plugging along so gamely that I didn’t feel right in collecting it for studio work. I’ve spotted a couple of cribellates nearby, so at some point I may be back with better illustrations of what one is supposed to look like. I know you just can’t wait.