More than you might think

In doing an earlier post about local arthropods, it struck me how long it can sometimes take, and this is mostly because of the research (and only partially in trying to write flowing and coherent sentences – perhaps I should be devoting more time to that.) Let’s be blunt: blogs are an exercise in thinly-disguised narcissism, or at least those like mine are. Okay, mine is, perhaps alone. A lot of it is simply relating what I’m doing, finding, photographing, or wasting time thinking about, but somewhere in there, at an unknown point on the importance and impact scale, lies the idea that I should be imparting some kind of useful information. That’s what makes it readable, right? Or would, anyway.

Chief among the habits that I’ve adopted is including the scientific name whenever I can. To some extent, this is because common names are wildly variable and subject to regional differences (I can’t tell you how many different names there are for wood lice,) while scientific names are a constant, even through other countries. But more importantly, having the name attached means that someone is more likely to find my images when searching for them under the proper terms. The serious users – as in, the ones most likely to pay for rights – will be more often searching under the scientific names, especially since a lot of different species might fall under the broad umbrella of “daddy longlegs” or whatever. So, I work to include those names almost every time.

But it can be challenging. Like, if I have no real idea where to begin looking, I can only start a search based on rough appearance, and things like, “small white flower clusters” can turn up a shitload of hits, most of which bearing no resemblance to what I’m trying to find. BugGuide.net is an awesome resource, and is responsible for 99.9% of the arthropod names that I provide. If you can’t find something, all you have to do is post a photo of it and someone will be along to tell you what it is, if it’s at all possible from the photo – many times it isn’t, because species differentiation can depend on subtle differences that are hard to make out, or something seen only on the underside, and so on. But of course, receiving an answer from their crew of volunteer entomologists requires that you send in the pic and wait for a reply, and most times when I’m posting I haven’t had that much foresight.

While some types of insects are easy to describe with a few words in the search bar, producing everything on the site which seems to match the keywords, others are not so simple. For the unidentified insect in the post that spurred this idea, I tried “thin assassin” because, seriously, how else could I describe it? It looked like an assassin to me. And I was wrong – it’s not. Near as I can tell, it was one of many species of “rice bug,” which gets interesting because – well, let’s allow BugGuide’s own words to illustrate:

Photo-based identification barely possible. The key below has been designed by D.R. Swanson based on info provided in Ahmad (1965).

1 Posterior angles of pygophore acutely pointed; claspers crossed over pygophore; posterior margin of female seventh abdoinal sternum always with a short median split (subg. Oryzocoris)…2

  • Posterior angles of pygophore not acutely pointed; claspers crossed in a socket; posterior margin of female seventh abdominal sternum always medially biolobed, never with a split; [venter pale ochraceous]…S. (Stenocoris) tipuloides
  • 2 Median longitudinal red line on ventral abdominal segments present, sometimes faint; pygophore with posterior processes rounded and pointing posteriorly; basal portions of eighth paratergites largely visible…S. (O.) furcifera

  • Median longitudinal red line absent; pygophore with posterior processes pointed and facing each other; basal portions of eighth paratergites largely concealed by first pair of gonocoxae…S. (O.) filiformis
  • If you went a bit crosseyed trying to interpret that guide to identification, trust me, I did too. I did even if you didn’t – I think I’d need at least a semester of entomology just to become familiar with the fucking body parts. You know it’s bad when you have to do research in order to determine if you’ve successfully done your research.

    One of the flowers from that same post – in fact, the same photo – was also fun. I’d found a guide to identifying wildflowers, and it even sorted by state, and then by color. Which can help a lot, because my catch-all term is, “purple,” despite the very large number of variations within that definition, especially with flower colors. Except they didn’t even have a “purple” category and had it listed instead under “red.” And then, the image for the match was more white than anything else, especially when seen as a thumbnail. I think it was 20 minutes alone just to find Maryland Meadow Beauty (Rhexia mariana.) I mean, god damn, you better buy a print or web-usage contract if you came here while searching for either of those terms…

    It certainly does not help that I’ve fallen into concentrating on arthropods. I have no background whatsoever in entomology, and there are literally thousands of species on the North American continent alone, with lots of tiny variations. Which is why you often see hedging; I’ll list something as “likely” a particular species simply because I cannot know for sure. It’s easy to know if you have a raccoon, and even if there were three subspecies it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out. But caterpillars, for instance? They’re almost all green, so what do I search on? And even when I think I have a positive ID, I might have no idea how many different species look almost exactly like that, making my confidence entirely misplaced.

    Which brings up one small flaw with BugGuide.net, something that could have helped enormously. They appear to have no keywords attached to species pages, and no ability to even search by region; their search engine seems to mostly find text from comments or replies. On occasion, I will switch to Google itself and search the webbernets at large, because a descriptive phrase can garner more hits there. Guided by a potential match, I can then refine the details through other sources, which is often necessary because many of the hits I find are far from accurate.

    And then, there are the variations. Just about every guide that provides illustrative images will only provide one. Even with something as relatively simple as frog species within this state, there can be a lot of variation in color patterns and size just for adults, to say nothing of how much difference there can be with juveniles. There are several frogs in the yard on which I cannot pin down a positive ID, because they don’t look like any image, or match any description, that I’ve found. No, it’s unlikely that I’ve discovered a new species; the guides just don’t include enough (any) details about juveniles.

    Not all of this is for posting, by the way – I also have to provide this information within my own database, because that’s the best way of finding images for clients. My first photo sale, of water striders, came with a request for exact species, and I was embarrassed that I couldn’t provide it. I know a bit better now; without very close examination (read: high magnification or dissection of a dead example,) it can be impossible to tell. But it’s often because I’m posting recent images that I’m doing the legwork then.

    An unfortunate side effect is how some of this research ends up being duplicated – I look up species that I’ve already looked up before. It’s a symptom of the overall issue in the first place; what happens when I forget that the skinny non-assassin is a rice bug? Sure, I can have it in the database, but it’s not directly linked to a thumbnail, just an image filename, which is a number. So I go looking for those pics to get the file number, then into the database to get the names again – if I remember that I already have images of that species, which doesn’t always happen (getting old, you know the drill.) Just to give you an idea, I have over 20,000 arthropod images in my digital stock alone, so sifting through them isn’t a casual undertaking, and they’re sorted by filename and not by, for instance, “skinny suspected assassins” – the database is what I use for refined sorting, and that can only use the information that’s there (again, no “skinny bugs” categories or anything of the sort.) The blog, meanwhile, has tags of all the scientific names that I’ve used, but to find them I have to know what they are to start typing the damn name – they’re not cross-linked in any way. And let me tell you: even in the rare circumstances that I remember what the scientific name is, I often cannot spell it correctly from memory, because Latin doesn’t follow the same rules as English (or any, perhaps.) So on occasion I search for the species to find out where the species name can be found in my own system…

    So there you have it. When it seems that I’m taking a long time between posts, sometimes it’s because I’m not simply throwing up an image with, “This… is a bug!”

    A little advance notice


    Okay, everyone, take heed. Friday, September 15th is International Dive Into A Gas Giant Day! NASA is celebrating by sending its orbital probe Cassini down into the atmosphere of Saturn, which it has been taking photos of for the past thirteen years. This could be encouraging to many people out there, since it shows that perseverance may pay off: it took over a decade of lurking and spying, but Cassini is finally going to gain entry.

    Meanwhile, I’m trying to give you some time to prepare, since finding a way to celebrate Dive Into A Gas Giant Day might prove a little challenging. While we have a few select gas giants on Earth, I’m not suggesting that anyone should even attempt to dive into them; I’d recommend keeping as much distance as possible, actually. Which means avoiding 1211 Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan…

    Okay, yeah, I’ve been doing a fake holiday every month, and I don’t think Dive Into A Gas Giant Day is going to catch on. But the event is real; Cassini will enter Saturn’s atmosphere on Friday, the end of a long and remarkably productive mission. We’ve seen more detail about Saturn itself and its curious hexagonal polar storm, its various rings, and the makeup of quite a few of its moons – the probe, in fact, found seven more moons during its mission, and might even have witnessed the birth of another. And Enceladus is a relatively promising candidate for extraterrestrial life, if we find a way to get past the ice layer.

    Now, if you look at the dates of the mission, you might find fault with NASA and JPL, since the plunge is going to take place exactly one month shy of the twentieth anniversary of the launch – wait a second; didn’t I just say “thirteen years?” Now, c’mon, think about it – Cassini was launched 20 years ago, but it took seven just to get to Saturn, probably because the GPS satellites are in orbit only around Earth, and who you gonna ask for directions out there? But that’s orbital mechanics for you, for both aspects, really. Cassini had to do a few flybys to get itself out to Saturn, and decaying its orbit to get it to enter Saturn’s atmosphere takes a bit of juggling – it’s been in process for years, in fact. Mucking about with this just to make a meaningless anniversary isn’t really worth the effort, if it was possible at all. Remember, Cassini is out there to gather information about Saturn, its rings, and its moons, and this requires some pretty careful orbital mechanics. You can’t just aim for a moon and flit off there – you have to adjust an oblong orbit to intercept a moon as it trundles past on its own circuit.

    Are we going to see something really cool as Cassini enters Saturn’s cloud tops? Well, there might be some detailed approach images, but chances are once it gets close everything is going to become a monochromatic haze, and once it ‘enters’ these clouds (there’s likely no firm demarcation, just an increasing density,) the light will drop to nothing quickly, and as the gases thicken Cassini will simply fail and break up. While there might be a solid core deep within, Cassini will be toast long before it could ever reach it.

    While I close with an image of Saturn’s moon Mimas against the rings, I’ll leave you with a couple of links. The two images here and eight others can be found at this link, with another ten from 2015 at this one. The mission finale is already linked at top, but the broad overview of Cassini’s history can be found here. And finally, the coolest image of its history, without argument, can be found here – be sure to click on it for the high-resolution version.

    Enjoy the holiday!


    UPDATE: Astronomy Picture of the Day today has a virtual animation of flying around Saturn, based on Cassini images. For some reason it starts in the middle, so you might want to click on the player and take it back to the beginning, but I admit the impressive stuff doesn’t start until that middle point. Bear in mind that Cassini didn’t actually fly these paths – it’s all computer trickery. But the images that they’re based on is real.

    Jim pic 43

    mazelike expanse of crevices, Badlands South Dakota by James L. Kramer
    Jim told me that, standing up on top of the hills where he took this pic, he could hear the desperate cry of hikers that had ventured down to the valley floors and gotten lost in the natural rock maze. Plus the occasional scream as one would get eaten by a Griffindor…

    Okay, I lie, Jim would pay no attention to anyone that idiotic. But I did finally look up the geologic history of the Badlands, and found that it’s a lot softer than I imagined (as Jim mentioned in a corrective comment on a previous post.) The area is all sedimentary rock, which the distinctive layers indicate, but weak stuff, not like shale or slate. Somewhere around the time the dinosaurs were leaving the neighborhood, this was the washout region from the Rocky Mountains, receiving the settling sediments from the erosion of those mountains, as well as a few layers of volcanic ash, yet there wasn’t enough accumulation to build up the weight that would fuse the layers into tougher rock. Before this could happen the entire region was uplifted, which then meant that water was running off of it rather than pooling over it, and the valleys started to form through what was once lake or ocean bottom. With bigger hills nearby, this area would have eroded away entirely by now, but since it’s still largely flat the runoff generally comes from rain, which isn’t as destructive as, say, rivers and glacial meltwater. Nonetheless, the region is said to lose 2-3cm (about an inch) in height each year, which is pretty fast as far as erosion goes.

    So the lost hikers only have to bide their time, and the maze will drop low enough to see their way out easily. No biggie.

    Sunday slide 37

    American bobcat Lynx rufus drinking
    This one’s only about seven years old I think, not too long before my slide shooting petered out in favor of digital. Well, not really in favor of, since I still like the color register of slides, but it became harder and more expensive to get them processed, and when doing the more demanding pursuits of macro, it was easier to a) shoot several frames to help ensure critical focus was nailed, and b) see that the lighting was working the way I needed it.

    Anyway, this is a bobcat (Lynx rufus) in the NC Zoological Park in Asheboro, NC. I have seen bobcats in the wild, twice, both times so fleetingly that I never even started the motion to bring a camera to bear. Maybe someday, but they’re very scarce around here and I’m rarely spending time in an area where they’re more common. Even when they’re common they’re not, tending to be secretive and more nocturnal, much like the foxes, which we do have in this area and I yet have no photos of. Crappy video, yes, but no photos.

    However, this is also an edited photo, since the flash was mounted on the hotshoe of the camera and produced really bright reflections from those eyes. The original, in fact, looks like this:

    American bobcat Lynx rufus drinking, without editing
    This comes from having the flash too close to the lens and getting a direct reflection from the retina, and can vary depending on how close the subject is and how dilated their pupils are. Usually, I know when this is going to happen and can take steps to prevent it, but sometimes you take what you can get, and getting the flash off-camera on a cord to get outside of the reflectance angle would have required a second person to do the aiming of the flash, and I had only moments to get the shot.

    But I want you to go back to the first and look carefully at the eyes, because this is something that is often missed when “red-eye removal” is done. You can’t simply black out the entire reflection and expect it to look natural, because eyes very frequently have natural reflections from the surface, called a catchlight. Those bright spots need to remain to look right, so your editing needs to take this into account. It often takes a bit of practice and some familiarity with more-than-basic editing functions, like de-selecting the outer surface reflections after selecting the retinal reflections, and fuzzing the edges of the selection to prevent unnaturally sharp edges. Not to mention being sure that both eyes are aligned right and you don’t have one reflection skewed further from center than the other to produce a crosseyed or walleyed effect [spellcheck doesn’t like “crosseyed” but is just fine with “walleyed” – go figure].

    If and when I get my ‘true wild’ shots of a bobcat, they’ll likely be much worse than this because the conditions will be demanding, yet at the same time they’ll be, you know, true wild shots, and I’ll be more proud of them.

    Let’s do this by category

    As I mentioned, I have more pics to put up and have been juggling time to try and get to them – not at all helped by the number of unforeseen circumstances that spring up on top of the routine things already taking up my time. So right now, I’m splitting up the posts by subject matter of the photos, and today is arthropod day.

    My attempts to capture more Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis) behavior this year just weren’t panning out, from the squirrels that ate two of the three egg cases that I’d purchased to the rapid disappearance of most of the newborn from the remaining (though I did get some nice video,) there really wasn’t much opportunity, and I even saw none during visits to the botanical garden. I’d last seen the pair in the backyard just after the failed attempt to photograph one molting, then bupkiss. However, I recently rediscovered an adult in almost that same location, hanging out on the pokeweed, so this was likely one of those pair.

    adult Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis on American pokeweed Phytolacca americana at night
    It spent a few days at least lurking there, possibly scarfing up the numerous caterpillars which were stripping leaves, then one appeared on the screen of a front window and hung out on the porch for a few hours; right size and shape, but beyond that I haven’t yet found a way to distinguish individuals apart so I can’t confirm that it was the same one.

    Earlier I mentioned keeping plants in planters in the front yard because of the foul soil, and among them is a basil plant (man, we had such a batch growing in the old place! Homemade pesto and great sandwiches…) Early on, a spiny assassin bug (Sinea spinipes) moved in and staked out various spots near the flowers, and there it remains yet, now finally in adult form. I’ve only once seen it with prey, when I didn’t have time for shots (imagine that,) but it seems to be doing well.

    spiny assassin Sinea spinipes on sweet basil Ocimum basilicum
    In case it’s confusing, the two large and nasty-looking forelegs are spread out in a broad V in front, with the head and thorax extending upwards from that as if it’s holding its nose in the air; you can see the proboscis, the prey-stabber/drainer, stretched under that. The abdomen is to the left, almost unseen among the leaves.

    Unfortunately, the assassin measures less than 10mm in length, too small to handle the katydids that are abundant in the yard, so I have to chase them off myself when I find them on the basil, mint, or butterfly bushes. Which isn’t to say I won’t shoot a pic just for giggles.

    unidentified juvenile katydid Scudderia on sweet basil Ocimum basilicum
    The Girlfriend put together a few decorative plants to flank the front steps, and among them was some kind of sweet potato with broad, pale green leaves; we’re going to see them more in a later post. They attract a certain beetle that I’ve seen before but never photographed in detail, one that’s pretty cool actually: a golden tortoise beetle (Charidotella sexpunctata.)

    golden tortoise beetle Charidotella sexpunctata on underside of sweet potato leaf
    True to their name, they are a brilliant shiny gold hue with transparent margins – until they feel threatened. Then, they immediately change color to orange, often with spots, to mimic lady beetles, and will usually fly off quickly, so photographing them while gold is challenging. I got lucky in finding a couple hanging out on the underside of the potato leaves, and went in at night to get the shots. It meant lying on my back and getting bit by ants, but I’ve got a few images of them in gold phase now.

    This is curious (no, not my trading off ant bites for photos, but the coloration of the beetles themselves.) I fully understand the change to lady beetle colors, since that species has a method of deterring predators and is known for that, so mimicking those colors may keep the tortoise beetles from being preyed on. But the shiny gold? The only thing I can think of that makes sense is appearing like a dewdrop, or possibly even a urine drop, and thus being ignored by predators. In fact, that reminds me of another shot that I didn’t have lined up but now gets into the post.

    chrysalis of possible red-spotted purple admiral Limenitis arthemis astyanax
    I found this on the side of the house, oh, about ten days ago, wanted to keep an eye on it but, yeah right, so it hatched out while I wasn’t looking. You can be excused if you thought it was simply bird shit, because that’s the idea – the caterpillar that made this chrysalis most likely looked almost the same, but the butterfly that resulted was much nicer looking. Look close and you can see the developing details, and know that the coloration is all from the pupa – the chrysalis case is transparent. Near as I can tell, this is the chrysalis of a red-spotted purple admiral (Limenitis arthemis astyanax,) which seems to be the subspecies that can be found in the area. The caterpillar/larval form also looks like bird shit, and thus escapes the attention of all but the creepiest birds – isn’t evolution cool? Somewhere in the distant past, a caterpillar randomly produced a gene variant that gave it a slight resemblance to feces, and because this caused the predators to avoid it slightly more often than the others without the variant, that gene gained a greater dominance in the population. Other variants enhanced the appearance and again gained more of a foothold; there easily could have been, and likely were, variants that made the larva look less like feces, but a failure to gross out birds just means you get eaten more often, so those variants would die out much faster. Eventually we find ourselves here, with a chrysalis that looks like a dab of bird shit, pasted in plain sight on the side of the house but ignored by everything except photographers with a highly questionable sense of curiosity. Don’t ask me what that says about human evolution (but I don’t have kids, so stop worrying.)

    I said in an earlier post that the butterfly bushes (Buddleia davidii) were attracting other visitors, and here’s my favorite: the genus Hemaris, or clearwing moths. They go by a lot of different common names.

    clearwing moth Hemaris feeding from butterfly bush Buddleia davidii
    These hummingbird mimics have a distinct preference for certain flowers, and the butterfly bush is chief among them, at least as far as I’ve observed. There is also a species variant that looks more like a bumblebee or carpenter bee, but it’s not hard to tell any of them apart from what they’re mimicking at least: bees always land on the flowers while these moths remain hovering, and hummingbirds have a different flight pattern, faster and darting around a lot more, rarely visiting flowers in sequence, and often backing off from feeding to check for danger. However, telling the different Hemaris species apart can be more challenging. There are three species that appear like this in the area, H. gracilis, H. thysbe and H. diffinis; the last has dark legs and is out of the running for my photos here, but H. gracilis has reddish forelegs while H. thysbe has pale or white ones. I’ll let you tell me which one I’ve caught based on these photos, because it could be either.

    clearwing moth Hemaris portrait feeding from butterfly bush Buddleia davidii
    By the way, the mimicry might be even better than we suspect; one of these was working around the butterfly bush while a real hummingbird (I think) was drinking from the adjacent feeder. Hummingbirds are notoriously territorial, and it took off after the moth momentarily, though whether it was actually fooled into thinking it was an intruding hummingbird, or whether it was simply protecting its food from any species, I can’t say for sure. I can’t say much for sure, can I? Really, I just hedge my bets in writing in case I have to run for office and someone is looking to use my past against me…

    A recent trip to Mason Farm Biological Reserve netted a handful of arthropod species as well. The Immodest Mr Bugg made the mistake of saying that a particular plant that we stopped to look at didn’t have anything on it, which I took as a challenge, since virtually all plants have some kind of arthropod on them – you just have to look closely. True enough, within thirty seconds I found this little guy, which I’m pretty sure is an Acacesia hamata – you can see another image of the species here.

    Acacesia hamata in defensive posture
    While looking through the viewfinder, I wasn’t sure if I could capture a particular detail, but upon unloading I found that I did: you can see the reddish eyes peeking out right alongside the ‘knees.’ Or ‘ankles.’ Some joint, anyway.

    By the way, it’s a background goal of mine to capture a species in the act of stitching together leaf edges like this for their shelter, since there are quite a few that do this. Probably a tricky challenge, so don’t be looking for the shots later this week.

    The preference of certain arthropods for specific plants was fairly evident on this trip, but none more so than the jagged ambush bugs (genus Phymata.) There were numerous wildflower species to be found, but the white clusters of what is probably boneset (genus Eupatorium) were the only place I found this diminutive predator, and I found several of them.

    jagged ambush bug Phymata on probable boneset Eupatorium cluster
    Aside from the ability to hide among the clusters easily, there is also the likelihood that the flowers attract the right size pollinator for ambush bugs to capture. Or it could just be a cultural thing of ambush bugs – who am I to say?

    jagged ambush bug Phymata on probable boneset Eupatorium
    Jagged ambush bugs have great details, but they’re tiny little things so capturing this detail is challenging – my best results came with some elaborate preparations, so it wasn’t happening on this trip.

    Okay, you know what? There’s a post coming up on doing research for these posts (for which I will probably have to do research,) but long story short: these things can take up way too much time. On a Maryland meadow beauty flower (Rhexia mariana) sat a just-barely-visible Hemapteran which I am not going to identify right now because the flower took long enough. The blossom was perhaps 20mm across, so you know how subtle the bug was.

    unidentified Hemaptera on Maryland meadow flower Rhexia mariana
    I had brought the macro rig along, and was taking it a bit more seriously on this outing than on many that I have with students, but there was also only so far that I was going to go, and elaborate positioning or doing lots of variations wasn’t in there – most of the shots were of the ‘lean in and snag a couple of frames’ variety. This makes it easy to miss the crucial focus, but again, this was a student outing and not a ‘working’ session. So as we take a look at this inset of the same frame, you know I was pleased – and that the nights have finally been getting low enough in temperature to hit the dew point.

    unidentified Hemaptera on Maryland meadow flower Rhexia mariana with dew
    And finally, we close with a fartsy shot as the rising sun backlit a partridge pea plant (Chamaecrista fasciculata,) the most numerous wildflower in the Reserve by far. While I needed to shade the camera with my outstretched hat to keep the sun’s glare off the lens and thus out of the photo, the light brought out the tiny orb weaver’s web quite nicely – it’s not 5cm across, but it’s a nice accent to the plant.

    tiny orb web on partridge pea plant Chamaecrista fasciculata

    Jim pic 42

    view from the top, Badlands South Dakota by James L. Kramer
    I am almost positive this is facing in the opposite direction as the previous Jim pics, the view from the top of the trail up those curious hills. The landscape is actually a little enigmatic, since it appears to be the result of erosion yet is amazingly flat for such circumstances, and the rock that looks soft and crumbly is likely much, much harder than the ‘bedrock’ layer that serves as the present ‘ground level.’ What I’m trying to say here is that I should look up the geologic history of the Badlands of South Dakota but can’t be bothered to right now – time is still not something that I have an excess of. Jim can do it – he’s got plenty of spare time.

    Meanwhile, we’ll take a look at the center of the image, and notice the road cutting across about halfway between the horizon and the bottom of the frame, lending a little bit of scale to the landscape. You can even see the parking area right at the end of that striated ridge in the center. Here’s an enlarged inset to assist:

    inset of previous photo by James L. Kramer
    In fact, I’m pretty certain that’s Jim’s truck down there, since I can see some notes on the roadmap on the dash that looks like his handwriting. What do you mean, you can’t make that out? Just keep hitting the ‘Enhance’ key on your CSI photo editing software…

    Encouragement

    At the old place I had gotten a butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) to grow, and it enticed numerous species to come by and pose for the camera. But for some reason, the soil in the yard of the new house is kinda weird and it’s hard to make anything thrive; numerous plants have started off well but then faltered and even died, and this included a butterfly bush and a salvia plant. We finally took the hint and have been keeping our most-wanted plants in pots, and they’ve been doing quite well. So there are three varieties of butterfly bush kicking it now in the front yard.

    And it didn’t take long at all to start seeing evidence of one expected resident. The more dramatic example was found one evening, as a small white moth, probably a Diaphania costata, was holding too still on one of the blossom clusters. Moths of this kind, while they will feed at night, are a bit twitchy and not inclined to remain motionless.

    white moth possibly Diaphania costata being very still on butterfly bush Buddleia davidii
    Even from a short distance away, I could see the telltale detail that explained the lack of activity, not that it was really needed anyway. But maneuvering around to the opposite side and down quite a bit lower (actually lying on my back and shooting up at the underside of the blossoms) revealed the culprit, one of many that I’d been hoping to encourage.

    probable white-banded crab spider Misumenoides formosipes with probable Diaphania costata prey on butterfly bush Buddleia davidii
    From this (awkward) angle it was easy to see the crab spider, in this case quite likely a white-banded crab spider (Misumenoides formosipes.) I always like these little ambush hunters, but they have a preference for certain flower species so I often don’t get to see them. But curiously enough, within a few days of getting the butterfly bushes at least one had taken up residence, which makes me wonder about the traits. Are there a lot more around that I never see because they haven’t yet found a hunting spot? Do they have really good eyes to distinguish the colors, or even a decent sense of smell to pin down ideal flowers?

    I have seen a crab spider with a meal several times now, and lurking among the blossoms even more often, but I’m not exactly sure if it’s the same one; all I can say is I have yet to see two simultaneously. This pic was from a few days earlier, before at least one high-calorie meal which could have changed the appearance, but I’m more inclined to say this is a different species, possibly genus Mecaphesa.

    female crab spider probably Mecaphesa on butterfly bush Buddleia davidii
    In many cases, crab spiders are colored to blend into the flowers that they hunt from, but that’s a tall order for something this vivid, and rather than strain something internally trying, I think these just give up and count on their prey being too oblivious to notice the glaring (in both meanings of the word) difference. And they seem to be right often enough.

    One more, because someone might be thinking I’ll do ‘cute’ someday.

    female crab spider probably Mecaphesa on butterfly bush Buddleia davidii
    The butterfly bush has attracted more than spiders and careless moths, and more examples will be along shortly.

    Sunday slide 36

    unidentified seahorse in aquarium Museum of Natural Sciences Raleigh NC
    This week, we go back to 2005, and over to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh. There, a seahorse posed enigmatically among the fronds of seaweed in an aquarium, with just barely enough natural light to pull off the shot wide open at f2.8.

    I make no bones about it: true underwater photography is demanding. Just being down there generally takes a good amount of equipment, but then doing good photography takes no small amount more. Everything is different, and developing the skills is time-consuming and, so far, beyond my budget (especially since the only locales even worth the effort are far removed from where I am.) So, yeah, I’m cheating by shooting in an aquarium.

    Yet, even then there are demands – not nearly as many as dive photography, but enough to make things challenging in a lot of different circumstances. Lighting is still an issue, since the available light in most places is inadequate, but using a flash unit isn’t very straightforward, from the glare that can reflect from the glass to the balance and diffusion of the light for best effect. Worse still is the simple trait of shooting through glass into water, because distortion occurs at even a minor angle from straight on, and bob help you if you’re shooting through curved glass. It’s easy to think, Oh, I’ll just shoot dead flat to the glass and eliminate the distortion, until you see how hard it is to get dead-on to the glass and how your subject doesn’t really line up as you’re doing it, and so on. I toss out a lot of stuff that I’ve shot in aquariums, just because the adverse effects are so prevalent.

    So when you see something like this, it’s a lot less guaranteed than you might think, a select frame out of loads that never worked. The Aquatic section of my slide drawers is pretty sparse…

    What goes on when no one’s looking

    We reside in a small housing development, nothing too crowded or active, and with this comes the peculiar concept of the listserv, the ability to e-mail everyone who has subscribed with items of (dubious) collective interest to the homeowners. Not too long back, there came a couple of accounts of cars being ‘broken into,’ only they really weren’t because the owners hadn’t bothered to lock the doors; the result was a handful of trivial items missing like phone chargers and spare change, and the capture of a shadowy figure on security cameras. We’re good about locking the vehicles here, so no biggie, but I figured I had the camera handy and I switched it over to a different vantage point and activated the motion detection. The key difference being that I’m often up late and, if the trigger occurs while I’m at the computer, well, let’s just say that there will be more than a video clip of a shadowy figure.

    The number of clips that I end up with is huge, since it triggers for passing cars, moths, gusting wind, and so on; usually I spend the next morning perusing the countless clips that occurred after I went to bed and deleting nearly all of them. Occasionally, however, I have captured something telling.

    This one was far from the first, but I loved it for the ominous nature. I tried for a short while to attach an appropriate music clip to it, but that’s beyond my software and abilities at the moment, and probably not worth the effort anyway. Still, pay attention:

    I can’t argue with that effect at all. But it confirmed that the homeowners around here were being typically paranoid, as well as likely exaggerating the nature of the thefts. If you’re gonna be dumb enough to leave cracked corn sitting in your unlocked car, you deserve what you get.

    We actually had several visits from a small herd of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus,) and they spent no small amount of time poking around the yard. I made it a point to place the camera in an unobtrusive location, but it appears that at least one of the deer was aware of it yet tried to pretend he hadn’t noticed the camera.

    Now really. Like the full profile shot right smack in front of the camera, followed by the lingering fruitbasket, was all just happenstance. Do I look like an idiot? I thought the damn thing was going take a shit there for a moment – he might well have been trying…

    But the deer were no surprise, since I’ve been seeing evidence of their occasional visits since we moved in, and even had plenty of visits at the old place too. But another visitor was slightly more surprising to capture on camera, because the evidence of them has been pretty thin. There’s no mistaking this visitor during a downpour, though.

    That’s a fox, but there are two species in the area, and this one didn’t provide enough of a view to spot the distinguishing characteristics. Another clip came closer, but still didn’t quite answer the question.

    Both red and grey foxes have mixed red and grey coats, with a lot of variation possible within species. The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) has the classic white tail tip, while the grey fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) has a black stripe down the spine and tail that sometimes colors the tail tip. Unfortunately, I seem to be able to see evidence of both in this clip, so I can’t offer a distinct ID.

    When the camera has been set up in other places within the yard, it always attracted spiders, which set off the motion-detector not just by crossing into the frame, but by throwing webs across it too; they can reflect the infra-red light emitted by the camera and, naturally, move in the breeze from an ant fart. Yet the camera had been up in this position for days and somehow never garnered the grasp of any spider, which struck me as odd. This is always a stupid thing to speculate on, even just internally, because I left the computer for a little over an hour and came back to dozens of clips, a lot of which pretty much the same as this:

    Those… are the questing legs of a spider on the front of the camera, one that decided not to build a web efficiently, not to simply cross the lens to anchor its web or search for food, but instead it wanted to dance on the front of the camera.

    No, listen – I’ve watched spiders thousands of times, and there are a few general behaviors: industriously building webs, actively hunting across their territory, or lying in wait. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one wandering aimlessly as if lost and stoned.

    If you were wondering, yes, that was the spider’s abdomen pressed right against the center of the lens. Kindly don’t ask me why the local fauna have decided that mooning my camera is warranted – I’m fairly certain it isn’t anything that I’ve done.

    [I have to note that, as I am typing this post, a spider has for the third time dropped down on a web from somewhere above the camera, paused almost exactly right in center frame, then climbed back up the strand again. Different nights, no web building, just a cameo. Don’t try telling me this is an accident.]

    Upon discovering way too many clips of this nature when I returned to the computer, I felt I had to go out and convince the spider to peddle its wares elsewhere go home and sleep it off do its thing away from the camera. Since I needed the detail shot of the culprit, of course, I went out with camera in hand. If the video gave you the impression of size as firmly as it did me, well, we’re both wrong.

    unidentified spider and the infrared camera it was dancing upon

    And while I probably should’ve shut off the motion detection before going out there, I didn’t, and ended up with video of myself actually taking this photo. Since most of the light is coming from the LED focusing light on the macro rig itself, I’m not going to be winning any awards with this clip, but I’m amused by it. At times, you can see the circle of the softbox, and the flash going off is quite obvious. And then there’s my grossly oversized fingers clearing the web strands from the lens.

    I know, not quite as exciting as an unboxing video, but it is what it is, and I’m vapid enough to post it…

    By the way, if you’re the type that finds the video ‘evidence’ of ghosts (as in, supernatural phenomena) to be interesting, you should probably know that a spiderweb can produce a wide variety of semi-transparent figures, depending on the lighting and the debris in the web, to say nothing of the spider itself, or any other arthropod, walking around on the lens. The chances are huge that, when you see some compelling figure walk down the stairs or whatever, you’ll never see all of the other clips where it zigzags back and forth in the breeze or gets a bug stuck in it. It’s not hard to produce an optical boogie, and selectivity and editing (along with a little suggestion) fills in the rest.

    * * *

    A brief word on my time. Two nights ago I started writing this post, finally able to sit down and devote some time to it, and literally couldn’t keep my eyes open. Planning on returning to it the following afternoon, I got unexpectedly, (but all too frequently) held up again. I would like to be more regular, I really would, and still have another set of photos to feature (better than this, trust me,) but jesus, do things interfere.

    I’ll also attempt to excuse the quality of the video. While infrared IP cameras operating in low light are not going to be especially high in resolution anyway, for reasons beyond me the program that operates on motion detection only records at half of the resolution of the camera itself – I know this because I can monitor the camera directly and see much better detail. I’m trying to fix it. I know you’re excited over the prospect.

    Not daily Jim pics 41

    striated hills in Badlands of South Dakota by James L. Kramer
    While these are pretty similar to the previous couple of images from Jim, I’m featuring them for a particular reason. The scale of the first image is almost indeterminable, and it would be easy to believe that the hills stand reasonably tall – not mountains, of course, but a pretty impressive barrier at least. Until you look closely.

    Did you see the footpath leading not just to the hills, but up onto them as well? Jim was standing right on it, if it helps. Or if that isn’t enough, there’s this one:

    a pair of hikers in striated hills, Badlands of South Dakota, by James L. Kramer
    The path is pretty obvious now, and so is the black and pink splash of a hiker just a little ahead. If you look closely, there’s a spot of turquoise even farther to the right, the head and shoulders of another hiker further down the path. Since this was shot at 20mm focal length, they appear more distant than the reality, as well. These hills may not even top 30 meters.

    Armed with that, we can go back to the first image, and see the spot where the second image was taken, close to the right edge of the frame about halfway up the hills. And see a hiker in a pale shirt on the path up there, too. Unless you’re trying to view this on your phone, but naaaah. Why would someone do anything that silly with a site full of pictures?