I had an idea this evening as I was doing a routine check on my resident photo subjects, and returned to pursue it when the moon was the right height, but couldn’t bring the reality close enough to my imagination. The grey spot in the background is a waxing gibbous moon in the sky, rendered into a pentagon by using a macro lens with a five-bladed aperture – this is what happens to out-of-focus lights. Or, for that matter, anything unfocused; we just usually don’t see it because we rarely have single distinctive objects set off by a contrasting background, and what we normally get is a lot of fuzzy pentagons/hexagons/octagons laid over one another into a blurry mess. I tried some shots with the aperture wide open, which eradicates any shaping by the aperture and renders the effect round, but the moon then became so big in the image it took up most of the frame and so still didn’t produce what I wanted. Basically, the ambush bug was too small to try this kind of composition, necessitating a macro lens that just wouldn’t work. It’s a shame, because I needed to use the tripod to allow for an exposure that would even show the moon, and getting the position just right took more fussing than you might imagine, plus partially blocking the flash with one hand so it wouldn’t overexpose the insect.
The jagged ambush bug featured earlier has been joined by another on the same stand of fennel plants, and I’ve found yet another across the yard, giving me several subjects to watch. This is not the rollercoaster of excitement you’re obviously imagining, because they really don’t do much, and most times that I check I find them in the same place as before, or only a short distance away. The new addition on the fennel plants is slightly larger and more advanced in development, possessing a deeper color and some markings that mimic brown leaf spots very well. While that’s the one you’re seeing above, you’ve behaved yourself this week and deserve a closer look:
If you’re thinking the abdominal color is different, you’re right – this image was taken a few days earlier. I wanted to say they change quickly, but it’s nothing compared to the abilities of anoles or cuttlefish; this might even have occurred because of a molt. A few days back we had some rain, and soon afterward I discovered one of the resident mantids had molted – this seems to be a pattern, and makes sense: the moisture may help them shed their old exoskeleton easier. I thought I should be checking the ambush bugs, because I’d really love to get a whole sequence of the process from start to finish, but busied myself with other things. To show me the error of my ways, I came back out later to find one of the ambush bugs sitting a few centimeters away from its recently-shed skin.
While those forward fins on its back are just there for general intimidation, the hind ones are indeed wings, still developing. In most arthropods, the point where the wings are fully developed and functional is the final, sexually-mature stage. Once that occurs I might have a much harder time getting close shots, because they will no longer have to rely on camouflage and not attracting attention to protect themselves, and may simply fly off. In the meantime, I’m going to appreciate their prehistorically-armored appearance.
The color development of the subject in my earlier post has continued apace, as demonstrated by another image from this evening. The dew has appeared without subtlety, even forming on the insect’s compound eyes; while I always imagine this is very annoying, few arthropods that I’ve observed ever seem to care. Of course, this could be because their body temperature has dropped significantly, not the least because of the dew itself, and they won’t be actively hunting or even moving much in these conditions. Not, as I said, that they did anyway, but even just lying in wait (yes, that’s what they look like lying down – what, you think they curl up on their sides?) for oblivious prey to happen along is probably pointless when the prey is just as likely to be in torpor from the temperatures too. The dew on the eyes might be akin to times when you’re a bit chilly, but way too tired to get up and put another blanket on the bed. Or maybe they just think the effect is groovy…