Bug Shot 2012

I recently attended an amazing insect photography course in Venus, FL at the Archbold Biological Station called “Bug Shot”.  It’s a great course for anyone interested in macro photography and especially those of us that have an interest in insect photography.  The course was taught by Alex Wild, John Abbott, and Thomas Shahan.  All three are extraordinary photographers with very unique approaches to getting incredible shots (Links to their work are below!).  The course covered basic photography and entomology information initially and then dove into some really interesting lectures on high speed flash photography (John Abbott), focus stacking techniques (Thomas Shahan), working with insects in the studio and achieving diffused flash(Alex Wild), and much more.  Pretty much everything was covered from the basics of photography/entomology to how to turn your images into a profit.

As an entomologist, I was really expecting a large population of entomologists to be present.  However, the course had video game designers, computer programmers, a herpetologist, and of course some entomologists.  Needless to say it was a very mixed group of people with different experiences, backgrounds, and photography styles!  It was awesome.  But, in the midst of a rather intimidating group of photographers, I managed to get some shots that I’m proud of so I thought I’d share them with you!

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So there are just a few of the many pictures I took while at Bug Shot.  The image processing was done with Lightroom 4.1 (which I’d highly recommend).  I know, I know…  I didn’t ID any of the images or at this point, but life has been pretty hectic for this entomologist!  So some time in the near future I will sit down and ID these guys and update the blog.  Until then just enjoy (or mock) my attempt at being a photographer!

And, as promised, here are the links to the instructors’ amazing websites!

Alex Wild: http://www.alexanderwild.com/

John Abbott: http://archive.abbottnaturephotography.com/gallery-list

Thomas Shahan: http://thomasshahan.com/

And…  just to make you all a little more jealous of how awesome Bug Shot 2012 was, here’s a couple more photos that were taken by Josh Mayes.

Early sunrise at the Archbold Research Station.

The Bug Shot 2012 group!

 So stay tuned for more details regarding the next Bug Shot workshop!

The Cicada Killa Dilemma

Across the state reports of gigantic, flying manhunters have hit my ears.  Reports of giant wasps that are capable of digging massive holes in residents’ yards and reports of these wasp invaders carrying away grasshoppers to their lairs never to be seen or heard from again keep pouring in.  There’s a lot of concern about these monster wasps and what they’re doing, but yet not one report of a wasp uprising against a local South Dakotans or even a single sting…  Seems a little strange that such a terrifying beast hasn’t mounted a single attack against we humans right?

The reports coming in are in regards to what are commonly called “Cicada Killers” or “Digger Wasps”, Sphecius speciosus (Drury) (Insecta: Hymenoptera: Sphecidae).  Now don’t get me wrong…  These are some pretty intimidating insects- they measure up to a couple inches in length, females have a large stinger or ovipositor, and when in flight, these wasps have the roar of an Apache helicopter as they fly past your face.  Needless to say, but they have trouble making friends.

Here’s a terrific picture from Jay D. of Koolpix that shows a typically cicada killer in flight.

But this is what most people see…

So we’ve established what they are, but where did they come from and what are they doing?  Well cicada killers are quite the busy bees wasps.  Females in particular are occupied with three primary tasks:

  1. Dig a hole or burrow (they’re solitary and don’t live in nests like you might expect)
  2. Fill that hole with paralyzed cicadas or other insects to feed to their young
  3. Scare the hell out of everyone

Ok… so they only have 2 real tasks, but if you ask anyone they would probably agree with the third task listed!  Just ask.  You’ll notice though that attacking people isn’t on the list.  They could honestly careless about what we’re doing as long as we’re not trying to bat them out of the air.  These wasps are gentle giants (unless you’re a cicada).  Unlike other wasps and honeybees, cicada killers lack the nest-guarding behavior that makes the other bees and wasps temperamental and more likely to sting.  Therefore, we can walk through swarms of these guys with little to no concern of being stung.  And, with that in mind, I wouldn’t swat at them…  They have a pretty nasty sting.

We’ve been seeing them a lot this year because the conditions are just right.  They prefer areas that are well drained or dry, light soils, areas that are in full sunlight most of the day, and they definitely like to be near trees that are full of cicadas.  That’s why so many of us are finding them in our gardens, lawns, and near our sidewalks.  It can be upsetting to see these wasps dig up the soil in these areas, but if you stop and watch them move pounds of soil with those tiny little stick legs I bet you’d be more impressed than upset!

So the next time you’re being pinned down by these critters just remember the words of pure wisdom that have been typed above, take a deep breath, and run like hell like the rest of us! appreciate what they have to offer (a peaceful nights rest without the blasting noise generated by those cicadas).

Sighted at McCrory: Dazzling colors in a tight package

Photo: Nita S. Dewi

We saw this little critter with dazzling colors at McCrory last week. I’m not a specialist in cicadelids but I think it’s a red-banded leafhopper, a common insect among trees around here. If it is indeed a red-banded leafhopper, it has the ability to transmit Xylella fastidiosa, a phytopathogenic bacteria causing Pierce’s Disease or leaf scorch on elms and oaks. I just can’t get over its dazzling colors. The run-of-the-mill hypothesis for adaptive advantage of having such brilliant combination of body colors is that it signals bad taste or down-right poison to any potential predators out there. Could this be the case here? Judging by my limited knowledge of leafhoppers, they are not necessarily poisonous or bad tasting to birds or other predators. If so, what drove the evolution of beautiful green-red stripes seemingly airbrushed on the critter’s side?

A Pith Helmet and the ability to Communicate

The other day I was in the basement of my office when I discovered not one, but two pith helmets hidden in the back of a dusty, abandoned cabinet. There are few things that excite an entomologist more than the discovery of a new or unique insect and a pith helmet is one of those things.  It’s not something I ever envisioned being excited to find or anything I ever desired to own in my life before entomology, but as I move along in my career as an entomologist the desire to own one has increased steadily over the years.  And then, just yesterday, I find two pith helmets that have never been used, waiting for me to discover them. During outreach appointments, I get the feeling that there’s nothing that the public desires to see more than an entomologist with a pith helmet.  I was the same way before I started down this path.  Before beginning my Master’s I always pictured entomologists as old guys with interesting mustaches, wearing lots of khakis, high socks, a pith helmet, and of course carrying a net.

Why is this?  Why does everyone picture entomologists wearing these pith helmets or always carrying nets around?

But most of all… Why is that stereotype of entomologists so right?!

Well, I can’t grow a mustache, but I do carry around a net, vials, and camera almost everywhere I go and now I have a pith helmet for all of those great adventures through alfalfa, wheat, or soybean fields.  However, to answer this question a little better, I can only go back to an article that I saved when I began my Master’s degree at Purdue entitled, “Grasshoppers, Termites and Lovebugs: Responsibilities of Florida Entomologists to Communicate with the Public” written and presented by Dr. James Price in the early ‘90s.  This has been a treasured piece of literature and something that has compelled me to do better in this field and really communicate the needed information and promote an excitement for the field of entomology with or without a pith helmet- though it’s much more exciting with the helmet…  Enjoy the read!

http://journals.fcla.edu/flaent/article/view/58795/56474

Sighted at McCrory: It’s a bird, it’s a moth…it’s a hummingbird moth!

Every year I and my wife eagerly await for hummingbird moth appearance at McCory Gardens and this year doesn’t disappoint. Last week we stepped into the garden just before sunset and I immediately spotted six figures hovering above some flowers. Hummingbirds moth are indeed hummingbird-like. They flap their wings very fast and as the result are able to hover steadily in the air while telescoping their long proboscis into the flowers’ nectaries, usually located way down in the bottom of the flowers. The wings usually flap so rapidly, they seem to be a blur.

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White-lined sphinx moth (Photo: Nita Sari Dewi)

The long proboscis are retractable and are usually coiled and tucked underneath the head when not used to feed. The picture below illustrates the beginning of proboscis coiling just after the moth finished feeding on a flower’s nectary.

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Note the coiling of the proboscis (Photo: Nita Sari Dewi)

The species of hummingbird moth that we seem to always spot here in Brookings is white-lined sphinx moth, Hyles lineata.White-lined sphinx moth is readily identifiable by the white streak on the forewings and the pink area on the hindwings. The larvae have a unique feature of a horn jutting out of the hind end, earning its nickname of ‘hornworm’. White-lined sphinx moth larvae feed on various plants including garden plants such as tomato, elm or evening primrose. Yet the injuries caused by their feeding are relatively mild and do not usually require any control. The larvae burrow into the ground to pupate. It takes 3-4 weeks for adult moth to emerge from the pupa. Here in South Dakota we normally see up to two generations of hummingbird moth per year.

Although some have reported that hummingbird moths are easily spotted in daylight, I always found them at dusk. This past week has been a week for hummingbird moth sightings. A professor whose office is above me stopped by and asked about ‘a hummingbird-like moth’ he saw in his yard. A research specialist left two hummingbird moths on my desk (“They were coming after me!”), and finally I caught the town librarians chattering about these moths when checking out my customary weekend books on Friday. How about you? Have you spotted a hummingbird moth lately?

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Photo: Nita Sari Dewi

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Mother of Lacewings (just short of fire-breathing but still quite ferocious)

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Adult lacewing (Neuroptera: Chrysopidae) (Photo: A.S.)

Mother of Lacewings (Neuroptera: Chrysopidae), is the adult of green lacewing. I am a huge fan of The Song of Ice and Fire series so I couldn’t resist the play on words. This beautiful insect is very common, and you’ve probably seen it flapping around at dusk. The Polish common name for it is actually ‘Golden-eye’, and if you ever get a chance to look at it closely you will see that it indeed has large golden eyes! It has four long wings with extensive venation, and green slender body. It’s probably a little under an inch in length.

Beautiful as the adults of these insects are, it is actually the larvae that are the real beasts worth learning about. Lacewings go through complete metamorphosis so the immature forms differ a lot from the adults. Immature lacewings lack antennae, have somewhat stocky built and long legs that allow them to move fast. It is their sickle-shaped mouthparts, however, that are the coolest feature of these insects. Lacewings are vicious predators always on the move in search of prey. One of their favorites are aphids, soft-bodied insects that attack many crops and garden plants. Once a lacewing larva encounters an unsuspecting aphid, it grabs hold of it using its powerful mouthparts, injects strong enzymes into the aphid to dissolve its contents and then proceeds to suck the aphid dry. Some lacewing species have psychopath-like tendencies, and fling dry, empty bodies of their victims on their backs to create a clever disguise. It’s a bug-eat-bug world out there, no doubt!

Lacewing larva (Photo: A.S.)