Sunday, February 10, 2019

HumBug: Darkling Beetles and Mosquitoes

Posted By on Sun, Feb 10, 2019 at 7:41 PM

Darkling beetle stacked image. Ya' got a little dung  on your face there, buddy. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Darkling beetle stacked image. Ya' got a little dung on your face there, buddy.

The sound of the rain had stopped and I was all ready to go out and capture a photo of the spider that eluded me the night before. I got all loaded up with cameras and gear, dressed for the cold, went to the back door, turned on the light and there was a world of white. Even the dogs didn't want to go out. So, rather than freeze looking for a critter who was probably hiding from the cold under the shingles of my pump house, I decided to stay in and work on one of those challenging focus stacked images.

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Sunday, February 3, 2019

HumBug: Bees and May-bees on the Willow

Posted By on Sun, Feb 3, 2019 at 1:05 PM

Bumblebee on willow catkin. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Bumblebee on willow catkin.

The pussy willows are just starting to bloom along the river and, being pretty much the only game in town, they're attracting the early birds of the insect world.
Bumblebees, adapted to cool weather, were out and defending their territory by circling around me at a dizzying pace. These are the next generation of queens that will soon establish new colonies, usually in holes in the ground like abandoned gopher burrows. Unlike honey bees, the colony does not overwinter. Only fertilized females live through the cold season, re-establishing their entire society anew each year. They were interesting to watch methodically working from the bottom of each catkin to the top getting all the nectar from each of the tiny flowers of which they are composed.

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Sunday, January 27, 2019

HumBug: Archaeognatha

Posted By on Sun, Jan 27, 2019 at 11:07 AM

Hump backed, jumping bristletails look like tiny shrimp. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Hump backed, jumping bristletails look like tiny shrimp.
When I set out to take a couple of photos of the jumping bristletails on the back of my garage, I was not prepared for what I got.

They're interesting for being such an old order. The name Archaeognatha means “ancient jaw.” This refers to the primitive structure of their jaw. Jumping bristletails are one of the first insects to show up in the fossil record (about 390 million years ago) When our first vertebrate ancestors crawled onto land, they were probably greeted by something that looked much like what we see today and ate them. Early colonization of the land by arthropods created a food rich environment for the first tetrapods to exploit.

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Sunday, January 20, 2019

HumBug: Winter Critters

Posted By on Sun, Jan 20, 2019 at 5:27 PM

Closeup of a variegated meadowhawk. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Closeup of a variegated meadowhawk.

Five years ago I started reporting seeing a small dragonfly in the middle of winter on sunny days, even following frosty nights. Dragonflies usually spend the cold months as larvae in the water. Up until then, none of the other dragonfly enthusiasts were reporting anything at all. I've been able to photograph and report this one species in December and January every year since.

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Sunday, January 13, 2019

HumBug: Earwigs

Posted By on Sun, Jan 13, 2019 at 11:29 AM

Female earwig cerci. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Female earwig cerci.

I have not been a big fan of earwigs ever since they ate the ceanothus moth I was trying to rear. Reading a bit about them, I found they indeed have some interesting and worthwhile features. The most common variety around here is the European earwig (Forficula auricularia).

We called them “pincer bugs” when I was a kid due to the pair of forceps-like cerci that adorn their tail. When assaulted by grabbing their head between your fingers, they will indeed try to pinch you with them. The shape of the cerci can be used to differentiate the sexes. The male's are rounded and sickle shaped, while the females' are straighter and appear parallel.

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Sunday, December 30, 2018

HumBug: Insect Armageddon

Posted By on Sun, Dec 30, 2018 at 5:31 PM

Rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) known to supplement their diet with flying insects and line their nests with spider silk. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) known to supplement their diet with flying insects and line their nests with spider silk.
I have had a lifelong interest in insects, collecting, observing, studying, and photographing them for more than 60 years. Looking back, I've noticed progressively fewer insects around my porch lights at night and far fewer splattered across the windshields of my various cars.

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Sunday, December 23, 2018

HumBug: Millipede by the Millimeter

Posted By on Sun, Dec 23, 2018 at 7:08 PM

Panoramic image of a Eurasian millipede on a mirror. The photo was an all-nighter. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Panoramic image of a Eurasian millipede on a mirror. The photo was an all-nighter.

I didn't intend to spend all night working on a single photograph but a Eurasian millipede (Ophyiulus pilosus) trapped in a measuring cup was an opportunity to try some equipment in a new way. Instead of using the computer-controlled StackRail to move the focus point, I set it up to travel along the critter, acquiring an image every millimeter. Panoramic software, usually applied to landscapes, allowed combining the 76 resulting exposures into a single image. After positioning the subject, several passes of image acquisitions, adjusting lighting, software fails and crashes, I set everything up, hit the “Stack” button and went to bed at about 5:20 a.m. Post processing the resulting image took several hours as well.
Cyanide millipede. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Cyanide millipede.
Millipedes are among the oldest land animals and in ancient times some Arthropleura grew to be the largest land invertebrates ever, attaining lengths of over 2 meters.
A millipede under black light, possibly a young cyanide millipede. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • A millipede under black light, possibly a young cyanide millipede.
Locally I have noted at least four species, all of which are harmless to humans. Being slow moving creatures without sting, bristles or venom their defenses are coiling into a tight spiral and secreting noxious substances along their sides. At least one local species, the yellow spotted Harpaphe haydeniana, or a close relative, includes cyanide in its arsenal. I think the young of this variety are the ones I've seen glow when illuminated with black light.
A large millipede curled into defensive position. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • A large millipede curled into defensive position.
A pale yellow one I found in a rotten log remains unidentified and may not be known to science yet. Unfortunately, I managed to get only one photograph of it several years ago.
Unidentified millipede, most likely of order Polyzoniida. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Unidentified millipede, most likely of order Polyzoniida.
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Sunday, December 16, 2018

HumBug: Rainy Day Locals

Posted By on Sun, Dec 16, 2018 at 9:25 PM

Tick on a blade of grass. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Tick on a blade of grass.

Head's up: It's tick season again. It seems they like damp weather. My archives show photos of them primarily in April to May and December to January. In the last week, I've pulled one off a dog and one off a friend who had one on her arm. Even if you haven't been outdoors where they wait in the weeds, they can hitch rides on pets that do. You can read more about them in my April 12, 2015 post here
A Pterostichus beetle uncovered when I overturned a rock. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • A Pterostichus beetle uncovered when I overturned a rock.
Being cold-blooded, most insects spend the winter months dormant as eggs, larvae or pupae, awaiting longer days and warmer weather. Still, some adults persist secluded under rocks like some locally common ground beetles of the genus Pterostichus. This family of beetles is highly predatory, consuming all manner of small invertebrates.
Pacific sideband snail portrait. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Pacific sideband snail portrait.

On a recent night walk, I noted quite a few Pacific sideband snails (Monadenia fidelis), the largest native land snails in our area, attaining a width of 2 inches across the widest part of their shells. This species uses “love darts,”in their mating process, a detailed explanation of which is available on Wikipedia.
Glowworm gets clotheslined in slow motion. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Glowworm gets clotheslined in slow motion.
However, I have seen one of our local glow worms attack a full sized example of this species after a slow motion battle that took about 10 minutes — the snail clotheslined the glow worm and got away, leaving the attacker mired in a gooey sticky bubble bath.
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Sunday, December 9, 2018

HumBug: Macro Mania

Posted By and on Sun, Dec 9, 2018 at 1:51 PM

The setup. Canon 6D mk II, MPE 65 1-5X lens, mounted on StackRail controlled by an old spare Windows 7 computer. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • The setup. Canon 6D mk II, MPE 65 1-5X lens, mounted on StackRail controlled by an old spare Windows 7 computer.

From time to time, someone asks how I got this or that shot and what gear I used. Like most technical people, I suffer from gadgetitis, and have an array of cameras and accessories for various tasks.

The more or less formal dividing line for “true macro” is a 1:1 magnification, meaning that a 1-centimeter object will project to a 1-centimeter portion of the image receptor.

After a lot of research prior to buying my first interchangeable lens camera and knowing I'd be shooting mostly insects, I chose Canon because it was the only company with its MPE 65 mm 1-5X lens. It can't be used for anything else. It can take a photo of an individual eyelash but the end of your nose would fill the entire frame. No family portraits unless they're really small.

Life size image of the beetles. They're both a little more than 1 centimeter long. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Life size image of the beetles. They're both a little more than 1 centimeter long.
One challenge of macro photography is the extremely shallow depth of field (DOF). The part of the image that is actually in sharp focus is very thin. In the last few years, focus stacking technology changed all that. The photographer takes a series of photos focusing at different levels along the subject, then, using a stacking program, combines them to yield a single frame, all in focus. This can be almost impossibly tedious but recently computer controlled rails have taken over the painstaking job of advancing the camera as little as 2 microns at a time. Needless to say the subject must not move from one frame to the next so the models are seldom living creatures.
Female dung beetle very close up. Yep, she's got a little on her face. About 1:3.5 magnification. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Female dung beetle very close up. Yep, she's got a little on her face. About 1:3.5 magnification.
Visiting my nephew at his Oregon farm, he told me that I'd missed seeing hordes of little dung beetles consuming nearly all the droppings from his cattle in a very brief time. I never did see any alive but managed to find a few dead specimens, the perfect subjects for the Canon lens, StackRail and Helicon Focus software.
Male dung beetle showing his impressive horn. About 1:3.5 magnification. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Male dung beetle showing his impressive horn. About 1:3.5 magnification.
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Sunday, December 2, 2018

HumBug: Seasons Change, Bugs Change

Posted By on Sun, Dec 2, 2018 at 11:04 AM

The last shot I'll get of one of these rubyspots until next summer. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • The last shot I'll get of one of these rubyspots until next summer.
Following up on last week's post of photos of the American rubyspot (Hetaerina americana) male, I decided to try to get a better shot of the wings. Relying on the fact that this species is extremely territorial, I found him in exactly the same spot. This time I got closer and waited until he flew after a mayfly. I took a rapid fire series of exposures. The next day the rains came and, despite returning to the spot several days, I haven't seen him. I think he's gone for good. Maybe next year I'll see his son there. I wonder what their instinctive selection criteria are for a good perch.


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Recent Comments

  • Re: HumBug: Earwigs

    • My back yard was overrun with earwigs and sow bugs until I raised 3 chicks…

    • on January 18, 2019
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