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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Sunday, November 25, 2018

HumBug: A Sparse Week

Posted By on Sun, Nov 25, 2018 at 1:00 PM

Disintegrating robber fly. It took more than 280 exposures to compile this image. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Disintegrating robber fly. It took more than 280 exposures to compile this image.

Looking for something to write about this week, I remembered back in June I posted a photo of a robber fly cannibalizing another one. When it was done, it flew away leaving the dead victim's carcass in the weeds, so I collected and mounted it.

Surprisingly, it fell apart, the back half of it disintegrating into little fragments. Presumably this was due to the digestive juices it had been injected with and the fact that its killer drank the liquified connective tissues that held it together. All was not lost however. I decided to use it as a model to compare my two best cameras in a focus stacking competition. Such a detailed photostacking examination of a partially digested fly could only help my standing in the nerd community. Like many members of the family Asilidae, this one sported a mustache that would make a walrus blush with envy.

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Sunday, November 18, 2018

HumBug: Damsels in Fall

Posted By on Sun, Nov 18, 2018 at 3:08 PM

California spreadwing shows blue eyes. Damage to its wing indicates this is an old specimen. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • California spreadwing shows blue eyes. Damage to its wing indicates this is an old specimen.
The unseasonably warm and dry weather seems to be to allowing some species of insects to linger later in the year than I've seen before. Among them are two damselflies. I checked my archives, and this is the latest date in the year I've ever noted either the rubyspot or California spreadwing (Archilestes californica).

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Sunday, November 11, 2018

HumBug: Lepidoptera

Posted By on Sun, Nov 11, 2018 at 11:00 AM

Mylitta crescent on dried Queen Anne's lace seed head. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Mylitta crescent on dried Queen Anne's lace seed head.
Walking along the Van Duzen River today after three frosty nights, I noted four different kinds of butterflies. We saw many Mylitta crescents (Phyciodes mylitta), got a brief glimpse of what was most likely a woodland skipper (Ochlodes sylvanoides) and a West Coast lady (Vanessa annabella). A California sister (Adelpha californica) flitted up and posed at the last minute.
West Coast lady that may well be a male. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • West Coast lady that may well be a male.
Woodland skipper. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Woodland skipper.
Butterflies and moths make up the order lepidoptera. Although butterflies get a lot more attention, many experts find moths more interesting. Typically, butterflies fly in day and moths by night. While butterfly antennae are thin and end in a knob, moth's antennae have other shapes, from thin filaments to elaborate fronds. In North America it is estimated there are about 700 species of butterfly,  while moths may number more than 11,000. Some experts consider butterflies merely a family of day-flying moths.
California sister showing some wear on its wings (gender undetermined). - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • California sister showing some wear on its wings (gender undetermined).
In the age-old arms race between insectivorous bats and night flying moths, moths have developed several survival strategies. One strategy is early detection of the bat's sonar, which triggers evasive flying tactics. Others have developed a form of acoustic stealth. Many night-flying moths are extremely fuzzy. A recent article in Science News points out that this fur can deaden the bat's sonar echoes.
Fuzzy moth showing plumose antennae and what may be nature's anti-sonar stealth suit. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Fuzzy moth showing plumose antennae and what may be nature's anti-sonar stealth suit.
As there are so many more types of moth than butterfly and they have been around so much longer, it stands to reason they might have an even more diverse set of lifestyles. Like butterflies, the majority of moths mainly eat higher plants as larvae and sip nectar as adults, but there are exceptions. Some moth larvae are known to eat natural fiber fabrics, a couple of species of wax moths inhabit beehives, eat wax and can actually digest some plastics.

Perhaps the oddest moth lifestyle is that of the genus, Calyptra. Known as “vampire moths,” they do indeed suck blood from higher mammals, but have no fear, that group doesn't live anywhere near here. Yet.
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Sunday, November 4, 2018

HumBug: Who's Your Daddy Longlegs?

Posted By on Sun, Nov 4, 2018 at 8:38 PM

Daddy longlegs Nelima passleri with eyes like a tiny turret. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Daddy longlegs Nelima passleri with eyes like a tiny turret.

As soon as the UPS delivered my newest camera lens, I had to go a hunting. Since it's fall, many insects are gone until next year but there's always something interesting out there.

Today was no exception. Before I even got out the door, I noted a daddy longlegs on my window screen. It only took a ladder and a couple of strenuous yoga poses to get the shot, but the lens performed well.

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Sunday, October 28, 2018

HumBug: Halloween Romance

Posted By on Sun, Oct 28, 2018 at 11:18 AM

Closeup of male cross orb weaver. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Closeup of male cross orb weaver.
You see them nearly everywhere this time of year, the big female cross orb weaver spiders (Araneus diadematus). If you get close you can see the emblem of the cross for which they're known.
Female cross orb weaver showing distinctive cross pattern on her back. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Female cross orb weaver showing distinctive cross pattern on her back.
As I looked at one particularly large female spider, I noticed another spider with a leg span nearly as large as the lady but a much smaller body was plucking a couple of her web's support cables.
Male approaches female spider. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Male approaches female spider.
With some apparent trepidation, he made his advance going a little way out on her web. For her part she scurried right after him and he ran away. He tried this several times always with the same result. She chased, he ran.
He finally gave up and, sliding down a strand of webbing like a man rappelling, he disappeared behind a leaf. I moved trying to get a better vantage to get a shot of his back to see if he, too, sported the distinctive cross seen so plainly on the females.

What I hadn't realized was that he was already on the job with another lady whose web was positioned almost directly the below the first.
Female shows her fangs. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Female shows her fangs.
He plucked at her web from the side as he had done before, but this lady's response was completely different. She retreated from the silk wrapped sink bug on which she'd been feeding and took up a position facing him at the center of her web, motionless. With the same trepidation he'd shown before, he approached but this female did not pursue him. Instead she just hung there, moving little until he got close enough to touch her front legs with his. Then she moved a little and he retreated. This happened over and over again, me snapping photos each time. It looked like she was baring her fangs when he got really close but it was hard to tell at that range.
The male swoops in to seal the deal. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • The male swoops in to seal the deal.
Finally he touched her, which she allowed, and then suddenly they were one big tangle of legs. As I snapped away, I suddenly realized she was wrapping him in silk. She revolved his now immobilized body like a chicken on a spit.
The male attempts to get away. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • The male attempts to get away.
When she was satisfied that he was completely immobilized she left his swathed form dangling in her web and she returned to her stink bug.
The female starts to wrap male spider. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • The female starts to wrap male spider.
That's a wrap for the male. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • That's a wrap for the male.
I returned several days later. The stink bug long gone but, like a horrific trophy, the webbed, tangled mass of male spider legs hung there. Or maybe this was another male lured to his doom.
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Sunday, October 21, 2018

HumBug: Spiders in the House

Posted By on Sun, Oct 21, 2018 at 11:33 AM

Common house spider next to my front porch light. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Common house spider next to my front porch light.

The month of October, ending in Halloween, is the perfect time to check out our local spider fauna. Many of the largest and showiest species are at their finest at this time of year.

With that in mind, I've seen quite a few lately. At my house, at least, the common house spider (Parasteatoda tepidariorum) indeed lives up to its name. They are disturbingly common, especially around my outside lights, preying on all manner of phototropic insects.


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Sunday, October 14, 2018

HumBug: Creepy, Cute and Unusual

Posted By on Sun, Oct 14, 2018 at 3:00 PM

The business end of the centipede, believed to be Scolopocryptops gracilis, no common name. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • The business end of the centipede, believed to be Scolopocryptops gracilis, no common name.

Looking closely at more crawling critters than most folks, you'd think I'd get used to them. But there is one critter that still holds a Class 4 creep factor for me: the common centipede. If you could cross a spider and a snake, centipedes would be the result. Flexible, fast and venomous — in their world they are a force to be reckoned with.
At about 4 inches long this centipede was just too long for my macro lens. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • At about 4 inches long this centipede was just too long for my macro lens.
The most common and largest I've encountered hereabouts seem to be members of the bark centipede family, Scolopendromorpha. Found under logs, they are brick red, some specimens measure nearly 4 inches long. The "fangs" on the underside of their head, technically called forcipules, are actually highly modified legs complete with venom glands. No known centipede is considered lethal to a healthy adult human and I've never encountered anyone that's been bitten.
While “centipede” translates to “hundred foot,” since adults have an odd number of body segments, and only two feet per segment, it is impossible for any species to have exactly 100 feet.
Mylitta crescent butterfly on Queen Anne's lace. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Mylitta crescent butterfly on Queen Anne's lace.
At the other end of the cuteness scale are the little Mylitta crescent butterflies. I've been seeing a great many of these little guys out and about nectaring on Queen Anne's lace and vigorously defending their territories. This species can have multiple generations in a year and their larvae feed on thistles, altogether a good thing.
Variegated meadowhawk basks in the sun. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Variegated meadowhawk basks in the sun.
Once again the migratory dragonfly, variegated meadowhawk, is gracing our county. I have photographs every winter of this particular species going back to 2010, when I first noticed one on a cold sunny winter day. Surviving frosty nights and temperatures which put windowpane ice on puddles is unusual for what is considered a warm season order of insects.

Variegated meadowhawk photo for positive ID. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Variegated meadowhawk photo for positive ID.
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Sunday, October 7, 2018

HumBug: The Girls of Autumn

Posted By on Sun, Oct 7, 2018 at 5:28 PM

Closeuo of Sierra dome spider (Neriene litigosa). - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Closeuo of Sierra dome spider (Neriene litigosa).
If spring is the season of butterflies, autumn must be the season of spiders. A short walk across some brushy terrain yielded several dozen spiders of at least half a dozen species. Among spiders, females are often much larger and more conspicuous than the males and, for ones with an annual cycle, this is when they get their biggest, preparing to lay eggs either now to over winter, or protected in their dormant bodies until spring.
Ant tries to steal funnel web spider's prey. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Ant tries to steal funnel web spider's prey.
Funnel webs were everywhere, each one with a spider with a leg span a bit larger than a quarter standing near the entrance to its lair. This family, Agelenidae, is not related to the dangerous Australian spider of the same name. Last night's rain dotted their webs like glitter.
Cross orb weaver female, Araneus diadematus, retreated to thistle where she was well camouflaged. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Cross orb weaver female, Araneus diadematus, retreated to thistle where she was well camouflaged.
The large cross orb weavers spin their neat vertical webs near the edges of the forest where open meadow gives way to brush. The large females hang in the center of their webs waiting for food to deliver itself and a prospective mate to come calling.
Dome web spiders (family Linyphiidae) hang upside down in their characteristic bell shaped webs.
A wolf spider paused just long enough to get a shot. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • A wolf spider paused just long enough to get a shot.
Literally hundreds wolf spiders (family Lycosidae) raced through the grass ahead of me as I walked. Agile running hunters, about the only webs these spiders spin is an egg sack holding the next generation to the mother's abdomen. For a few days after they hatch they will cling to their mom's back, getting a free ride.
Johnson's jumping spider Phidippus johnsoni. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Johnson's jumping spider Phidippus johnsoni.
There is much to like about the little jumping spiders (family Salticideae). Agile runners and jumpers some of their movements are so quick it looks like they've mastered short-range teleportation.
Goldenrod crab spider Misumena vatia, missing one front leg menaces the camera. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Goldenrod crab spider Misumena vatia, missing one front leg menaces the camera.
Lurking on or near flowers you can find crab spiders (family Thomisidae). This family doesn't spin a snare either, but is an ambush predator.

Although sometimes they give me the willies, spiders are one of mankind's greatest allies, estimated to killing and devouring between 500 and 800 million tons of insects annually.

I recently ordered yet another insect identification guide, Pacific Northwest Insects by Merill A. Peterson. Although it is billed as a field guide, this 2-pound 6-by-9-inch book will not fit in my back pocket. It couldn't, as it is the most complete guide to the insects of our area all the way up to British Columbia. Abundantly illustrated with 1,725 good identification photos, it has already helped me verify half a dozen IDs including some mentioned here. I can heartily recommend this book.
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