They don't announce their arrival or departure.
If you're an insect photographer, or a wanna-be-insect photographer, expect the unexpected and don't go anywhere without your camera.
That applies to such simple things as walking out your back door and stepping into your pollinator garden.
It was Friday morning, Oct. 12, and we watched a gust of wind stir the African blue basil, tousle the milkweed, and whip the 12-foot-high Mexican sunflower. "Ah, wind," I thought. "A good day for dragonflies."
As if on cue, a variegated meadowhawk dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum, touched down on a bamboo stake, and looked right at me. I edged closer and "she" (gender identified by naturalist Greg Kareofelas, an associate with the Bohart Museum of Entomology, University of California, Davis) quickly left her perch.
I figured she would return and she did. Camera already raised, I slowly pointed my Nikon D800 with the 200mm macro lens and pressed the shutter. She left. She returned. She left. She returned.
A 'portrait studio' with the subject giving me "yes-no-maybe" answers.
In one view below, you can see the “bi-colored” Pterostigma on the wing tip and the two black spots on the top of the tip of the abdomen," noted Kareofelas. "This is unique to this species."
In another view, you can see the blurred image of a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) forming a backdrop.
Insect photography takes patience, persistence and perseverance because these six-legged critters don't announce their arrival or their departure, not like at an airport or a train station.
But they are there. "At any time, it is estimated that there are some 10 quintillion (10,000,000,000,000,000,000) individual insects alive," according to the Smithsonian Institute. That's about 200 million insects for every human on the planet.
Your camera will find at least one of them at any given time of day.
Find the green darner.
Trying to spot the green darner dragonfly, Anax junius--so named because of its resemblance to a darning needle--is like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.
But there it was, camouflaged in shrubbery on Sept. 23 in the Benicia Capitol State Historical Park.
This dragonfly, one of the most common and abundant species in the United States, as well as North America, is one of the few dragonflies that migrate. It migrates from the northern United States south into Texas and Mexico, according to Wikipedia. "It also occurs in the Caribbean, Tahiti, and Asia from Japan to mainland China."
The green darner is included in the Bohart Museum of Entomology's poster, "Dragonflies of California," available in its gift shop in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, UC Davis campus. The poster is the work of entomologist Fran Keller, then a Ph.D student at UC Davis and now an assistant professor at Folsom Lake College, and Bohart associate and naturalist/photographer Greg Karoefelas. (See the Bohart Museum website.)
Did you know that the green darner is the official insect of the state of Washington, the Evergreen State? And it is one of the largest dragonflies in the order, Odonata? Males grow to 76 mm (3.0 in) in length with a wingspan of up to 80 mm (3.1 in)?
Females oviposit in aquatic vegetation, laying their eggs beneath the water surface. The nymphs (naiads) are aquatic carnivores, feasting on insects, tadpoles and small fish. The adults--they catch insects on the wing. Their prey includes flies and mosquitoes.
We remember several years ago when dragonfly/damselfly expert Rosser Garrison of the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) shared his knowledge of Odonata--and showcased some of his global specimens--at the Bohart Museum.
Fossil records show that they were the world's largest flying insects--some with wingspans measuring three feet--and they existed before dinosaurs. "Dragonfly relatives existed before the onset of the dinosaurs---Triassic Period, 250 to 200 million years ago,” related Garrison, a senior insect biosystematist at CDFA. “They are considered beneficial since both larvae---all aquatic--and adults are predators."
That green darner we saw in Benicia wasn't preying or sewing up people's ears (darners have been called "devil's darning needles") but it was darn camera shy.
Find the green darner!
Watching it like a hawk...
A variegated meadowhawk dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum, that is.
We look forward to breezes--even strong gusts--in our little pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif., because often we'll see dragonflies touch down.
They'll hunt, perch, and hunt again. The wind threatens to dismount them but they hang tight.
Such was the case on Sept. 28, a time between summer and fall. Clouds parted, the sun burst through, and the Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia) and blue spike salvia (Savlia uliginosa) swayed in the breeze.
This dragonfly swayed, too. But the wind did not defeat it. Not this "hawk."
Variegated meadowhawks live near ponds, lakes, and swamps--and if you're lucky, they'll visit your back yard. They are largely tan or gray with a pale face that is tan in young males and females but becomes red in mature males, according to OdonataCentral.org. They're found throughout the United States and southern Canada; also Mexico south to Belize and Honduras. "This species may be seen on the ground more than other meadowhawks. It will also readily perch on the tips of grass stems and tree branches. It can be numerous flying over roads, lawns, meadows, marshes and ponds...It is largely tan or gray with a pale face that is tan in young males and females but becomes red in mature males."
Interested in dragonflies? The Bohart Museum of Entomology at the University of California, Davis (located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge building on Crocker Lane) offers a beautiful dragonfly poster, "Dragonflies of California," in its gift shop. It's the work of entomologist Fran Keller (she received her doctorate in entomology from UC Davis and is now an assistant professor at Folsom Lake College) and naturalist-photographer Greg Kareofelas, a Bohart associate whose expertise includes butterflies and dragonflies.
Hide and seek.
She hides 'em and we seek 'em.
We've spotted as many as seven adult praying mantids at a time in our little pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif. but never once have we seen any of them laying eggs.
We know that a praying mantid lays her eggs in an egg mass known as an ootheca or a protective egg sac. But always when you're nowhere around!
Not so this time.
Late Sunday afternoon, Sept. 23, Ms. Mantis (a Stagmomantis limbata, as identified by UC Davis student Lohit Garikipati, a Bohart Museum of Entomology associate who rears mantids) decided to grace our milkweed planter with a little present.
She climbed a redwood stake, looked around, saw me (oh, no problem, you're not a predator!), and crawled over to the other side. She positioned herself upside down, bulging abdomen intact, and proceeded to do her business. A frothy cream-colored substance began to emerge. (See my short YouTube video.) When darkness fell, she was still there.
"Now that she's deposited the ootheca, will she expire soon?" we asked Garikipati.
"It's still early on in the season, so she may lay another two or three," he said.
She may indeed. Mama Mantis continues to hang out in the milkweed, while her ootheca, like a flag on a flag pole, "commemorates" the spot.
It should be a warning sign to incoming monarchs.
The next day, we found the clipped wing of a male monarch.
Eager hands cradling an orchid mantis.
Eyes darting toward a hornet's nest.
That set the scene at the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology's three-hour open house, themed "Crafty Insects." Visitors learned about the sneaky or cunning insects like praying mantids, and about the skillful insects such as hornets that construct intricate nests of wood pulp and saliva.
Entomologist Jeff Smith, who curates the butterfly and moth section of the Bohart, loaned the quilted dragonfly hanging, the work of his mother-in-law, quiltmaker/seamstress Ann Babicky of Schofield, Wis. "She made it personally with us in mind," he said.
UC Davis entomology student and Bohart associate Lohit Garikipati, who rears mantids, loaned some of his favorites, including an orchid mantis, Hymenopus coronatus, a shield mantis, Rhombodera valida, and an Asian dead leaf mantis, Deroplatys truncata.
Garikipati, who serves as secretary of the UC Davis Entomology Club displayed mantids and walking sticks with club president Chloe Shott.
Smith and Bohart associate Greg Kareofelas showed visitors the moth and butterfly collection, while UC Davis student Emma Cluff answered questions about a hornet's nest. Another UC Davis student, Isabelle Gilchrist, staffed the "paint-a-rock" table. (See Bug Squad blog). Tabatha Yang, the Bohart's education and outreach coordinator, coordinated the open house.
Located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, it houses
- nearly eight million insect specimens
- the seventh largest insect collection in North America
- the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity
- a live "petting zoo," comprised of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks, tarantulas and praying mantids; and
- a year-around gift shop, which is stocked with T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, jewelry, posters, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy
The Bohart Museum's regular hours are from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. It is closed to the public on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and on major holidays. Admission is free.
Public weekend hours for the academic year 2018-2019 are:
- Sunday, Nov. 18, from 1 to 4 p.m.: "Bring It Home: Urban Entomology"
- Saturday, Jan. 12, from 1 to 4 p.m.: "Time's Fun When You're Studying Flies"
- Saturday, Feb. 16, times vary: (campuswide) Biodiversity Museum Day
- Saturday, March 9, 1 to 4 p.m., "Eight-Legged Wonders"
- Saturday, April 14, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., (campuswide) UC Davis Picnic Day