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.
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.
Just call it "my old flame."
Well, it's not mine, but it is a flame of sorts, a flame skimmer dragonfly (Libellula saturata) and it's firecracker red.
We see this species frequenting our pollinator garden in Vacaville, which includes a fish pond, flower beds, and bamboo stakes for their perches.
If you like dragonflies, you may want to purchase a dragonfly poster at the gift shop in the Bohart Museum of Entomology, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge building on Crocker Lane, UC Davis. It features 18 species of dragonflies, ranging from the common whitetail and green darner to the Western river cruiser and the bison snaketail. And, of course the flame skimmer.
The poster? It's the work of former UC Davis entomology doctoral candidate Fran Keller, now an assistant professor at Folsom Lake College, and naturalist/photographer Greg Kareofelas of Davis. Keller received her doctorate in entomology, studying with Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and professor of entomology at UC Davis.
Well, it's not so much as a "best-kept secret" but a "UC Davis treasure."
Thousands attended the seventh annual UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day, which showcased 13 museums or collections. Billed as "a celebration of the vast diversity of life on Earth, both present and past," it's also "a celebration of science."
It took place Feb. 17. Here's the update: you can now see it on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uzdOuHivEms. The newly posted video is the work of talented UC Davis undergraduate student Alexander Fisher-Wagner, who filmed, edited and posted the piece.
You can get a bird's eye view and a bug's eye view of all the activities, which ranged from ancient dinosaur bones to live praying mantises, from hawks to honey bees, and from California condor specimens to carnivorous plants. Participating were:
- Arboretum and Public Garden, Good Life Garden, next to the Robert Mondavi Wine and Food Science Institute, 392 Old Davis Road
- Anthropology Museum, 328 Young Hall and grounds
- Bohart Museum of Entomology, Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, Crocker Lane
- Botanical Conservatory, Greenhouses along Kleiber Hall Drive
- California Raptor Center, 340 Equine Lane, off Old Davis RoadDesign Museum, 124 Cruess Hall, off California Ave
- Center for Plant Diversity, Sciences Laboratory Building, off Kleiber Hall Drive
- Design Museum, 124 Cruess Hall, off California Avenue
- Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, Bee Biology Road, off Hopkins Road
- Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology, Room 1394, Academic Surge Building, Crocker Lane
- Nematode Collection, Sciences Laboratory Building, off Kleiber Hall Drive
- Paleontology Collection, Earth and Physical Sciences Building, 434 LaRue Road
- Phaff Yeast Culture Collection, Robert Mondavi Institute of Wine and Food Science, 392 Old Davis Road, on campus
- Viticulture and Enology Culture Collection, Robert Mondavi Institute of Wine and Food Science, 392 Old Davis Road, on campus
The annual Biodiversity Museum Day, free and family friendly, is indeed a special occasion. All participating museums and collections have active education and outreach programs, but the collections are not always accessible to the public, said Biodiversity Museum Day committee chair Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator for the Bohart Museum of Entomology.
The UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Committee is already gearing up for the eighth annual, set Feb. 16, 2019. Mark your calendars!
Meanwhile, the Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, is hosting a Moth Night this Saturday, July 21 from 8 to 11 p.m. Free and open to the public (and it's family friendly), the event features both indoor and outdoor displays as scientists share their love and knowledge of moths, butterflies and other insects.
A blacklighting display (moth trap) will get underway around 9:30-10 p.m.
The Bohart Museum Moth Night is being held in conjunction with National Moth Week, July 21-29, which celebrates the beauty, life cycles and habitats of moths.
Bohart scientists will be on hand to discuss moths and answer questions. They include Bohart senior museum scientist Steve Heydon; entomologist Jeff Smith, curator of the the moth and butterfly specimens; "Moth Man" John DeBenedictis; naturalist and photographer Greg Kareofelas; and UC Davis undergraduate entomology student Wade Spencer, who staffs the live "petting zoo," featuring Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas.
The family craft activity is "shaping up to be colored beeswax moths on a candle," Yang said. Free refreshments--cookies and hot chocolate--will be served.
Are you ready to celebrate Moth Night at the Bohart Museum of Entomology at the University of California, Davis?
Mark your calendar for 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday, July 21.
That's when the Bohart Museum will join forces with National Moth Week, July 21-29, to celebrate the beauty, life cycles and habitats of moths. It's free, open to the public, and family friendly.
The Bohart, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, Crocker Lane, is hosting the "Moth Night" both inside and outside the museum. You will see scores of moth and butterfly displays inside. Outside, moth light traps will be set up so you can see what moths are drawn to the blacklighting displays.
The UC Davis event is one of only two public events scheduled in California during the week; the other is in San Mateo County on July 28.
Bohart scientists will be on hand to discuss moths and answer questions. They include three Bohart associates: entomologist Jeff Smith of Rocklin, curator of the the moth and butterfly specimens; and "Moth Man" John DeBenedictis and naturalist and photographer Greg Kareofelas, both of Davis, who will staff the light traps/blacklighting displays. The best time to see the moths in the light traps is later in the evening, closer to 10, according to Lynn Kimsey, director of the museum, and Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator.
"We will focus on colorful moths of the night--night rainbows if you will and the biodiversity of tropical moths," Yang said. A family craft activity is planned. Last year the family craft activity featured making moth-shaped window ornaments resembling stained glass.
Free refreshments--cookies and hot chocolate--will be served. Common Grounds, a Davis coffee shop. will be providing the large containers of hot water for the event.
One of the "oh, wow!" moths is Attacus atlas (Atlas moth), found in the rainsforests of Asia. One of the largest moths in the world, it has a wingspan that can measure 10 to 11 inches.
Last year more than 15 species landed on the blacklighting display. The first moth to arrive was the alfalfa looper moth, Trichopusia ni. The most striking: the grape leaffolder, Desmia funeralis.
Some facts about moths, from the National Moth Week website:
- Moths are among the most diverse and successful organisms on earth.
- Scientists estimate there are 150,000 to more than 500,000 moth species.
- Their colors and patterns are either dazzling or so cryptic that they define camouflage. Shapes and sizes span the gamut from as small as a pinhead to as large as an adult's hand.
- Most moths are nocturnal--others fly like butterflies during the day.
- Finding moths can be as simple as leaving a porch light on and checking it after dark. Serious moth aficionados use special lights and baits to attract them.
The Bohart Museum houses a global collection of nearly eight million specimens. It is also the home of the seventh largest insect collection in North America, and the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity. Noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007) founded the museum. It maintains a live "petting zoo," featuring Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks, tarantulas, and praying mantids. The museum's gift shop, open year around, includes 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.