The Bug Geek

Insects. Doing Science. Other awesome, geeky stuff.

Category Archives: Arachnida (Spiders, Mites and allies)

Photo Friday: Suck it, arachnophobia

This installment of PF is a bit of a deviation, in that you’re getting VIDEOgraphy instead of PHOTOgraphy. It’s nothing spectacular, but at least I’ve followed Alex Wild’s macrovideo tip #1: use a tripod. I hope that’s ok.

I made this very silly video early this week. I’m actually planning on using this and other footage to make a much more sensible “Arachnid Anatomy” video to add to my collection of zoology lab vids.

You may recall a certain post from the fall of 2010, in which I described a harrowing and hair-raising encounter with The Biggest Spider in Ever (i.e., Araneus gemmoides, the cat-faced spider).  I survived that dramatic event, and I hadn’t come across that particular species of orb-weaver again until this year. We’ve actually had two simply MASSIVE females living on our property all summer – one under the second-story eaves and one under the roof of our woodshed.

I have been working very conscientiously at overcoming my very silly fear of spiders. (It’s a ridiculous affliction for any self-respecting entomologist, although I have been assured that I am not alone *ahem, Ted, Shelly, Alex*).

Anyways, you can see that I’ve come a very long way in two years! If there are any other arachnophobes out there, please rest assured that there’s hope for you yet! 😀

On a completely unrelated note, it’s been a bit quiet here because I’ve been getting re-accustomed to having a teaching/coursework workload, and because I’ve been prepping for a conference taking place this weekend, and because other reasons. Like new projects and social media addictions: I HAVE A TUMBLR. WITH LOTS OF PHOTOS AND STUFF. IT’S AWESOME. CHECK IT OUT.  (Tumblr seems to be the perfect blogging format for a person such as myself, i.e., one with the attention span of a gnat. But fear not, I’ll still be here in full force once I stop panicking about conferences).

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Photo Friday: Glow-in-the-dark Scorpion

Living in Canada affords nature-loving folks certain securities. With remarkably few exceptions, Canadian nature is incredibly non-venomous (yes, spiders etc. have venom, but not enough to harm or do serious damage). In my province, we have no dangerous spiders, no deadly fish, only one venomous snake (the massasauga rattlesnake), and no tarantulas or scorpions that might accidentally be trod on during a walk in the woods.

To some, this might be dull, but for a total klutz who has a compulsion to poke every bit of nature she sees this is a Good Thing.

So, when I was down in Florida this summer, I found myself a little unnerved by all the nature that had the potential to be seriously bitey or painful or toxic. Venomous snakes? Lots. Spiders? Check. Velvet ants? Super painful – check. Scorpions? You betcha.

Another student from my University, Guillaume, was at BugShot. Guillaume does his field work in Panama, where there are all sorts of bitey/venomous critters, and therefore he  is quite accustomed to dealing with them. He had brought with him this fantastic bit of equipment: a flashlight rigged up with a UV lightbulb.

On the first night, we prowled down the road looking for critters – Guillaume kept his light trained on the grass on the roadside.  After a short while, he had spotted what the light was intended to find:

Striped Bark Scorpion, Centuroides hentzi

Striped Bark Scorpion, Centuroides hentzi

Scorpion!

This was one of several that he found that evening. Though not thought to be deadly, the sting from this common species is reportedly very painful – the discomfort can last for days! They were tiny little things; this one was the largest and was perhaps the size of a loonie. (This, of course, made me completely paranoid every time I took too a knee to snap photos – scorpions could be anywhere! – but I managed.)

Now, you might be wondering why the UV light was so helpful in locating these lovely little arachnids. Why not just a regular flashlight? This next photo should clear things up for you:

Striped Bark Scorpion, Centuroides hentzi

Same scorpion, with Guillaume’s UV flashlight!

We don’t actually really know why many scorpions glow under ultraviolet wavelengths of light, but it’s been suggested that perhaps it helps them see better as they hunt by moonlight (Ed Yong at Not Exactly Rocket Science has written about this phenomenon – I suggest that you check out his great post here). Whatever the reason, it is FREAKING COOL.

And now, just because, I’ll conclude this post with a gif.

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Photo details:
Tripod, f/8, ISO-80, 1/4sec., 17mm, on-camera flash (1), UV and ambient light only (2)

Photo Friday: My fave photos from BugShot 2012!

I took about 800 photos over the course of the three-day BugShot workshop. I didn’t have as much success with every subject as I would have liked, but I did come away with some definite keepers.

One of my goals was to play with colour a bit; I’ve really gotten into using a white background because I love how it makes the insect the absolute focal point for the image, but I don’t want to get into a “white box” rut! I found inspiration in the strikingly colourful imagery produced by instructor Thomas Shahan, and decided to roll with it.

Oddly enough, my favorite photos were all of…wait for it… SPIDERS! This may be the start of a serious life change for little ol’ arachnophobic me!

Anyways, without further ado, may I present my top three pics!

I hope you all have enjoyed and benefited from my BugShot posts, especially those of you who made the trip possible for me!

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From top to bottom:

1. Regal Jumper, Phidippus regius

f/8, 1/125th sec., ISO-100, 67mm focal length, flash manually set at about – 2 2/3

2.  Green Lynx Spider, Peucetia viridans

f/8, 1/125th sec., ISO-100, 61mm focal length, flash manually set

3.  Workman’s Jumper, Phidippus workmani

f/8, 1/200th sec, ISO-80, 43mm focal length, flash manually set

 

Note: I nearly always shoot at f/8 (my camera’s lowest f-stop), at ISO 80 or 100 (almost never more than 200 or I get terrible noise). I’ve been told that some of the results I get with these setting are pretty wonky (DOF, for example), but it’s probably because I have a PAS, not a DSLR.

BugShot 2012!

I am one excited geek right now: in just a few days, I’ll be hopping on a plane and heading down to the Archbald Biological Station in Venus, Florida where I will join about 35 other people who are taking part in the premiere insect macrophotography workshop of the year: BugShot 2012!**

Whitebanded crab spider, Misumenoides formosipes, snacking on a Sphecid wasp

Three days of workshops, hands-on gear demonstrations, and opportunities to practice in the field and in studio-style settings await me! I am super-pumped and plan to suck up every last drop of knowledge I can manage, not only from the incomparable instructors (Alex Wild, Thomas Shahan and John Abbott) but also from the other participants.

Fishfly, Chauliodes sp.I wanted to take this opportunity to thank all the people who either purchased something from my store or sent in a donation so that I could attend. I never would have managed this trip without your incredible generosity: all together, you helped me raise nearly $800 – enough to cover the registration fee and a chunk of the travel expenses!

Female horse fly 1

I am humbled, touched, and honoured that so many of you reached out to me.  I will, as promised, be blogging and tweeting the event, to share some tips and tricks with all of you. Hopefully I’ll also get a stash of some great photos of Floridian fauna to get me through the winter!

Ironweed Curculio (Rhodobaenus tredecimpunctatus)

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** The photos used in this post are some that I took at the inaugural BugShot workshop in 2011 and haven’t been featured on the blog yet 🙂 The two taken in a “white box” represent my first attempts at this technique, and at using a flash – two great things I learned last year. With a year of practice under my belt, I know I’m going to take away so much more this time around!

Photo Friday: Arctic pseudoscorpion

As I mentioned on Wednesday, one of my fellow travelers (my advisor) was collecting pseudoscorpions while in the Yukon. Specifically, he was targeting Wyochernes asiaticus, a Beringian species. He wrote a wonderful and poignant post about his love for these critters, which I invite you to read here: Why I study obscure and strange little animals.

I actually completely fell in love with pseudoscorpion-hunting. It involved turning over rocks – perhaps one of the most fundamental entomological collection methods, and one that nearly all of us did for fun as kids. It was with great, child-like glee that I would spot these tiny (2-3mm) creatures, sometimes with their bright yellow egg masses brood pouches (thanks Dave!) adhered to their abdomens, upon turning over just the right rock at just the right place on the bank of a rocky creek.

These critters are poorly documented – I don’t know if any photographs showing live specimens of this species existed before this trip.  Well, they do now! The very small size of these animals made the photo shoot challenging, but well worth the effort.

A female Arctic pseudoscorpion, Wyochernes asiaticus, with her brood pouch

A female Arctic pseudoscorpion, Wyochernes asiaticus (brood pouch removed)

Female Wyochernes asiaticus with her brood pouch

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