The Bug Geek

Insects. Doing Science. Other awesome, geeky stuff.

Category Archives: Neuroptera (Antlions, Lacewings and allies)

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)


** 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 ūüôā 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!


It was BRUTALLY hot this Wednesday.¬† The air conditioner kicked in at dawn (unheard of). My wife and I looked at each other and said, “What shall we do this morning?” We decided that we should stack firewood, 12 cords of which had just been delivered and dumped on our lawn.

Yes we did.

Twenty gallons of sweat and six cords later we decided to call it quits for the day, but just before we finished up, I noticed what appeared to be a wasp resting on one of the logs.  I took a closer look, and realized it was NOT a wasp, it was ZOMG A MANTIDFLY.

Did this ever make up for all that @#$%^ing firewood.

Mantidflies have got to be one of the coolest-looking critters around. Super-neat neuropterans (the order containing the more familiar lacewings), they possess muscular, hooked, raptorial forelegs that look and function exactly like those borne by their namesakes, the true mantids. The adults are predators that hang around on flowers, where they can easily snag pollinators as they land.

Relatively uncommon (I’ve encountered less than half a dozen in my life), there are only four species in all of Canada. One species (this one,¬†Climaciella brunnea) mimics a paper wasp (very well, I might add).

I took about eleventy-million photos of this highly cooperative and wonderfully photogenic little critter before setting it free back in my garden. Here are a few more of my faves:

* I’m going to be camping next week, but I’ve got a good lineup of posts ready for you! I’ll reply to any comments on my return ūüôā

BugShot 2011 = Awesome

I’m home from BugShot, bleary-eyed and sleepy from a long night of travel and three prior¬†days of sleep deprivation.¬† No, Alex Wild, John Abbott and Thomas Shahan weren’t working us THAT hard, but I was so darn fired up and excited about everything we were doing that I found it hard to tear myself away from my camera, even at 2 a.m.!¬† The Shaw Nature Reserve in Missouri provided a beautiful setting for this jam-packed and very hands-on workshop, and the new (to me) ecosystem meant encounters with a lot of¬† new critters!

In the field with Alex Wild, as he demonstrates some lighting and diffusion techniques (I'm convinced his awesome field hat is at least party responsible for his photography-super-powers.)

I had the most amazing weekend:¬†I¬†learned everything I hoped to, and more.¬† Even better than the fact that I’m feeling considerably less camera-stupid (I’m not shooting in Auto Mode as a default!¬† I can manipulate my exposure all by myself!¬† I’m using FLASHES!!!), I am coming away from this weekend feeling incredibly inspired.¬† I’ve got some new ideas about composition, lighting, equipment and technique that I can’t wait to try in the field, and in a studio setting. I think I will get off my very disorganized arse (*badly-labelled desktop folders*) and start applying what I’ve learned about digital asset management (*metadata! LightRoom! external hard drives!*) in a serious way.

My first "keeper" of the workshop, taken in my usual style with ambient light: plant hoppers (Enchenopa sp.-on-Ptelea) and egg masses

The three instructors were friendly and incredibly generous with their time, expertise and advice.¬† Each had a unique artistic eye and set of ideas about how to get the most out of your equipment; I’ve taken away some great tips and ideas from all of them. I have to thank Alex especially for giving me the opportunity to experiment with some of his flash units and studio setups – it was so great to actually work with these things rather than simply observe.

Trying out Alex's Canon 430EX off-camera flash with remote trigger (WANT!) in the field. I never could have captured this image of two very cryptic grasshoppers tucked under a shady bark nook in the dark forest understory without it!

I’ve also really enjoyed sharing with and learning from all of the participants – each one brought different perspectives, expertise and levels of experience, and I’ve benefited from so many of them. Special shout-outs have to go to some of my online friends who I FINALLY got to meet in person: Lee, DragonflyWoman, Dave, and Ted, it was a blast! (I’ve also found some new online folk, stay tuned for some blogroll updates!)

“Fishing” for tiger beetle larvae with none other than the blogosphere’s famous Ted MacRae (fangirl moment: Ted is one of my personal blogging/beetle/photography heroes) was definitely one of the highlights of my trip (Ted, next time I’m in the area – you, me, beetle-hunting, ok? :-))

An antlion larva, fished out from its funnel-shaped chamber under a porch (my first antlions!!!) and posed in Alex's white box setup for a studio shot. What a super-fun tool! I have a lot of respect for the work Alex must do to chase down fast-moving ants in there...this little guy seriously didn't stop moving (backward!!!) for more than a nanosecond!!!

So, basically, the entire thing was awesome and if I could do it again next weekend I would in a heartbeat.¬† I think I’m going to start saving up now so I can go again next year (after I’ve finished saving up for some new equipment, mind you)!

I have a lot more pictures to share, but I’m not going to do it now…this workshop gave me enough blog fodder to get me through the busy fall term!

Thanks again, Alex, Thomas and John!!!

Forgotten Photo Friday: Brown Lacewing (Neuroptera: Hemerobiidae)

The snow is melting; there is a pond in our front yard. 

The exposed grass is РI swears Рgreening up a bit. 

Tree buds seem fuller. 

A many-hundred-strong flock of snow and Canada geese flew overhead, heading north, as I drove home from The University today. 

I think…I think…spring might actually be here.¬†

I’m hoping that this will be close to the last Forgotten Photo, at least until next winter rolls around.¬†¬†Today’s installment is PINK and BROWN.¬† Very trendy colour combo (so I’m told).

Brown lacewing (Neuroptera:Hemerobiidae, Hemerobius sp.?)

A brown lacewing (Neuroptera: Hemerobiinae), which I am very tentatively going to call Hemerobius sp.  Like their green relatives (Chrysopidae), brown lacewings are carnivorous as larvae and as adults, feeding on aphids and other smallish critters; browns tend not to be encountered as frequently, however.  They deposit their eggs singly or in clusters on the underside of leaves; they are not stalked like those of the greens (the subject of much controversy in some circles).

Pleasantly distracted

I ADORE autumn.   Just love it right to bits and back.  I am completely distracted by, and enjoying, this beautiful, beautiful time of year.

This has always been my favourite season.¬† Even back when Iwas angrily ranting working for The Man, September always felt like the start of a new year.¬† I’d get a little giddy.¬† I’d watch students pile into their yellow buses with a tinge of nostalgia.¬† Peruse aisles¬†of colourful back-to-school supplies with envy.¬† Try to come up with a reasonable justification for buying a new backpack instead of a briefcase.¬† Yes, I’m one of those horrifically geeky types that just really really likes school, and I missed it terribly when I was away.¬†¬†This is my first back-to-school season since reclaiming my student status, and I. just. LOVE it.¬†¬†¬†The classes, the papers, the deadlines, the thinking, the reading, the teaching¬†and yes, even the OMG COMMITTEE MEETING PROPOSAL SEMINAR COMPS AUGH!!!!¬† I love it all.

Then, as if that weren’t all groovy enough, it is a fracking GORGEOUS autumn this year.¬† I’m sure I say this every October, but I swear, this year it’s just too much.¬† The trees are aflame; the sun glows softly in blue skies; the temperatures are warm enough to keep some wildflowers in bloom and some bugs busy.¬†¬† If I could give autumn a big, passionate kiss, I would.¬† That’s how much I love it this year.

Today was yet another spectacular day.¬† The dogs and I headed out in the woods for an adventure and some photo-taking.¬†¬† The sun was warm, the¬†ground was yellow and crispy and the air smelled like the colour brown.¬†¬† Gorgeous.¬† The small mugsly one got¬†lost (only for 20 minutes or so, and¬†she got brownie points for NOT coming back with a snout full of porcupine quills like last time), the three-legged one wallowed in every puddle she could find¬†(causing me to question the rationale behind the bath I¬†gave her a few days ago) and the yellow one repeatedly ran back to me to tell me about all the¬†terribly naughty things¬†the other two were up to.¬†¬†¬† Me…I saw a surprisingly good¬†number of bugs, so thoroughly enjoyed myself anyways.

Bee still busy harvesting pollen

Crab spider

Caligrapha sp. THE Chrysomelid stunner in my area (in my humble opinion)

Brown lacewing

Sweat bee

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