Category Archives: insects

Try Your Hand at Introductory Entomology

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Looking for a challenge? Here are a few questions from the midterm examination of my current Entomology course.

29. Which of the following animals’ life cycles is most likely to include a puparium?
a. house fly
b. silkworm moth
c. monarch butterfly
d. rove beetle

30. Sclerotization is the process by which:
a. spiracles close to prevent water loss
b. coremata release pheromones as a sexual attractant
c. the exocuticle hardens following ecdysis
d. the wax layer is formed as a barrier to water loss Continue reading →

More On Pest Control Advertising: Orkin Takes The High Road

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Meanwhile, Orkin- that other pest control giant- adopts a softer, more subtle marketing strategy.

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Screen capture from Orkin’s website, displayed without permission as Fair Use commentary on Orkin’s marketing strategy.

Many people are reluctant to call pest control, perhaps because decades of environmentalism has softened our cultural attitude towards nature, or perhaps just out of guilt towards the wee household insects. In contrast to Terminix’s brute force fear campaign, Orkin projects a feel-good “Bugs are cool, but sometimes we do have to kill them”. I suspect this appeals to a great number of homeowners on the fence about whether they should use a commercial exterminator.

Of course, a company’s marketing front has little to do with the quality of the job they actually perform, so don’t take this as a recommendation.

(Disclosure: Orkin has purchased image licenses from me in the past, but has also used several of my photographs without permission. My relationship with the company is complicated…).

Regrets

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The 2013-14 eastern monarch butterfly numbers are inconceivably awful. Horribly, terribly, awful. The population declined significantly beyond even last year’s dismal showing. Essentially, the eastern migratory population is collapsing.

This sucks.

The monarch butterfly is an iconic insect. It is the standard butterfly, frequently modeled for logos, costumes, and symbols. Children across the continent raise the caterpillars, and for many young people, monarchs are their first meaningful contact with arthropods. These insects are as culturally significant as they are ecologically. If something isn’t done soon and done big, the monarch migration will go the way of other animals with which it used to share the prairies- the herds of bison, the passenger pigeon.

I don’t have many photographs of monarchs. A few bland shots of larvae, a handful of adults on flowers. I never felt any urgency. They were as common as dirt. I just sort of assumed monarchs would always be around to photograph later.

Silly me.

Answer to the Monday Mystery

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You did well on yesterday’s challenge, but not all the mystery antennae were placed. In particular, no one guessed that #2 was Coleoptera (specifically, a Stolas sp. leaf beetle), and most of you had trouble with #5 (a mantisfly, Climaciella).

Anyway. Ted MacRae’s speedy response netted him 6 points, while Morgan Jackson and Brendon Boudinot each picked up 1.  Isa Solange on facebook earned half a point for splitting on Coleoptera/Neuroptera for #5. Thanks for playing!

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Behind the Photo: Mating Moths

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Hylaphora cecropia – once among North America’s most common large insects, is now rare.

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Some photography projects are planned months in advance. Others just sort of happen at unexpected moments. Like, when taking out the trash.

One summer evening a couple years ago, while dumping rubbish in the can, I spotted these spectacular moths up against the house behind the recycling bin. Cecropia moths, mating on the young female’s cocoon! These giant silk moths used to be common insects in the eastern United States, but owing to a combination of biocontrol gone wrong and habitat loss I don’t see more than one or two individuals a season. It was a rare find in an unphotogenic setting, wedged up next to the cinderblock foundation.

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I wanted a photograph of course, but in situ I had no room to maneuver nor any hope of a non-industrial backdrop. So I opted to move them. The moths stayed put when I pulled up their redbud sapling for transplant to a studio whitebox. Whiteboxes allow precise control over lighting and backdrop, and with subjects as cooperative as these I had ample time to experiment. In the final photograph the moth’s behavior is natural, as is the foreground plant, but the setting and light are staged. The backdrop is a single colored posterboard, curved slightly to add a light gradient.

Once finished with the project, I moved the amorous insects to a nearby tree trunk. After continuing to mate for a few more minutes, they flew off.

If you’d like a print, this photograph is one of 30 I’ve included in the Holiday Print Sale, running until January 1.


Photo details:
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 macro lens on a Canon EOS 7D
ISO 100, f/16, 1/100 sec
Lit by an off-camera flash in a white box

The Holiday Print Sale Returns!

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Dasymutilla occidentalis velvet ant; 12×18″ print on a 3/4″ standout mount. Sale price $15.99/$42.99 unmounted/mounted. (Regular $60/$120)

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I am pleased to announce the return of the holiday print sale! This year’s selection features 30 favorite photographs reduced up to 70% off regular pricing. Have a look:

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Holiday Print Sale- Alex Wild’s Insect Photographs

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Pieces are printed by the professional Bay Photo labs using high-quality papers and archival photo inks. These are not simple posters! Bay Photo will also custom mount, mat & frame images if you choose “add frames & more” when you check out.

Why the sale? I know a portion of my photos go to biology students looking for something buggy to hang on their walls, and to parents of budding young entomologists, and these folks are not in the demographic that typically plays in the fine art market. So I’ve assembled an affordable gallery of some of my best known and biologically informative natural history images priced near cost. An 8×12″ print, for example, is just $9.99. I hope you enjoy them!

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Toxomerus hover fly feeding from spiderwort, 16×24″ print on a 3/4″ standout mount. ($45.99/$88.99 unmounted/mounted; Regular price $150/$250).

 

Sale prices extend to January 1st. If you’d like your prints to arrive by Christmas under a 3-5 day shipping option, order by December 12th.

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Drosophila melanogaster white-eyed mutant, 12×18″ print on a 3/4″ standout mount. ($15.99/$42.99 unmounted/mounted; Regular price $60/$120).

Has the bed bug resurgence stabilized?

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If Google searches for “bed bugs” are any indication, the bed bug epidemic may have peaked:

bed bugs search

Not being an expert on these insects, I can’t offer a solid explanation. Perhaps pest control methods- especially, the heat treatments- have finally been worked out to the point of catching up with the bed bugs, at least enough to maintain an equilibrium. Or perhaps people are now aware of the problem enough to implement appropriate countermeasures before they spread further.

Or maybe, in 2011, the bugs infiltrated Google’s servers and are short-circuiting searches while they quietly take over.