Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The marvels of nature macro photography: a workshop by Nicky Bay

WARNING: Do not continue reading this post if you are entomophobic or arachnophobic. If you do not know what these terms mean, carry on. You'll find out if you actually are.

Macro Photography Workshop Poster

My friend Nicky Bay is holding a couple of workshops on macro photography, and I thought it would be great to help publicise these workshops. More details are provided in his blog post.

When it comes to nature photography, birds hog all the limelight. Even when photographers head out in pursuit of invertebrates, it's the bright and flashy dragonflies and butterflies that attract the most attention. Yet there is an entire world that we usually overlook. We may care about the plight of the giant panda and Siberian tiger and bald eagle, but we often forget all about the realm that exists beneath our feet.

Nicky is one of several talented local photographers who focus (literally) on the little things - insects, spiders, and other invertebrates, and was recently featured in an article in The Straits Times about the rise of nature photography in Singapore.

"Shooting even tinier animals such as insects and spiders is backbreaking work for the macro shooters, who may have to contort their bodies to get close to their subjects. But it was all worth it for game studio manager Nicky Bay, 35, whose photo of a ladybird-mimicking spider last year stirred up such interest that it was published on several websites overseas, including that of the Telegraph newspaper in England."

Indeed, the Telegraph featured several of Nicky's amazing macro shots of insects and spiders, including this photo of a spider which appears to mimic ladybird beetles. And he's gotten a boost in online cred after his images were used to illustrate a Cracked article.

Ladybird Mimic Spider (Paraplectana sp.) - DSC_8843
Green Corridor, near Sunset Way;

Invertebrates form the vast majority of animal diversity on Earth.

Yet because we don't see the majority of them as cute and cuddly, we either ignore them completely, or fear and revile them.

(Marine bias, but you get my drift)

The arthropods - insects, crustaceans, arachnids, horseshoe crabs, myriapods (centipedes and millipedes), and a bunch of other animals with exoskeletons and jointed legs, dominate most ecosystems, both in the oceans and on land, in terms of diversity of species, numbers, and ecological importance.

Ladybird (Coccinellidae) - DSC_2990 Wolf Spider (Lycosidae) - DSC_9270 Crab (Brachyura) - DSC_5789
Centipede (Chilopoda) - DSC_6954 Millipede (Diplopoda) - DSC_4748

Arthropods and other terrestrial invertebrates serve numerous roles in the greater interconnected web of life - as predator, prey, scavenger, parasite, pollinator, and more. They break down nutrients locked up in dung, carrion and decaying plant matter, allowing them to be recycled. Their digging and burrowing turns vast quantities of soil. The multitude of tiny mandibles removes vegetation on a scale that rivals the prodigious appetites of the largest vertebrate herbivores. They create micro-habitats for other species. Some pollinate the plants we rely on as crops, while others hunt or parasitise those that feed on and destroy our crops. And some produce substances that we then extract and harvest, like honey, silk, and cochineal.

Indeed, as biologist E.O Wilson once wrote, the invertebrates are truly the little things that run the world, and the rise of macro photography has played an important role in highlighting the amazing diversity of bizarre animals.

I strongly believe that many species of jumping spiders, with their large eyes and furry bodies, qualify as 'cute'.

Heavy Jumper (Hyllus diardi) - DSC_3707
Heavy jumper, Pasir Ris;

Jumping Spider (Salticidae) - DSC_5453 Jumping Spider (Salticidae) - DSC_7297
Left: Dairy Farm Nature Park;
Right: Rifle Range Road;

Jumping Spider (Salticidae) - DSC_2781 Jumping Spider (Salticidae) - DSC_1717
Left: Bukit Timah;
Right: Upper Peirce;

Jumping Spider (Thiania sp.) - DSC_7562 Jumping Spider (Salticidae) - DSC_3683
Left: Mandai;
Right: Tampines Eco-Green;

Here are some more examples of Nicky's excellent work.

Rhinoceros Beetles (Dynastinae) - DSC_7768
Rhinoceros beetles, Tampines Eco-Green;

Tortoise Beetle (Cassidinae) - DSC_6059
Tortoise beetle, Pasir Ris;

Lynx Spider (Oxyopidae) - DSC_7365
Lynx spider, Chestnut Avenue;

Boxer Mantis (Hestiasula sp.) - DSC_6456
Boxer mantis, Rifle Range Road;

Katydid? - IMG_5769
Katydid, Durian Loop;

Ant (Formicidae) - DSC_6884
The amount of detail on this ant's exoskeleton is simply amazing.
Upper Peirce;

Huntsman Spider (Sparassidae) - DSC_5843
Don't you think this orange, furry huntsman spider looks a lot like an orangutan?
Nangka Trail;

Tarantula (Phlogiellus sp.) - ESC_0002
Tarantula, Nangka Trail;

Tarantula (Theraphosidae) - DSC_8252
This is a tarantula's foot.
Upper Peirce;

Scorpion (Lychas scutilus?) - DSC_0638
Did you know that scorpions actually glow under ultraviolet light?
Durian Loop;

Bioluminescent Fungi (Mycena illuminans?) - DSC_8533
If you visit some of our forests at night, you might stumble upon a small patch of tiny bioluminescent mushrooms.
Venus Drive;

Part of what makes the arthropods so interesting is that some of them look so strange.

Harvestman (Opiliones) - DSC_3188
Harvestman, Bukit Timah;

Spiny Back Orb Weaver (Macracantha arcuata) - DSC_3295
Curved spiny spider, Bukit Timah;

Trilobite Beetle (Duliticola sp.) - DSC_7463
Trilobite beetle, Dairy Farm Nature Park;

Unidentified beetle, Pulau Ubin;

Plain Nawab butterfly (Polyura hebe plautus) - DSC_5263
Caterpillar of blue nawab butterfly, Rifle Range Road;

Stalk-Eyed Fly (Diopsidae) - DSC_8242
Stalk-eyed fly, Dairy Farm Nature Park;

Mole Cricket (Gryllotalpidae) - DSC_1264
Mole cricket, Bukit Timah;

Many arthropods are brilliantly coloured.

Eight-Spotted Crab Spider (Platythomisus octomaculatus) - DSC_5863
Eight-spotted crab spider, Pasir Ris;

Katydid - DSC_2480Cuckoo Bee (Thyreus sp.) - IMG_6885
Left: Katydid, Durian Loop;
Right: Cuckoo bee, Zhenghua Park;

Shield-Backed Bug (Scutelleridae) - IMG_7302 Ground Beetle (Carabidae) - DSC_6422
Left: Shield bug, Pulau Tekong;
Right: Ground beetle, Venus Drive;

Dragonfly (Anisoptera) - DSC_9733 Jumping Spider (Siler sp.) - DSC_9297
Left: Grenadier dragonfly, Admiralty Park;
Right: Jumping spider, Durian Loop;

You have the camouflage experts, masters of deception.

Leaf-Mimic Grasshopper (Caelifera) - DSC_2851
Grasshopper, Bukit Timah;

Leaf Grasshopper (Systella rafflesii) - DSC_2485 Praying Mantis (Mantodea) - DSC_6819
Left: Grasshopper, Upper Peirce;
Right: Mantis, Upper Peirce;

Stick Insect (Phasmatodea) - DSC_7965 Gray's Leaf Insect (Phyllium bioculatum) - DSC_5003
Left: Stick insect, Bukit Timah;
Right: Leaf insect, Pasir Ris;

Masked Hunter (Reduvius personatus?) - DSC_1580 Caterpillar - DSC_3411
Left: Assassin bug, Dairy Farm Nature Park;
Right: Caterpillar, Pasir Ris;

Two-Tailed Spider (Hersiliidae) - DSC_3393 Tree Stump Orb Weaver (Poltys sp.) - DSC_0499
Left: Two-tailed spider, Pasir Ris;
Right: Tree-stump orb weaver, Pulau Ubin;

There are even spiders that mimic bird droppings to avoid detection by predators!

Frog Mimic or Bird Dung Spider? (Cyrtarachne sp.) - DSC_9203
Bird dropping orb weaver, Mandai;

Bird Dung Crab Spider (Phrynarachne sp.) - DSC_7615
Bird dropping crab spider, Chestnut Avenue;

The arthropod world has its charismatic predators too: a whole host of carnivores strike at prey with a wide array of weapons.

Huntsman Spider (Sparassidae) - DSC_9176
Huntsman spider;
(Upper Peirce)

Comb-Footed Spider (Thwaitesia sp.?) - IMG_6837 Lynx Spider (Oxyopidae) - DSC_0170
Left: Comb-footed spider, Zhenghua Park;
Right: Lynx spider, Admiralty Park;

Crab Spider (Thomisidae) - DSC_8396 Scorpion (Scorpiones) - DSC_5768
Left: Crab spider, Admiralty Park;
Right: Scorpion, Venus Drive;

Whip Scorpion (Thelyphonida) - DSC_4189 Tailless Whip Scorpion (Amblypygi) - DSC_5822
Left: Vinegaroon, Bukit Timah;
Right: Tailless whip scorpion, Nangka Trail;

Nocturnal Claws, Centipede (Chilopoda) - DSC_8228
Centipede, Admiralty Park;

Pachymantis bicingulata - DSC_0674 Robberfly (Asilidae) - DSC_0945
Left: Mantis, Lower Peirce;
Right: Robberfly, Upper Peirce;

Spider-Wasp (Pompilidae) - DSC_3086 Red Weaver Ants attacking a Beetle - DSC_3392
Left: Spider wasp, Bukit Batok;
Right: Weaver ants, Pasir Ris;

Tiger Beetle (Cicindelinae) - DSC_4819
Tiger beetle, Jalan Bahar;

Caterpillar infected by parasitoid wasp eggs? - DSC_8814 Robberfly (Asilidae) - DSC_1484
Left: Caterpillar with cocoons of parasitoid wasp, Zhenghua Park;
Right: Robberfly infected by parasitic cordyceps fungus;

Ant-snatching Assassin Bug (Acanthaspis sp.) - DSC_6787
In an especially horrifying twist, this assassin bug feeds on ants, then hides from its predators by covering itself in the bodies of its victims.
Dairy Farm Nature Park;

To avoid attacks from predators, some of these minibeasts mimic fellow arthropods, relying on the often fearsome reputation or unpalatability of the model to escape unwanted attention.

Ant-Mimic Jumping Spider (Myrmarachne sp.) - DSC_3822
Ant-mimic jumping spider, Pasir Ris;

Flightless Tiger Beetle (Tricondyla sp.) - DSC_3086 Tiger Beetle-Mimic Katydid (Condylodera tricondyloides) - DSC_1738
Left: A species of tiger beetle, Jalan Bahar;
Right: A species of katydid which mimics this particular species of tiger beetle, Rifle Range Road;

Ant (Formicidae) - DSC_7578 Ant-Mimic Jumping Spider (Salticidae) - DSC_3991
Left: A species of ant, Venus Drive;
Right: A species of jumping spider that mimics this species of ant, Ang Mo Kio;

Ant-mimic Crab Spider (Amyciaea lineatipes) - DSC_2562
The ant-mimic crab spider's disguise is especially insidious; its passing resemblance to weaver ants enables it to get closer to its aggressive prey without raising the alarm.

Ant-mimic Crab Spider (Amyciaea lineatipes) - DSC_2552
Tampines Eco-Green;

The lives of the little creatures may be nasty, brutish, and short, but there is a more tender side, especially during courtship and copulation.

Crab Spiders (Thomisidae) - DSC_7430
Crab spiders, Kranji;

Huntsman Spiders (Sparassidae) - DSC_3653 Striated Tylorida Spiders Mating (Tylorida striata) - DSC_2015
Left: Huntsman spiders, Rifle Range Road;
Right: Striated tylorida spiders, Zhenghua Park;

Stick Insects (Phasmatodea) - DSC_7343 Tiger Moths (Arctiidae) - DSC_1381
Left: Stick insects, Chestnut Avenue;
Right: Tiger moths, Zhenghua Park;

Weevils (Curculionidae) - DSC_0874 Fungus Beetles - DSC_9467
Left: Weevils, Pulau Ubin;
Right: Fungus beetles, Dairy Farm Nature Park;

Crane Flies (Tipulidae) - DSC_4628 Flesh Flies (Sarcophagidae) - DSC_8529
Left: Crane flies, Mandai;
Right: Flesh flies, Admiralty Park;

Millipede (Paradoxosomatidae) - DSC_1374
Millipedes, Venus Drive;

And when the time comes to raise the next generation, many of these tiny critters prove to be caring and devoted parents.

Scorpion (Lychas scutilus) - DSC_8924
Scorpion carrying young, Admiralty Park;

Spitting Spider (Scytodidae) - DSC_5922 Nursery Web Spider (Sphedanus sp.) - DSC_1474
Left: Spitting spider carrying egg sac, Pasir Ris;
Right: Nursery web spider carrying egg sac, Upper Peirce;

Wolf Spider (Lycosidae) - DSC_1861 Wide-Jawed Viciria (Viciria praemandibularis) - DSC_8424
Left: Wolf spider carrying spiderlings, Upper Peirce;
Right: Wide-jawed viciria guarding spiderlings, Admiralty Park;

Ladybird laying eggs (Coccinellidae) - DSC_5804
Ladybird beetle laying eggs, Pasir Ris;

Shield-Based Bug (Scutelleridae) - DSC_7775 Forest Cockroach (Blattodea) - DSC_0858
Left: Shield bug guarding young, Admiralty Park;
Right: Forest cockroach guarding nymphs, Rifle Range Road;

There's something beautiful about the process of moulting, where the creature emerges from its old skin, soft and vulnerable, and progresses to its next phase in life.

Two-Tailed Spider (Hersilia sp.) moulting - DSC_8289_sequence
Two-tailed spider moulting process, Durian Loop;

Black and Golden Cicada (Huechys fusca) - DSC_9106
Adult black and golden cicada emerging, Zhenghua Park;

And because arthropods are so small, many of them don't require huge swathes of pristine habitat in order to survive. It's true that a number of species are heavily dependent on healthy, intact forests, but you'd be surprised to see what can be found thriving in small patches of scrub, roadside verges, and urban parks and gardens.

Macro photography shows us that biodiversity is not just about birds, cute and furry mammals, or colourful butterflies. Far from being scary and alien, there's beauty and wonder to be found in even the smallest of creatures going about their lives, unnoticed by most of us. Through the efforts of macro photographers like Nicky, may we gain a greater appreciation for these spineless wonders.

I thought this image was especially appropriate.

(Image from I Fucking Love Science, original photo by Federico Piergiacomi)

"We have a responsibility toward the other life-forms of our planet whose continued existence is threatened by the thoughtless behavior of our own human species.... Environmental responsibility – for if there is no God, then, obviously, it is up to us to put things right."
- Jane Goodall

(All photos by Nicky Bay unless otherwise stated)

UPDATE: Due to the haze, the 22nd June workshop has been postponed to 6th July.

(via Science Centre Singapore)

(Cross-posted to SBA Plus. Do support me in the Singapore Blog Awards!)