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.
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.
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, Pasir Ris;
Left: Dairy Farm Nature Park;
Right: Rifle Range Road;
Left: Bukit Timah;
Right: Upper Peirce;
Right: Tampines Eco-Green;
Here are some more examples of Nicky's excellent work.
Rhinoceros beetles, Tampines Eco-Green;
Tortoise beetle, Pasir Ris;
Lynx spider, Chestnut Avenue;
Boxer mantis, Rifle Range Road;
Katydid, Durian Loop;
The amount of detail on this ant's exoskeleton is simply amazing.
Don't you think this orange, furry huntsman spider looks a lot like an orangutan?
Tarantula, Nangka Trail;
This is a tarantula's foot.
Did you know that scorpions actually glow under ultraviolet light?
If you visit some of our forests at night, you might stumble upon a small patch of tiny bioluminescent mushrooms.
Part of what makes the arthropods so interesting is that some of them look so strange.
Harvestman, Bukit Timah;
Curved spiny spider, Bukit Timah;
Trilobite beetle, Dairy Farm Nature Park;
Unidentified beetle, Pulau Ubin;
Caterpillar of blue nawab butterfly, Rifle Range Road;
Stalk-eyed fly, Dairy Farm Nature Park;
Mole cricket, Bukit Timah;
Many arthropods are brilliantly coloured.
Eight-spotted crab spider, Pasir Ris;
Left: Katydid, Durian Loop;
Right: Cuckoo bee, Zhenghua Park;
Left: Shield bug, Pulau Tekong;
Right: Ground beetle, Venus Drive;
Left: Grenadier dragonfly, Admiralty Park;
Right: Jumping spider, Durian Loop;
You have the camouflage experts, masters of deception.
Grasshopper, Bukit Timah;
Left: Grasshopper, Upper Peirce;
Right: Mantis, Upper Peirce;
Left: Stick insect, Bukit Timah;
Right: Leaf insect, Pasir Ris;
Left: Assassin bug, Dairy Farm Nature Park;
Right: Caterpillar, Pasir Ris;
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!
Bird dropping orb weaver, Mandai;
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.
Left: Comb-footed spider, Zhenghua Park;
Right: Lynx spider, Admiralty Park;
Left: Crab spider, Admiralty Park;
Right: Scorpion, Venus Drive;
Left: Vinegaroon, Bukit Timah;
Right: Tailless whip scorpion, Nangka Trail;
Centipede, Admiralty Park;
Left: Mantis, Lower Peirce;
Right: Robberfly, Upper Peirce;
Left: Spider wasp, Bukit Batok;
Right: Weaver ants, Pasir Ris;
Tiger beetle, Jalan Bahar;
Left: Caterpillar with cocoons of parasitoid wasp, Zhenghua Park;
Right: Robberfly infected by parasitic cordyceps fungus;
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, Pasir Ris;
Left: A species of tiger beetle, Jalan Bahar;
Right: A species of katydid which mimics this particular species of tiger beetle, Rifle Range Road;
Left: A species of ant, Venus Drive;
Right: A species of jumping spider that mimics this species of ant, Ang Mo Kio;
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.
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, Kranji;
Left: Huntsman spiders, Rifle Range Road;
Right: Striated tylorida spiders, Zhenghua Park;
Left: Stick insects, Chestnut Avenue;
Right: Tiger moths, Zhenghua Park;
Left: Weevils, Pulau Ubin;
Right: Fungus beetles, Dairy Farm Nature Park;
Left: Crane flies, Mandai;
Right: Flesh flies, Admiralty Park;
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 carrying young, Admiralty Park;
Left: Spitting spider carrying egg sac, Pasir Ris;
Right: Nursery web spider carrying egg sac, Upper Peirce;
Left: Wolf spider carrying spiderlings, Upper Peirce;
Right: Wide-jawed viciria guarding spiderlings, Admiralty Park;
Ladybird beetle laying eggs, Pasir Ris;
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 moulting process, Durian Loop;
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!)