Italian Insect Photography - Exasperation + Satisfaction

10th October 2012

We had a lovely two-week holiday in Sorrento at the end of September. It was a site-seeing rather than photographic trip, but I thought I might have some opportunities for insect photography, so took my macro lenses and TwinLite flash. I was hoping to record some of the local solitary bees and wasps. The owners of the family-run Girasole Hotel, kindly offered me full access to their garden which was very large and a fascinating mix of citrus trees, culinary herbs and vegetable plots. My first trip to the garden was promising and I photographed three insects I hadn't seen in the UK (above); two small bees and a tiny ruby-tailed wasp. It all looked very promising.

There had been a thunderstorm during our evening drive from Naples airport to the hotel, and when these photographs were taken the following day, the weather was fresh and not particularly hot. As the holiday progressed though, the temperatures soon rose considerably and continued at around 25-35 degrees. Lovely for a holiday and for the local insects, which then became extremely active and "nervous". I hadn't realised just how much the cooler temperatures in the UK, slow our insects down! After this promising start, much of my subsequent insect photography attempts proved somewhat frustrating. Nothing seemed to stop for more than just a couple of seconds and it was tantalising seeing "exotic" and very attractive insects keeping out of photographic range.

One insect that did cooperate by landing in an accessible spot and then keeping still for a few seconds (image left), was this striking Band-eyed Drone Fly (Eristalinus taeniops). Apparently, it's the only Eristalinus species that has this very characteristic eye banding. I was pleased to get the shot as this was the only occasion during the holiday that I saw one.

Towards the end of the holiday we had a boat trip to the volcanic island of Ischia. While my wifa and step-daughter enjoyed the thermal spas there, I went to the Gardens of La Mortella. They were owned by the composer William Walton and his wife Susana who was involved in the designs; together with the landscape gardener Russell Page. The gardens are strikingly beautiful, occupying an old disused quarry. Again, insect photography options were limited and many plants there had finished flowering. Interestingly though, after leaving the gardens and waiting for the coach, I saw a large ivy-covered wall. On investigating, I was thrilled to see some male Ivy Bees (Colletes hederae) feeding there.

Anyone interested in bees will know about Colletes hederae (image left). It's a recent newcomer the the UK, the first sighting being in Dorset in 2001. BWARS (the Bee, Wasp and Ant Recording Society) has been mapping its spread. A specimen was photographed in Cheltenham last year, this being its most northern occurrence in the UK (and possibly the world!) so far. They are active from September to early November, feeding primarily on Ivy flowers. Like many solitary bees, they nest in the ground; the females digging tunnels that contain a number of individual brood chambers. If you live in the south, keep an eye out for this bee on stands of ivy. The broad orangey banding on the abdomen is characteristic and the size (for females) is similar to that of the honeybee (Apis mellifera). The males I photographed on Ischia were a bit smaller.

One thing we couldn't fail to notice in Sorrento was ants; particularly the one illustrated. In the hotel garden they used hoses as convenient "highways", with countless thousands scurrying in both directions along the entire length. I found a narrow stream of them on a tiled surface and this is where the photograph was taken. I put a drop of lemonade down for them and they stopped to drink. They were much too active for photography otherwise!

I've added a few more images below, of some other insects that I managed to photograph. The large (Amegilla spp?) bees (bottom left) were quite plentiful but extremely active and fast-moving. They settled momentarily and I didn't get any really well-focused shots. You can see the typical shape and abdominal banding though, and the greenish colouration to the eye. There were reasonable numbers too, of the blue/black Xylocopa bees (image bottom, centre). These are one of Europe's largest bees and do occur (in small numbers) in the UK. The final image (bottom right) is (I think) a large blue/black wasp of the genus Scolia, showing two bright yellow abdominal bands. There were lots feeding on rosemary flowers in the gardens on Ischia.

So, a mixture of exasperation with occasional satisfaction, as I try to capture a slice of Neapolitan insect fauna. If you recognise any of the species, please post a comment.

[Click on any image for a larger version]

Update: Thanks to Matt Smith and David Notton on iSpot fo confirming:

- Small black bee with white clypeus (top left) as Hylaeus spp;
- Small bee with green/blue colouration (top right) as Ceratina spp;
- Large wasp with yellow abdominal banding as Scolia spp.


Photo comment By Steven Falk: Great stuff Ed, love that Eristalinus taeniops shot, Steven

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