Memorable Moments from 2012

21st December 2012
Looking back last night, through my collection of insect (and other invertebrate) photographs taken during 2012, I decided to have a try at selecting five particularly memorable ones. These are ones that I was particularly pleased with; for a variety of reasons.

2012 was a memorable year for me, being (amongst other things) my first whole year as semi-retired, with just my part-time photography business to run. I was determined to do more insect photography and to increase my knowledge of the insect world. I set up this website in February to document my "journey".

I first became interested in solitary bees in 2011 and was fortunate enough to discover a colony of a scare variety of mining bee; Andrena buchephala, in my local churchyard. It's only been photographed at a couple of other locations in Warwickshire. I wanted more shots this year, particularly of the males, and my first Top 5 image is one of these.

We have well over 200 species of solitary bee in the UK. Females are capable of stinging but rarely do (and if they do, it's not that painful). Males can't sting. This means that it's quite safe to encourage solitary bees onto your hand for photography. This is one of the few images of male Andrena bucephala that have been taken in the UK! Of all the thousands of bee photographs on Flickr for example, there are only three of Andrena bucephala males. The other two are mine as well. Note its characteristically large head (that gives it its name), dark body and golden colouration of hairs and wings.

Solitary bees (like lots of other insects), have to contend with a variety of parasites. Many have specific cleptoparasites or "cuckoo bees" that lay their eggs in the host bee's nest burrow. When the cuckoo bee larva hatch, they eat the food stored there; together with the egg or larva of the host.

This behaviour however, seems quite benign in comparison with that of the Stylops fly. When bees are parasitised with Stylops flies, the parasites can be seen protruding out between the bee's abdominal tergites. The females are flattish in appearance (they never develop into a traditional looking fly) and remain in the host bee. The males develop properly and then emerge as winged adults. They seek out other stylopised bees and mate with the resident female fly. My second Top 5 image shows a female mining bee Andrena carantonica with a protruding Stylops female. I got several similar images this year. In fact, all the Andrena carantonica females I saw this year were stylopised. I was very pleased (and willing to oblige) when Harvard University requested the images to use in their teaching material.

Another of my "challenges" for 2012; find and photograph a "sleeping" Nomada cuckoo bee. The Nomada species are the ones that I referred to earlier that parasitise the nests of Andrena mining bees. Many solitary bees (mining bees, mason bees, carpenter bees etc) will "roost" overnight or in cold/wet spells, in the nest burrows they are constructing. Cuckoo bees have no "homes" of their own and will often spend the night on plants, holding on with their mandibles. I'd seen images of this behaviour and was determined to photograph it myself in 2012.

Every day I visit the local churchyard to unlock the church. The churchyard is one of my "hunting grounds" for insects and there were lots of Nomada around in 2012. Every morning I would search for "roosting" Nomada bees and in fact, photographed several. My third Top 5 images is of this female Nomada hanging from a blade of grass by her mandibles. I didn't have my camera with me when I saw her, so I plucked the blade and carefully carried her back home! She clung on all the way and allowed quite a few shots before she "woke up". I then took her back to where I had found her.

My main disappointment with the image is that the grass stem has been mown and is dead at the tip. I'll watch out again next year. I also managed a shot of a dew-soaked Melecta albifrons exhibiting the same behaviour. Melecta albifrons is the cleptoparasite of the Hairy-footed Flower Bee (Anthophora plumipes).

Right, now for image number four of my Top 5. During 2011 I designed a "bee hotel", hoping that I might encourage mason bees and other solitary bees to breed in our garden. My brother-in-law Phil constructed it for me see earlier Blog post and by May I was starting to see some activity.

The first visitors were Red Mason Bees Osmia bicornis (= Osmia rufa) that started nesting in May. In June, I also had a couple of Osmia leaiana bees using the "hotel" and one of these completed her nest and sealed the entrance. I found her, apparently dead, by the next entrance and brought her indoors for some photographs. It's quite hard to confidently identify some of these bees but I knew that Osmia leaiana had orange scopal hairs. In Osmia (and some other solitary bee species) the scopa is underneath the abdomen and is used to collect pollen. I took a few photographs and then saw the bee twitch! She was still alive, but none too well. I managed to revive her with some sugar water and then encouraged her onto an Eryngium flower where she repaid my "kindness" by posing nicely for some shots.

The final Top 5 represents my latest interest (some would say "obsession"), the Collembola (springtails), particularly globular springtails. Winter can be a bit of a lean time for insect photographers, but I had seen some great springtail images in Flickr and decided to have a go myself. Globular springtails (although not actually insects!) add another challenge for photographers; their size. Many are well under 1mm in length and the largest only about 3mm. They can also be very active. This is where the Canon MP-E 65mm Macro lens comes into its own, with it's ability to photograph up to 5x life-size.

I started photographing them mid-October, finding examples mainly on leaf-litter. My first attempts were pretty poor, but I have been slowly improving as I develop my technique. The one illustrated is Dicyrtomina saundersi. This is the most common species that I'm finding at the moment. I've now taken hundreds of photographs of springtails but have chosen this images because it shows me that I've reached a new stage; waiting for an image that pleases me as a photograph and not just as a record of a particular species. I waited as this one approached a film of water on a fallen laurel leaf and produced a reflection. I was also pleased with the overall composition.

So, my first year of insect photography, website development and Blogging nearly complete. Time to set some objectives for 2013. I can't wait!


Photo comment By Lucy Corrander: I'm falling over myself in admiration. I really can't congratulate you enough . . . in your ability to take the photos, your patience to achieve the right 'look' and the way you present your blog - with clear and interesting information. A very happy Christmas - and may next year be just as successful in all the insecty things you do. Lucy

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