Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Another flower beetle

... with bright orange flower colours.

This one is a flower longhorn beetle, Xestoleptura crassicornis.

The glossy elytra (wing covers) and the orange antennae are diagnostic features.

BugGuide has about 3,600 photos of beetles in the flower longhorn family, about half of them decked out in vivid colours, reds and orange and yellow. I wonder if these are a sign to birds that the beetles taste bad, as is said about some other insects.

But then again, we're just guessing at that, aren't we? Maybe there is no reason at all; it's just the way things happened.

Any volunteers to taste a pretty beetle? I've lost my appetite. Or I'm allergic. Or my taste buds are old. (Any excuse will do.)

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Monday, July 21, 2014

In a playful mood

Clouds over Boundary Bay, last week:

Sometimes we forget how tiny we are, how puny!

But we huddle together for protection, and smile when the clouds are playing.

A Skywatch post.

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Sunday, July 20, 2014

No second chance

A spider can hang, perfectly still, in her web for hours. Days, even. Weeks, if she's guarding an egg sac. But if she decides that the clicky, flashy thing pointing at her is not to her liking, she's gone in an instant. Often one shot at a photo is all you get.


I aimed the camera at a web conveniently hung just where I was likely to run into it, as is the habit of the cross spiders around here. Before I had focused, the spider was at the far end of one of her tethers. I turned and shot, and then she was out of sight.

I'm surprised that the photo turned out ok.

Araneus diadematus, about 1/4 inch long. On sausage vine.


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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Tentacles!

Still testing shutter priority mode.

The anemones in my aquarium cause me no end of trouble, with their semi-transparent tentacles always in motion, and their habit of picking the most awkward spots to settle in.  I've taken hundreds of photos and deleted almost all of them. A fast shutter definitely helps.

Double lines in Val's tentacles. She often twists them in spirals like this.


A quick shot, with minimal processing; cropping, resizing, white balance is all.

The largest of the Orange Striped Green Anemones, Haliplanella lineata, (What a big name for such small critters!) has a good appetite, and a full crown of tentacles to keep it in groceries. It seems to have eaten something dark, which has left a black mark in the base, invisible in normal circumstances, but not when it's parked on glass.

These anemones have from 60 to 100 tentacles, up to about 2 inches long. This one is getting close to that maximum.

Feeding, this anemone has a pale greenish cream column. The upper half is the same translucent off-white as the tentacles. I was starting to doubt my identification, when in protest against the hot weather and my slowness in providing more ice, it shut down, condensing itself to a half-inch round dark green mass, with the orange stripes it's named for. Chilled and happy once more, the stripes disappeared.

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Friday, July 18, 2014

Testing Shutter priority mode

I usually keep my camera set to Auto, and toggle quickly from manual focus to autofocus. Both settings have their advantages; manual focus for face shots on critters that happen to be sitting still, autofocus for their more rambunctious moods. I've tried the aperture priority setting; it works out fine for larger objects, where I want the background to lose detail, but for the unpredictable smaller things, spiders and hermits and the like, it leaves me too often with the whole critter just out of range.

I hadn't tried Shutter priority before; "they" say it's for long exposures with a tripod, or on the other end of the scale, for sports and other fast action photos. And I rarely have opportunity for either.

But how about in macro photography, where the tiny subjects are almost too fast for my shutter finger? For the last few days, I've been experimenting with the fastest shutter speed setting my camera can handle. And I'm happy! I managed to "freeze" some amphipods!

Amphipod hiding in the sea lettuce, tests the current with one antenna, one leg. More legs are visible through the sea lettuce.

Tail end of an amphipod. Their legs stick out in all directions, which makes sense, seeing how they move about; they swim or scramble forward, backward, or sideways, "upside-down" in our terms, or right-side up; it makes no difference to them.

Courting pair, waiting for her (the small one) to be ready to mate. The male appears to be staring down a worm inching its way along the eelgrass. "Scram, or I'll stab you!" he says.

These photos are almost as they came from the camera, except for resizing and adjusting the white balance. I took out a few scratches on the glass, as well.

I had to jack up the ISO to 800, so there's a bit of noise in the darker areas, what with shooting through old glass and moving water. But the colours are truer than at my usual settings, and the flash doesn't produce the awkward highlights that show up at slower speeds. And even a running hermit crab gets his photo taken!

Very small hermit (less than 1/2 inch long) on a barnacled clamshell.

Another tiny one, at a crossroads high in the eelgrass.

Tentacles, tomorrow.


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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Repeat customer

I've been working this week on learning how to use the Shutter Priority mode on the camera*. It has already been helpful: I managed to get decent shots of a large rove beetle with a mania for speed.

As usual, much of my practicing has been through the glass of the aquarium. Hermits, mainly, also as usual. But this guy is also learning something:

"Cheese!"

He came to the glass to look at me, so I took his photo. He stayed put, and I took another, and another, before I went off to chase an amphipod. When I came by again, Speckles, here, dropped his play and came to pose in front of the glass again. I obliged, taking another couple of photos, then moved on to look at a limpet.

The next time the camera flashed, he ran over to where it was, and struck another pose. Next time, the same. In all, I have photos from 7 short sessions, all at his insistence, all with him as close to the glass as he can get, staring straight into the lens.

Is it the flash that he likes? Or is he seeing himself mirrored in the lens? Does he understand that it's him, out there? Or just a friendly face?

Questions, questions.

* Sample shots, tomorrow. For now, I notice that colours seem more intense with the current camera settings, and the photos are sharper.


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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Crowds and crowds

I've been playing instead of working, trying out random effects in my photo editing program. I liked this one:

People and boats in the distance, on Centennial Beach. Looking north towards downtown Burnaby.

Everywhere we looked, last Saturday, the beach was crowded with people, far in the distance to the north, south and east, some in the water, but most on the sand.

Humans weren't the only ones congregating in crowds. Here's another of those anchor buckets:

Hermits and snails, mostly. There's a fish hiding under the rope.

On the upper levels of the beach, most of these mud snail shells contain mud snails. Here, at mid-tide level, where rocks are few and the sand is clean, almost any snail I pick up turns out to be a hermit. They didn't find their shells here; the hermit shopping mall is quite a hike for a little critter. But they're fast, and determined.

If you look closely at these shells, you can distinguish several hermits by their visible big pincer and the "V" of eyestalks. Others only show up as a pair of hair-thin dotted lines; the antennae of Hairy hermits, Pagurus hirsutiusculus. (You might want to click on this to see it full size to find these, or go to Flickr and click on Full screen.) And see if you can find the little green hermit out of his shell, probably recently molted. His abdomen, usually hidden, is reddish purple, and curls in a tight spiral.

On the far right, there's a slipper snail on a slipper snail, on a hermit.

And over to the left, on the rusty upper lip of the bucket, a couple of hermits are wearing periwinkle shells. These are fairly rare on this beach, and only to be found in the upper intertidal zone. These hermits will walk a long way for a stylish outfit!

When the tide comes in, the hermits will leave their cozy bucket and scatter over the sand, looking for supper. And maybe the naked one will start the long hike back to shore for a new shell.

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Monday, July 14, 2014

Seen too late

On the wide, flat sands of Boundary Bay, residents park their boats helter-skelter, tying them to a variety of home-made anchor points. There is no need for a wharf; some people just wade ashore from a close tie-up, others, anchored farther out, use paddle-boards or small skiffs to reach their boat when the tide is in. The sand is dotted with these contraptions, sometimes a chain attached to something deep in the sand, or an old rope tied to a bucket of cement.

Each of these creates its own mini-environment, catching floating seaweeds or logs, providing holes and crevices for a variety of intertidal critters, and a solid substrate for barnacles and mussels. Sand flows around them as the tide comes and goes, making hills and valleys, semi-permanent tide-pools where a small fish can wait safely through the dry hours.

Walking on the sand at low tide, I veer from one anchor point to the next; no two alike, none uninhabited.

We stopped at this one yesterday:


A half-buried bucketload of cement, with rusted metal fittings, long turned into red stone, encrusted with barnacles and seaweeds.

The "face" of the bucket, with a small log and a deepish pool.

Both Laurie and I poked our cameras into those two holes; none of the photos were any good, but we did see what was inside. They are rusty metal tubes, probably where some sort of fixture to hold a boat was attached. The top one shelters several hermit crabs and snails; a small, green crab guards the door of the lower tube.

"You can't see me; I'm green, and I'm hiding under green seaweed!"*

*(That's assuming that a crab sees colours the same as we do, which is entirely unevidenced.)

On the downstream side of the bucket, the current has hollowed out a pool and a long, shallow valley, paving the valley with broken clamshells.

Refraction through a couple of inches of water.

And where the shells peter out, in a calm backwater, worms keep on feeding while the rest of the beach lies dormant.

These are the largest worm tubes I have seen on the beach, up to 3 inches tall, standing firm.

They remind me of tipsy pilings left behind when an old wharf is demolished. But these have neat holes in the top, and if you look closely at the right moment, transparent tentacles reaching out.

And look again! See that whitish thing near the centre, that square with a tail? I didn't, when I was taking the photos, and it turned up on a half dozen. So I missed out; must be more observant.

The Mud-flat Hooded Shrimp, Nebalia pugettensis!

I last saw one of these 4 years ago. And the one before that was another 4 years earlier (Two posts). They're probably plentiful on the beach, but they're usually burrowing in the muck. This may be a dead one, or a molt. The live one I found had blue eyes; the dead ones I'd seen earlier had red eyes.

If you look back at the first photo of the Nebalia, you might see the second one, down by the lower right hand corner, half-hidden behind a blade of eelgrass.

And here's another one:

Very hairy green crab, not bothering to hide. And just below the broken shell at upper left, another Nebalia.

This one has no colour left. It must be a molted carapace and legs.

I hope I don't have to wait another 4 years before I see my next mud shrimp.

Next: another bucket.


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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Honeysuckle

Hanging over a fence at Boundary Bay beach:

Pinks, peach, and purples, all in one flower.

Coming up: tide pool critters, and worm collectors.

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Saturday, July 12, 2014

And another ...

It's moth season. Every time I water the garden, or pull a weed, or check a hosta for slugs, I wake up a big yellow underwing, or a little whitish, fluttery moth, or something dark that flies straight at my face and disappears before I finish ducking.

This afternoon, I discovered this one, sleeping on my bathroom wall. I didn't wake it up.

I love the pattern on these wings. They measure 2 inches, wingtip to wingtip.

Another one to attempt to identify before I bother the good people at BugGuide.

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Friday, July 11, 2014

Why my desk always faces the window

I look up from the screen, and see this, almost at arm's length:

Small moth, facing me through two layers of glass. Splotchy green garden background equalized digitally.

I went outside and managed to measure the moth (2 cm. wingspan) and take a few photos before he flew away. Because of the confusing background inside, I taped a couple of pieces of felt, the handiest thing available at the moment, to the inside of the window.

Moth on pink felt.

Moth on green felt, with shadow.

This last photo is not very good, but comparing it to the one on pink shows how transparent those wings are; you can see the pink or green background colour through them.

The moth is still unidentified. I'll head over to BugGuide as soon as possible.

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Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Gift wrapped

I found this on my doorstep a few mornings ago*:

Hairy cocoon.

I don't know what made this. It's 2 cm. long, sort of egg-shaped, and soft to the touch. The spiky hairs sticking straight through the covering look as if they belong to a woolly bear caterpillar. The whole thing was fastened to the rag rug underneath, glued or interwoven.

I have it in a container with a perforated lid, and I'm keeping a watch on it to see what emerges.

*A favourite cat used to leave me a line-up of mouse tails. I prefer this sort of "gift".

(Note: I'm still here, just extremely busy. And tired. Blogging will be catch-as-catch-can for the rest of this week.)


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Monday, July 07, 2014

Hermit complaint

And revenge.

"It's no fun being small, ...

when the big guys walk all over you, ...

And knock you all topsy-turvy.

But two can play at that game.

There! How do you like them apples?"

... says Junior, going off to tell his buddies up on the eelgrass all about it.

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Saturday, July 05, 2014

Subbing spider.

It's late. I've been playing with the camera and watching snails lay eggs, and now it's too late to process the photos tonight.

Have a fat spider, instead.

He's been sitting under the same sausage vine leaf for days, hardly moving, even when I turn his leaf over. Waiting for a mate to move into the vicinity?

Very obviously a male. Look at the size of those boxing glove pedipalps!

Detail of one of the pedipalps. He uses these to transfer sperm to the female. When he finds one. If he ever overcomes his shyness.

Coming up: those snails and eggs, a couple of tubeworms, and hermit silliness.


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Friday, July 04, 2014

Their week to shine.

In my deep shade garden, the beginning of summer almost seems like an ending. The Dutchman's breeches are long gone; so are the primulas and bleeding hearts and bergenias. I deadheaded the last of the rhododendrons last week. The columbine is still holding on to its last two small flowers, but they're fading.

And the hydrangea is barely starting to get some blue around the edges. The garden rests for a spell. Except for the hanging baskets -bacopas, nasturtiums, begonias and lobelias, (and those are cheating, because I bought the plants already thriving this spring) - the perennial part of the garden is a study in greens, nice to look at, but a bit uninspiring.

And then the astilbes burst into glorious flower; so very welcome! It's been windy, and the feathery spikes wave enthusiastically, calling pollinators, "Here we are, come, come! Soup's on!"

Almost red. This is a smaller plant, with only one spike this year, but the colour makes up for it.

And there's a large clump of these, tall and mobile, swaying together to inaudible music. Two days ago, they were all a greenish white; now the tiny flower heads are opening.




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Thursday, July 03, 2014

Yikes! Double yikes!

Look what I found in my bed when I made it this morning!

The largest jumping spider I've ever seen.

Yikes, again!

On my pillow. Facing the camera, checking me out.

Now she's* on my headboard. Hairy fangs, with skinnier hairy pedipalps in front of them.

She's longer and thinner than the jumpers I've seen around here before.

Watching me still, with the eyes in the back of her head.

*I'm assuming she's female because of the thin pedipalps.

I don't know if she shared the bed with me, or if she came in through the window while I had breakfast. I captured her, and carried her a long way away from that window before I released her.

How far do jumpers travel? I'm sleeping with the window closed tonight, even if I'm suffocating.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2014

A miniature red train

In a discarded barnacle shell from my low-current aquarium tank, this small polychaete worm had made his home. He came out to see what was happening while I cleaned the tank.

"Where's my food gone?"

Watching him, I noticed something I had not seen so clearly before. See that red dotted line down his central back? See how it's paler at the head end, and also fades towards the back, just after the fifth dark line?

I watched him slither about; that pattern is repeated several times along the body length. But it's not static. The red line runs at speed from tail to head, looking rather like a miniature red train, hurrying so as not to get run into by the one following it. At the head end, it vanishes, but the next one is only a pair of segments behind.

What we're seeing is the main part of the worm's circulatory system, the blood running up to the head in the upper blood vessel. It returns to the tail through a second vessel running down the belly side.

Cross-section of polychaete. Image by Hans Hillewaert, from Wikipedia.

The worm has no heart; the blood vessels contract rhythmically to push the blood along, creating that busy train track effect.

I returned the broken barnacle shell, worm and all, to the tank.

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Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Begonia. And Canada Day.

White is such a wonderful colour for deep shade; it glows even when the sun doesn't.

Small begonias in a hanging basket with bacopas.

And it's Canada Day; happy interrupted* long weekend, fellow Canadians!

*(Canada Day, July 1st is a Statutory Holiday. All public institutions close; those who have to work get double pay; most of us are heading out of town or to the nearest beach. When it falls on or next to a weekend, we get 3 days off, rather than 2.  And when the Stat. Holiday falls on a Tuesday or Thursday, as it does this year, we often make it a 4 day weekend, long enough to go for a decent road trip. But some employers stick to the letter of the law, and make Monday a normal working day, which gives people 2 days off, one day on, one day off. Much grumbling.**)

** Since we're retired, we don't care; we work every day, or not, as it pleases us. Our plans for the holiday this year include gardening (mostly Laurie), chasing spiders with the camera (me), and maybe de-cluttering the storeroom (me) and old documents (Laurie). We'll head for the beach another day, when it's not so crowded.


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Monday, June 30, 2014

Welcome mat

Last week, I posted photos of the spider that built her tunnel web on our compost bin. Evidently, it was still under construction, with just the shape of the walls sketched in, so that she was visible inside.

That was then ...

This is now.

She has reinforced the walls and built a doorway, with an inviting, carpeted foyer inside. And she's hiding in the back, out of sight of curious visitors. (I know she's there; I saw movement inside when I got too close.)

The little black scrap on the doorstep looks like the remains of a small moth. No garbage pickup here!

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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Nasturtium

This is the first year nasturtiums have succeeded in blooming in my deep shade garden.

I'm happy.


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Saturday, June 28, 2014

On a mission

On the wall beside my desk, a male running crab spider made a thorough search, running up, down, across and back, looking behind shelves and furniture. He didn't find what he was looking for; I could have told him that and saved him the trouble. He was the only spider on that wall. The nearest female was outside, by the back door.

Philodromus dispar, adult male. About 5 mm. long, eyes to spinnerets.

The female he was hunting for is slightly larger than he is, and dressed in mottled light brown. Only the mature males wear black decorated with those whitish stripes down the sides.

They are hunting spiders, always on the move, chasing down their prey rather than sitting in a web waiting for it. But when breeding time comes around, the male forgets to eat and wears himself thin racing, racing, racing; looking everywhere for a mate. Does he know what he wants? Probably not; he just feels the need to run and look and look again. But he'll know her when he finds her.

On his way up again, just in case he missed her. The "boxing glove" ends of his pedipalps are another sign of a mature male.

He's examined that wall and the curtain at the window, and has moved on. Only a few metres left to go before he discovers the female's hangout. I wish him luck.



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