Readers’ wildlife photos

March 3, 2023 • 8:15 am

We have enough photos until Monday, but then the tank will be nearly empty. However, I’m not going to post Readers’ Wildlife while I’m in Poland, so I ask readers to put together any photos they may want to contribute, and then send them to me after March. 15. Thanks.

Today’s batch is by our faithful regular Mark Sturtevant, a crack arthropod photographer. His notes are indented, and you can enlarge his pictures by clicking on them.

One day when out in the woods near where I live (in eastern Michigan), I glanced up along a Virginia creeper vine and by dumb luck saw a gorgeous caterpillar on it that was new to me. It turned out to be the larva of the pandora sphinx moth (Eudorpha pandorus). I brought it home for pictures and to finish raising. Here is the caterpillar. For scale, it’s a bit larger than your thumb:

Unlike most sphinx moth caterpillars, mature pandora sphinx caterpillars like this don’t have a horn on their rear end. Instead, they have a hard “button” that looks like an eye, as shown next:

Younger larval stages do have the characteristic horn, as shown in the linked pictures. I am not sure why sphinx cats have a horn at all, let alone why some species have secondarily reduced it.

Members of this family will pupate underground, so when it began to wander in its container, I put it into a bucket of dirt in the basement to let it burrow down and do its thing. Later, I placed the pupa in a protective box in the refrigerator, and there it stayed all winter until the weather warmed. Here is the pupa:

Once it was time to move things along, the pupa was placed in a bowl of moist dirt in a bug cage, and I checked on it every morning. The big day came in June when a large and beautiful sphinx moth was in the bug cage, and here it is!

That same day, I put the moth deep into the same woods in a sheltered spot near where I had found the caterpillar, along with fervent wishes for its reproductive success.

Wide-angle macrophotography is a niche within the area of macro- and closeup photography. In this form of photography, one can get a close view of a subject while also getting a lot of the surroundings in as well. The combination can create a unique perspective. For a highly inspiring summary of this variety of photography, one can do no better than to watch this well produced video by the Great Thomas Shahan.  In it, he mainly reviews a particular lens, but I use a much less expensive lens instead that seems equally good (the Opteka 15mm wide angle macro lens).

Like Shahan says, this kind of photography is not easy since these fully manual lenses are commonly used with the subject very close to the glass. Also, it is best to close the aperture way down for depth of focus, although that means one can then be pretty much shooting in the dark. Anyway, here are pictures of praying mantids, and most of them were taken with my Opteka wide angle macro lens.

The first pictures are of a female European mantisMantis religiosa, that I found in what I call the Magic Field. There, one can regularly find European mantids along with a great diversity of other cool things:

In a different field that is near where I work, I came upon a population explosion of much larger Chinese mantids (Tenodera sinensis). It all began with seeing a male taking flight across the field. It landed in the tall weeds, and here it is:

Now let me say that photographing male mantids can be a total pain in the rear since they don’t like sitting still. But I managed to get a couple pictures with the regular 100mm macro lens. 

But then I became aware that there were other Chinese mantids. A lot of them. 

Just a couple feet away was a big female. Then another. And … another. There was another one sitting on a pine tree. And there was one walking up a nearby fence post. What the hell?? Over the space of an hour I found about 2 dozen Chinese mantids, all in a small area of this field! Incredible. 

Female mantids are a lot easier to work with, so out came the wide angle macro and I took many pictures. Of course this one could not resist climbing on the shiny lens that was within easy reach:

Sometimes adult Chinese mantids come in a green form, but I had never seen one. But in the “mantid field”, as I now call it, there was this lovely example. Although she resembles the above European mantid, a Chinese mantid could eat the European for lunch! And just look at how nicely she is sitting. She sat there for me for a good 10 minutes, and there is no way would a male do that!:

With so many of these monsters, I had to come back in the late fall to look for egg cases (oöthecae). They were everywhere, so I took several home to try photographing them as they hatched. The attempt was successful, and there will be pictures to show later. 

14 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. Those wide angle macro shots are really nice- great job. That was a beautiful moth, nice that with your help, its reproductive chances improved.

    Now I sort of feel sorry for mantids after learning about the nasty parasitic worms they host. (Featured in a Hili dialogue a few days back.) From the short video (and I didn’t do any further research) I don’t know if the “95%” infected rate was just a specific area or the entire world population.

  2. What gorgeous photos of the larva and moth! And the care you take to ensure their comfort during your sessions and eventual release to a safe spot, if only all humans were so considerate.

  3. Just gorgeous. Hawk moths are one of the few families that have spectacular larvae and adults. Really interesting to see

  4. I once had an office on the 12th floor of an urban research tower. There was nothing but asphalt and concrete below, but one day I looked out the window and saw a praying mantis clutched to the limestone-clad window opening. What it was doing there / what it thought it was going to find way up there, I have no idea.

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