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Peek-a-bug: insects lurking in flowers!

Purple orchid with crab spider, Spain

The last 20 years have seen a remarkable revolution in photography (below). I often think how lucky I am have been to have lived, and taken photographs, throughout the transition from analogue to digital cameras. There should be a name for Baby boomers like myself who have straddled the digital divide!

Camera production (Camera & Imaging Products Association) Source: Mayflower Concepts, petapixel.com

My first digital camera was a 5.0 Megapixels (MP) Sony DSC-T1 (below). In my ignorance, I had held out for a long time against digital photography, staying faithful to my old analogue cameras and 35 mm film. However, I was blown away by the first photographs I took with this camera (below). Much like I was blown away the first time I used Google’s search engine. They may not look like much now – most mobile phones would take better images now – but it was amazing at the time.

Tulips in Green Park taken with a 5 MP Sony DSC-T1

Digital cameras and their sensors have continued to improve and we now take it for granted that we can take high resolution photographs of anything we want. We have all gradually improved as photographers and nearly all of us now keep an archive of old photos, either on our computers, external hard drives or in the Cloud.

Corsican heath (Erica terminalis) Galicia with unidentified insect

As pixel counts have increased in leaps and bounds, new possibilities open up to us. One of them is to find things in photographs that we might not have noticed at the time we released the shutter. To those of us who like taking pictures of nature, it offers the serendipitous possibility of finding good things – like insects lurking in a flower! – without having looked for them, or seen them initially.

California buckeye (Aesculus californica) with ant!

Sometimes, like the ant lurking in the flower (above) it is just amusing to come across it, on other occasions it is really quite exciting to find something you had no idea was there: like these clover seed weevils mating inside small clover flowers (sequence below).

Sea clover (Trifolium squamosum) Galicia, Spain
Sea clover (Trifolium squamosum) cropped tp show mating seed weevils

To qualify for this sort of serendipitous find, the insect has to be small enough not to be noticed when you first took the picture! Like the tiny little aphid I spotted after taking a back-lit shot of this Umbelliferae (below). Perhaps someone could identify it?

Pignut umbel with aphid. UK
Close-up of aphid.

It is I think, great fun to be able to find insects lurking in your photographs! In fact, I suspect that quite a lot of insects lurk in people’s photographs, without them knowing it! Certain plants are better than others for supporting or attracting insects. My initial attraction was to the beautiful flower-head of this Giant fennel plant (below). Only afterwards, did I realise what a fantastic insect magnet it was, and I wished I had taken more photographs of the insects landing and feeding on it.

Giant fennel (Ferula communis) flower head in late June. Spain

For example, there were lots of interesting flies, one of which appears to have picture wings! (Below, bottom right).

Giant fennel (Ferula communis) flower head. Photo cropped to show insects.

Cropping a photograph in this way, to bring out the details, would probably not have been possible in the early days of digital photograph! Orchids are beautiful flowers and nice to photograph (below), but always look closely because they often have spiders lurking amongst the petals, waiting for an unwary or unlucky insect to arrive!

Spotted orchid with tiny crab spider

Crab spiders are masters of remaining undetected. Their next meal depends on them not being seen! And I did not see this one (below) until after I had loaded the photograph onto the computer.

Crab spider on fringed pink (Dianthus superbus) flower. Spain
Crab spider on fringed pink, cropped from above image.

I’ll finish with one from home. Buttercups are wonderful plants. I wanted to take a close-up shot of some lit up by the setting sun (below).

Bulbous Buttercup (Ranunculus bulbusos) Scarborough, UK

Again, only when I got home and looked at the images on the computer did I realise I had captured a shot of a tiny moth. It took me a while, and some help on Twitter, if I recall correctly, to identify the insect in question!

Cocksfoot moth (Glyphipterix simpliciella) on Bulbous buttercup. UK

So the world has been opened up to us by this new technology, and with it comes opportunities to learn about the natural world. The remarkable is all around us and we can glimpse its diversity like never before.

English Stonecrop (Sedum anglicum) flowers with small black fly

rcannon992 View All

I am an entomologist with a background in quarantine pests and invasive invertebrates. I studied zoology at Imperial College (University of London) and did a PhD on the population dynamics of a cereal aphid (Metopolophium dirhodum) in the UK. I spent 5 years with the British Antarctic Survey studing cold hardiness of Antarctic invertebates and 17 years with the Food and Environment Research Agency. My main interests now are natural history, photography, painting and bird watching.

One thought on “Peek-a-bug: insects lurking in flowers! Leave a comment

  1. Great photos Ray and yes I agree digital photography has greatly improved my not very good camera abilities and as a person of the same vintage as you I am always gobsmacked by how much information we can store on the film cards and on our computers 🙂

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