Intermediate Macro Photography Workshop

Coming this Saturday, July 4, 2015 @ 9:00 am – 4:00 pm at the Ellis Bird Farm, the first Intermediate Macro Photography Workshop!

This day-long workshop is aimed at photographers who have previously taken the Introduction to Macro Photography course or for those familiar with their cameras, manual exposure and who have some experience using flash with macro.


Posted in Alberta, Camera, Canada, Education, Equipment, Flash, Insect, Inspiration, macro, photography, Season, Summer, Technique, White Studio, Workshop Tagged , , , |

Dogbane Leaf Beetle

Dogbane Beetle, Chrysochus auratus (Fabricius 1775)

Dogbane Beetle, Chrysochus auratus (Fabricius 1775)

This has got to be one of the shiniest leaf beetles in Canada and I was glad to come across them this hot summers’ day when I was feeling down and dispirited. As their name suggests, these beetles feed on Dogbane (Apocynum sp.), a plant known for its poisonous milky sap. The beetles are able to sequester the poisons from the host plants and are then able to use them as defence against predators by secreting them from pronotal and elytral glands.¹


Just spending 25 minutes with these metallic marvels brought me round to my usual benevolent self, ready to face the trials and tribulations of  life once more.  :)

Photographed 27 June 2015, in the North Saskatchewan River valley, Edmonton.

¹Dobler, S., D. Daloze, J. Pasteels. 1998. Sequestration of plant compounds in a leaf beetle’s defensive secretion: cardenolides in Chrysochus. Chemoecology, 8: 111-118.

Posted in Alberta, Canada, Chrysomelidae, Coleoptera, Edmonton, in copula, Insect, macro, Mating, photography, Season, Summer Tagged , , |

Philodromid Mom

Taken with the Canon MP-E65mm at 3x magnification.

A Running Crab Spider (Family Philodromidae) found in the garden under a lily leaf, guarding her egg case.


Beneath a Martagon Lily leaf, mom guards her egg case. (1x magnification.)

Running crab spiders are hunters, and do not build webs to capture prey. When hunting they do lay a dragline behind them as a sort of security line, not unlike a mountain climber’s belaying rope. As you can see above, the silk is also used to protect the eggs.

4x magnification

3x magnification

(At Bugguide, still awaiting ID)

Posted in Alberta, Arachnid, Araneae, arthropods, Behaviour, Canada, Edmonton, garden, macro, Philodromidae, Season, Spring Tagged , , , , , , |

Caragana Blister Beetle

Caragana Blister Beetle, Epicauta subglabra (Fall)

Epicauta subglabra, a Blister or Oil beetle, in the breeze.

I found these oil beetles in the North Saskatchewan River valley in Edmonton on the 24 May. They were aggregating in a grassy area not far from Siberian Pea Shrub bushes (Caragana arborescens) which are the dominant shrub in this area. Caragana was first introduced to Canada in the 1930’s as a drought tolerant shrub for shelter belts (and is still recommended as such), and it has since been the scourge of many a natural area.

Canoodling in the grass.

Canoodling in the grass.

The Caragana Blister Beetle, Epicauta subglabra (Fall), feeds on Caragana and alfalfa as an adult, but the larvae are typical of oil beetles in that they consume insect eggs–in this case, the buried eggs of grasshoppers. Meloe niger, a larger oil beetle that I photographed earlier, feeds on the eggs of ground-nesting bees.

Why ‘blister‘ beetle? All beetles in the family Meloidae secrete cantharidin, a toxin which can raise blisters on the skin as well as cause inflammation in the digestive tract if ingested.  Because the beetles aggregate to mate, and because they feed on alfalfa that is used for hay, dire consequences can result. An agricultural information paper issued by North Dakota State University (pdf) states that a lethal dose of cantharidin for horses would be about 1 mg per kg of horse, concluding that a typical horse would have to ingest about 200 blister beetles to reach a lethal dose. A poster (pdf) by Chris DiFonzo from the Michigan State University Field Crops Entomology program gives the cantharidin content and lethal dosage of common Michigan blister beetles.

Symptoms of cantharidin poisoning include,

“…inflammation, colic, straining, elevated temperature, depression, kidney failure, increased heart rate and respiration, dehydration, sweating and diarrhea. There is frequent urination during the first 24 hours after ingestion, accompanied by inflammation of the urinary tract. This irritation may also result in secondary infection and bleeding. In addition, calcium levels in horses may be drastically lowered, and heart muscle tissues may be destroyed.” (from Blister Beetle Toxicity in Horses (pdf), by Dr. Rebecca S. McConnico, DVM, PhD, School of Veterinary Medicine, Louisiana State University)

Humans are also occasionally struck by cantharidin poisoning, so we must have a Safety Data Sheet for it.

Of course, you can’t write an article on blister beetles without mentioning Spanish Fly…. or the woman who recently found a blister beetle in her organic lettuce…  :)

Visit The Black Oil Beetle for more on the fascinating life cycle of these beetles, including video. 

(Thanks to V. Belov of BugGuide for the ID)

Posted in Alberta, Bugs, Canada, Coleoptera, Edmonton, History, Insect, macro, Meloidae, photography, Season, Spring Tagged , , , , , , , , |

Vertebrate Incursion


Brazen chappy gives me the eye…

When walking in the river valley in spring, I often come across Garter snakes, but they usually notice me first and disappear into the undergrowth before I have a chance to take a photograph. This day was different. We were walking the trail above Highlands golf course when one slithered across our path and into the undergrowth. Yuet continued walking, but I stood still for a moment to watch it disappear. Then it also stopped and raised its head to look back at me. There was a gap in the undergrowth, so I slowly went down on my knees and moved forward into that space. The snake still did not move, just occasionally testing the air with its tongue.


…and then sticks tongue out at me.  (Click to animate)

My camera was ready with the flash set, but without a diffuser, so I was able to lean forward, supporting myself with one arm while holding the camera with the other hand. I managed to take a few shots, and still the snake did not move. I chanced putting on the diffuser, moving slowly so as not to startle it. This done, I gradually leaned forward again, this time resting on my elbows. I was able to take a few more shots before it finally snapped out of its reverie and slowly slithered out of sight.

Thanks for your patience, little snake.


Posted in Alberta, Canada, close-up, Edmonton, photography, Season, Spring Tagged , , , , |

Testing the Air

Scarlet Malachite Beetle Malachius aeneus (Linnaeus, 1758)

Scarlet Malachite Beetle, Malachius aeneus (Linnaeus, 1758)

While watering plants in the garden, I spotted two Scarlet Malachite beetles apparently ‘head-butting’ each other on the stem of a plant, so I rushed to get my camera. By the time I returned the pair were gone, however, I found this single specimen on some plants nearby. I panned the camera with the beetle as it moved along a leaf, taking pictures whenever it appeared in focus. Out of five shots taken in 13 seconds–when it stopped momentarily to raise itself up on its hind legs–this was the only one that was successful. It may have been scenting for a mate, but that brief hesitation gave me the time to move the camera into focus and take the picture.

(28 May, 2015. Taken with the Canon T2i with the Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5X lens set at about 1.5X, image slightly cropped. Lighting with diffused Speedlite 270EX II at 1/4 power. ISO 400, 1/200 sec. @ f14)

Posted in Alberta, Behaviour, Camera, Canada, Canon, Coleoptera, Edmonton, Equipment, Insect, macro, Melyridae, MP-E65, photography, Season, Spring, Technique Tagged , , |