Photojournal - 28 and 29 September 2007

Red dots

After work on Friday the 28th, I went outside to see what I could find around the building and in my favorite planters. On my way out, I found an owlet moth on the wall of the building. I've narrowed this fellow's identity down to a couple of species in the subfamily Plusiinae: either Rachiplusia ou (the Gray Looper Moth) or Autographa californica (The Alfalfa Looper Moth). I haven't been able to convince an expert to have a look and tell me which one I've got.  

Strangely enough, the two species that I think my moth might be appear in a number of scientific papers together, not because they look similar, but because they get very similar diseases. Scientists seem to be crossbreeding these similar diseases. I'm not sure why they're doing this, but maybe it is to find something to use in pest control. Moths can cause a lot of crop damage.

Anyhow, back on the 28th, over in the garden, I found an orb-weaving spider who had caught an aphid.


In the field, I thought that the prey was a fly, but in looking at the photo, I found that the poor little fellow has four wings. (And the feature that distinguishes a fly from other insects is having two wings.)

I searched carefully in the soil of the planter. As I settled into it, I suddenly started finding lots of little shells. It seemed that everywhere I looked, there was a little shell...all empty. I started to collect the shells, putting them on a penny so that I could easily find them on the pebbly wall.

The shells were so small that seven of them didn't even cover up the whole queen.

But nine of them did a pretty good job..  

Of course, the penny gives you a sense of scale for just how small they were.

The next shot lacks any good scale information, though. I took this shot when I spotted two little red dots clinging to a rock in the dirt. At first, I thought the dots were mites of some sort, but then they didn't move.


I really don't exactly know what they are, and haven't found anyone who can tell me. My first guess is that they're seeds for some plant, although I've never seen seeds that are ridged the way these things are ridged. A second guess is that they're a fully-developed plant or fungus or something, but they seem to lack roots or spores or any of the stuff that seems to come with being a plant or fungus. My third guess would be some sort of animal form, like a pupa. This guess doesn't seem to hold up well, either.

The upshot of all of that is that I'm assuming my little red flat oval ridged things are seeds. Anyhow, I put the rock they were stuck to up on the ledge beside the penny with all the shells on it.

I searched for a little shell with a living occupant, but wasn't able to find any. I eventually got tired from bending over the planters to conduct the search (and to take photos). I collected a few more shells, and then took my camera and my shells (and the pop can I had brought with me) and headed back inside.

Once back inside, I rested for a while, but then wanted to take photos of my new specimens in a studio setting. So I set up camera and tripods and lights, and tore off a couple of new post-it notes (one green, one blue) to use as backgrounds. You don't need big backgrounds when your subjects are tiny.

In the studio, I was able to get much better detail on the little shells.

After taking several shell photos, I worked on one of the other specimens I had collected: pieces from the outside of one of my Greenhouse Millipedes. The millipede either moulted these parts off, or they were left behind when the 'pede met his demise. I suspect the latter.  

The millipede parts were my last subject of the evening.

I left my little studio set up, though, and when I got up the next morning I started work on the little red seeds. Here's one of them, on a blue post-it, next to the millimeter markings on a ruler. To state the obvious, the little seed was about 1mm long. That's pretty small.

Here's a different seed, in situ on the rock, next to a little plant or alga.  

Both of the last two shots are full-frame; I haven't cropped anything off of the photos. If you look at the first of the two, you'll notice that the ruler indicates that the photo is of an area about 3.5mm across. That means I was using my extreme macro setup, with a reversed lens out at the end of all of my extension tubes. I was doing a lot better with that setup than I did when I started with it. It was still rather painstaking, though.

I took a break, and went outside to look for more subjects. The first decent thing I found was a great subject, so I wasn't outside for long. I rushed my treasure inside and put it in front of the extreme-macro setup. Here's what I got. I think that these first three shots have a really neat abstract quality to them.

That last shot was a crop, and the photo it was cropped from is below. After this shot, if they didn't already, everyone should have a pretty good idea of what my treasure was.  
And if not, the next one should cinch it.  
Next, I put my regular macro lens on the camera, so I could get the whole beast in frame. Then I placed him on the ruler to give you a sense of scale.  

This fellow was a lifer snail for me. He's Oxychilus cellarius, the Cellar Glass-Snail. His body is, in some lighting conditions, dark (approaching black) and, in others, blue. He's got a light cream-colored foot (bottom of his body), and a flat spiral shell that's 9 to 10mm across. He was about 17mm from the tip of his eyestalk to the back of his shell.

As I took photos, the snail decided that he liked the blue post-it better than the ruler, and he slimed over to the edge of the ruler and made his descent.

That was about it for me for the day, but I'll leave you with four more of the extreme close-up shots of my little fellow. I really ended up loving this whole series of shots.  

After having the little fellow out of his natural habitat for 20 minutes or so, I didn't feel that I should be keeping him any longer. So I thanked him profusely and took him back out to the planter. I placed him very near where I had found him, under a little leaf, so that he had some shade. We said our teary goodbyes, and that was the last I saw of him.

Your seedy photographer,


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