I thought I'd conduct a quick experiment today - find out how many insects that can be located on ONE species of native wildflower in a local meadow. All the shots on this blog post were taken on the same plant, Wild Angelica (Angelica sylvestris) - a large common wildflower that can grow well over 2m in height. It can be found in most habitats except heavy shaded areas. It has a broad flowering head, containing many individual flowers and can be larger than an adult hand outstretched. Insects seem to find it irresistible!
The first insects that grab your attention on this flower are the hoverflies - a wonderfully diverse family of pollinating insects, they number well over 250 species in the UK. Usually striped or banded to mimic bees and wasps, they often get mistaken for these other insects by the uninitiated. The largest of these on our plant today was the erastalis sp. which are quite large honeybee mimics:
The next insect was also a hoverfly, and this one is smaller and neater than the previous species. Marked as a wasp mimic, the eupeodes species is striking in colour and appearance. No is the best time to see them, as their numbers peak in later August, and some may even last up until the first frosts of autumn:
The next insect was another strikingly beautiful hoverfly from the syrphus species. These commonly seen pollinators will be seen in most flowering gardens throughout summer and can make great macro subjects for photography :
Alongside all the hoverflies and true fly species that frequent these plants, there is another visitor that is a most welcome sight. The wild honeybee can be found slowly feeding and farming the product from these flowers. The honeybee is a sight that is all to uncommon nowadays, especially where I usually photograph my macro subjects. What a treat to see so many on these wonderful plants - we need to save our bees!
It constantly amazes me how our pollinating insects work, and how they survive despite man's best efforts to eradicate their natural food sources. Wild flowers are declining, and so then, our the bees. Agricultural land has taken over from wild flowering meadows, and my only meadows near me for some distance are on a protected nature reserve - this isn't how it should be. Go out and have a look for your local wild flowers, and spend a moment looking at the insects that feed on it, and give them a little love !
My local patch has some excellent wildflower meadows which are well maintained for each summer season. I look forward every year to the macro sessions in the meadows and never tire of the amount and diversity of the wildlife and insect life you can find if you look close enough.
I'm also very lucky to be able to do some official photography work for the organisation that runs the nature reserve (Oxford Island NNR), which allows me access to areas not often photographed - and they also lend me a helpful insect and bug expert when we go out, making sure I brush up my ID and insect skills while we're there.
The first thing I was met with last week was an abundance of butterflies feeding on the wildlfowers - small coppers, green veined whites and meadow browns all were in good numbers, albeit some of them looking a bit ragged this time of year.
Everyone knows I'm not a big fan of arachnids, but opiliones are a different story :) The many harvestmen that were nesting on the nettles and thistles didn't give me that much of a problem - although I really hadn't seen so many together on the same plants at any one time before. They really are amazing creatures, being able to shed legs as a defensive tactic, and I did see many with legs missing.
Leaving the creepy leg-shedding harvestmen to their nettles, I was glad to see some friendly faces in the form of ladybirds. It was heartening to see so many again, and this was evidence that this years warmer summer has been a lot kinder to our insects that previous years. This lovely 7 spot was posing nicely in the sun - I find ladybirds difficult to photograph with macro kit, struggling to get their small eyes/faces as the focal point of the shot, and to bring out the facial details in the dark area of their heads. Heavily diffusing the flash seemed to work for this one, although I'm still not overly happy with the results :
Apart from the insects, the most important of the meadow are the plants and flowers that attract all the insect life and pollinators. Purple flowers such as thistle and knapweed always attract the usual butterflies, bees and hoverflies. Common orchids and sticthworts also provide a food source, as well as the many grasses growing there. They also provide an area safe enough for the butterflies and moths larva to pupate. Many caterpillars use the grasses and plants to build cocoons:
don;t overlook your local wildflower or grassland meadow - they are havens for all sorts of insect and buglife, and they are a fantastic resource to learn from. All you have to do is spend an hour there and the insects even come to you - this lovely little common green grasshopper liked the heat from my leg and spent some time on my knee as I knelt to take some butterfly pics. Another amazing creature that really comes to life when photographed with closeup gear :
August is a great time to see the larva of the elephant hawk moth, one of our most iconic hawk moths, with a striking pink and brown marking. The larva is a large caterpillar with a long elongated "nose" that gives it the name we know. It can also withdraw it's nose, making the head end look very big compared to the rest of the body and the markings resembling eyes really stand out - a great defensive technique.
I found this one making it's way towards my house in the back garden - they tend to go on a bit of a pilgrimage this time of year and can get quite a head of steam up! This is when it is finding a place to pupate, where it will stay until next spring.
They are fascinating to photograph as being so big, you can bring out all the details, markings and textures really well and almost full of the frame with little cropping.
They make fantastic macro photography subjects as they have a velvety texture to their skin which really makes a nice "matt finish" look on the images. As long as you don't impede their journey too much they are quite comfortable to photograph, and don't seem to mind any off-camera flash system I used. All these shots were taken on the trusty Olympus E-5, Sigma 105mm f2.8 lens, and FL36R remote Olympus flash. The flash is slightly diffused, thinner than most diffusers to still bring out the contrast and detail that some heavy diffusers can hinder.
I was pleased to see my second one of these and photograph it, I got one last year at the back of garden as well. So be aware when walking around your grass in the evenings as these guys might be out on one of their treks!
About this blog:
Photographic adventures from from behind the DGPix Wildlife & Nature Photography lens!