Snails usually exist in a damp habitat therefore it’s best to photograph them in moist surroundings. Since they are generally considered as being dull and uninteresting, I decided to portray them in a magical scenario with a colourful background. To achieve this, I created a mini environment outside using a clump of moss that I found in the garden (the larger the clump – the better, because you won’t have to keep replacing the subject). This was placed on a 3ft high table in front of the camera, which was on a tripod at the same height. The background was a small branch cut from a conifer (also from the garden) and suspended with a clamp from another tripod to create the background bokeh. This branch was placed about 2ft behind the table with the moss capsules and slightly higher than the table. Both the moss capsules and the conifer branch were continually sprayed with water from a misting bottle. The trick here is to shoot directly into an early morning or late evening sun, so that the water droplets create the bokeh.
I used a Canon EF 100mm f2.8 macro USM lens and a remote shutter release. Using aperture priority and the widest aperture of f2.8 (manual focus), the bokeh will be larger and a higher aperture or f.stop will produce a smaller bokeh. Because the camera is close to the subject, the bokeh around the subject will be smaller than the bokeh around the background. The distance of wet branch in the background with the water droplets from the camera also determine the size of the background bokeh so it is a matter of adjusting the distance to suit your taste. Snails are slow moving creatures so once the shutter speed is above 1/60sec, you should be ok. Also, the ISO should be as low as possible to avoid a grain effect. These images are just screen grabs from a film project that I was involved in, hence their small size but I’m sure that you get the idea. Happy shooting – Chris.
The ruddy darter dragonfly has a wingspan of up to 6 cm. The head, thorax and abdomen of the male are a vivid red colour and the slightly smaller female is a golden-yellow colour with black markings. The all-black legs of the ruddy darter distinguish it from other very similar common darters. The ruddy darter dragonfly can be found between the months of July and November. Mating takes place on the wing, with the coupled pair performing a dipping flight over the water. The female jettisons her fertilised eggs on the surface of the water by alternating movements of the abdomen. The male will hover nearby during this period and protect the female by driving off any approaching males. The larvae spend the year beneath the surface of the water before emerging and pupating into adults. The ruddy darter dragonfly is to be found in temperate regions throughout Europe, as Far East as Siberia and as far south as the northern Sahara. Its conservation status is regarded as secure, and indeed numbers seem to be increasing in some locations such as central England. It tends to prefer quiet bodies of water that feature semiaquatic vegetation such as rushes and reeds.
Nettles are one of the best places to look for insects because all sorts of creatures can be found on them. Nettles may sting us but insects are immune from the effects. If you look closely at the leaves of the nettle plant you will sometimes see small whitish specks, which close up, prove to be the shiny Green Nettle Weevil. They are between 5mm and 8mm in size and the Green Nettle Weevil is often abundant on the nettle plant, hence its common name. The iridescent sheen of the adult Green Nettle Weevil comes from a coating of green scales, which covers its black body. Over time and with age, these scales easily rub off leaving a black ‘shell’ underneath resulting in a rather ‘worn’, patchy appearance, hence the variation between the green and blue colours. They can be found from April to late June. Re the nettle plant itself, our first childhood sting is a lesson learned about the darker side of nature but the treacherous weed can be tamed and put to good use – here are some examples. Butterflies can’t get enough of it. Nettles are butterfly food for at least two common British species – the Red Admiral and the Painted Lady.
They’re medicinal. Nutritional therapists claim that nettles can be used to ease the symptoms of gout, among other ailments. The plants are packed with magnesium, iron and calcium – all essential minerals for healthy humans. They are survivors. The sting on the underside of the nettle leaf is designed to protect it. The fibre inside the plant can be spun into string and used to make fabric for clothing and even paper. A mature nettle is incredibly fibrous, like flaxen. The German army used nettle fabric to make army uniforms during World War One. They tend to come with their own first aid kit. Dock leaves are commonly believed to soothe the symptoms of a nettle sting, and they often grow close by. They are tasty too – nettle soup is slightly tangy and outrageously healthy. The ingredients for this soup are nettles potatoes, onions and seasoning. The sting disappears when the leaves are boiled so they can also be consumed in the form of tea. And finally, they can raise your spirits… literally. Nettle wine is a traditional country wine that’s enjoying a bit of a revival at the moment. It is a very dry, crisp wine that retains a bit of a prickle.
The jumping spider family contains over 500 described genera and over 5,000 described species, making it the largest family of spiders with about 13% of all species. The Zebra Jumping Spider (Salticus scenicus) is one of the most familiar of the British jumping spiders, and is often found on sunny house walls. They reach a size of just 5mm and can be recognized by their jerky stop – start movements. As the name suggests, this small and attractive spider is black with stripes of shining white hairs. Males can be distinguished from females as they have a set of huge jaws that are used in battles with other males. Jumping spiders do not make webs; instead they actively hunt their prey by creeping up and then jumping on them (they can jump 50 times their length) and disabling them with their jaws. They are equipped with excellent eyesight, and probably have the most developed eyes of an arthropod. Four of the eight eyes are large and forward facing giving it stereoscopic vision; the other eyes are arranged so that the spider can see completely around its own body. If you slowly wave a finger at a Zebra Jumping Spider it is likely to turn so that it has a good view of you. They leave a line of silk behind them in case they should lose their footing. The male Zebra Jumping Spider has a pair of leg-like appendages called pedipalps (or simply ‘palps’) that are used to transfer sperm to females during copulation. During courtship, a male Zebra Jumping Spider has to be very careful when approaching the female, or she may react aggressively or even mistake him for a prey species. He signals to the female with his front legs before mating. Zebra jumping spiders are more likely to flee from humans than attack them, but they can bite – although the venom is not considered medically threatening. This species is widespread and common throughout Ireland.
The Weevil species occur in a wide range of colours and body shapes. Many are slender or oval-shaped insects. Depending on the species, weevils range in size from about 3 mm to over 10 mm in length. They are usually dark-coloured – brownish to black. Some have scales or shiny hairs covering part of their bodies. The most distinctive feature of weevils is the shape of their head. An adult weevil has an elongated head that forms a snout. The mouth is at the end of the snout. Some weevils have a snout that is as long as the body. Weevils feed on plants in the larval stage and as adults. Some weevils can be very destructive to crops. For many years, one of the most destructive weevils was the cotton boll weevil. The black vine weevil is the species that is usually found in Ireland. Approximately 12 mm in length, black vine weevils are ovoid in shape and are covered with tiny hairs. They range from brown to gray in colour and possess short snouts. The antennae of these weevils feature elbows, and their wings bear small pits. Black vine weevils are known to attack various plants, trees, shrubs and herbs. Adults feed on leaves and stems of plants, while larvae feed on fine and main roots. The feeding behaviour of black vine weevil larvae causes more damage to affected plants than that of adults. Females emerge in early summer and will feed for about a month before laying eggs. She may lay almost 200 eggs in her lifetime. The eggs hatch and the larvae feed on the roots of the plant. Larvae spend the winter in a dormant state and will pupate the following spring. Black vine weevils can be challenging to control. There are very few natural predators of this weevil species. They are also nocturnal in nature and tend to dwell in subterranean environments.
As their name suggests, the Pavement Ant (2.5 to 4mm in length) usually builds their nest under concrete structures and under footpaths. Some Pavement Ants also build their nests around firewood, bricks and stones. The male Pavement Ants can live for as long as five years while the females can live a little longer (up to 8 years). A single nest of pavement ants can house more than 10,000 workers. The male Pavement Ant’s only role in life is to mate with the queen and after he performs this duty – he dies. The queen Pavement Ant’s only duty in her lifetime is to lay thousands of eggs. Mating mostly occurs during the spring and summer seasons when the drones fly high up in the air and mate with the new queens. Non-productive females (usually seen running around) are workers and soldiers that hunt for food, take care of the queen’s offspring, protect the community and work on the nest. They are omnivores and feed on various types of foods ranging from nectar, fruits, honey and bread. They also feed on dead insects, small nuts and seeds. They have two stomachs, one that holds food for themselves and the other that holds food for the colony.
They communicate by using a chemical trail (pheromones) when recruiting nest-mates to help find food and bring it back to the nest and also to alert them of danger. Pavement ants are known to be very aggressive especially when seeking out new colonies or settlements. The invasions of new colonies result in battles that end up causing the deaths of thousands of ants – these battles occur mostly during the spring. During the summer, they are less aggressive so instead of invading new colonies they dig out the sand in between the pavements to vent the nests. Pavement ants were studied on the International Space Station in 2014.
The House Spider is probably the best known and perhaps the most hated of the Irish spiders – it is fairly large and hairy with long legs. It varies in colour from pale to dark brown, with variable sooty markings on the abdomen. Male and female house spiders are similar in appearance, but males have a more slender abdomen and longer legs. Although often detested, the House Spider provides a service wherever it occurs, reducing the number of flies and other unwelcome insects from our homes, so they are “nature’s safest insecticides”. It makes a flat sheet-like silk web, typically with a tubular retreat at one corner. These webs can become fairly large when undisturbed. When an insect falls onto the web, the spider dashes out from its retreat, seizes the prey and returns to the retreat to consume the meal. Male House Spiders are usually seen more often than females, as they wander widely in search of a mate. After a male has found a female’s web he will stay with her for a number of weeks, mating with her repeatedly during this time. He then dies and the female eats him, the nutrients within the male contribute to the development of his young. The word ‘spider’ derives from the Old English word ‘spithra’, which means ‘spinner’. Spider webs have been used to heal wounds and staunch blood flow for many years. Found all over the world, the House Spider is common and widespread throughout Ireland and Europe.
The cellar spider is commonly referred to as “daddy-long-legs” because of their very long, thin legs, and as their name implies, are found in dark and damp places like cellars and basements. The cellar spider seems to fare better in areas with higher relative humidity. Unlike other spider species, cellar spiders prefer to live within close proximity to one another, creating troublesome communities within human dwellings. These spiders build loose, irregular, tangled webs in corners, and hang upside down on the underside of them. The webs are not cleaned but rather new webs are continually added. This habit can result in extensive webbing in a relatively short time. When disturbed on its web, the cellar spider has the habit of rapidly shaking its body in a rotary movement to confuse and entangle the prey. Like most other spiders, cellar spiders are highly adaptive and successful predators. Their diet consists primarily of insects, which they lure and trap within their webs before encasing them in cocoons. When food supplies in their environment are insufficient, these spiders travel to other webs and pretend to be trapped insects. As the other spider attempts to catch and consume it, the cellar spider attacks the unsuspecting arachnid. They prefer to eat small moths, flies, mosquitoes and other insects or spiders that are found near their webs. Cellar spiders and their webs are usually found in dark and damp places, such as cellars, basements, and crawl spaces. They can also be found in the corners of garages, sheds, and warehouses, on eaves, windows and ceilings, and in closets, sink cabinets and bath-traps. Although, cellar spiders do possess fangs and there is a legend that they have the most potent venom of any spider, the length of these fangs are too short to penetrate human skin, therefore they are harmless to us.
The poplar hawk moth is but one of 1,000 species of hawk moth throughout the world; most are found in the tropics. The poplar hawk moth is nocturnal and feeds and mates at night. During the day it rests on tree trunks where it is perfectly camouflaged because of its gray brown wings. Because of the lack of a ‘frenulum’ (a structure that normally holds the wings together), it can hold its hind wings further forward than its forewings, giving it an unusual appearance at rest. When it lifts its forewings, it will reveal fiery red spots on its hind wings to frighten off an intruder. It mates in May or June. The female lays round, shiny, yellow eggs on poplar, aspen, willow, or sallow tree leaves. The proboscis on the adult is non-functional, so they do not feed during adulthood. They rely on energy stored in their bodies during the caterpillar stage. The adult lives for 3 – 4 weeks and dies after mating or laying eggs. Caterpillars hatch from the eggs seven days later. They are mainly bright green and have orange red breathing holes, called spiracles, and a thorn like spike near the end of their tails. The caterpillars wave the spiked end to scare away predators. They resemble the leaves that they hang from while feeding.
The Blue-Winged Grasshopper is a heat and drought-loving grasshopper that can be found in of sparse vegetation and barren and sandy areas such as quarries, gravel pits, industrial terrain & the ballast of railway tracks. This species has the ability to perfectly blend in with its surrounding habitat thanks to its morphological camouflage. The base colour varies considerably but you will always find red (to blend in with the soil), blue/white (to blend in with rocks) and almost black animals with a pronounced pattern of dark bands and speckled spots on the bodies. This ability is extremely beneficial for survival as it helps to avoid becoming prey by wandering aerial predators. While they are excellent fliers and very mobile, they usually only fly (reluctantly) when disturbed. The adult animals can be found from mid-June to October. The eggs are laid in open sandy-gritty soil and hatch in late May to early June. It can be found anywhere from Spain to southern Scandinavia and even as far afield as western Russia.