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.
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 garden snails ancestors are one of the earliest known types of animals in the world. There is fossil evidence that they lived nearly 500 million years ago. All land snails are gastropod mollusks, meaning that they belong to the same group as octopuses – they evolved from the sea. They live for 2 – 3 years, travel at speeds up to 0.047 km/hour and can be found almost everywhere in the world, living in a diverse range of habitats.
Although snails have eyes, they are blind. They are also totally deaf and rely on their sense of smell to find food. The average garden snail has over 14,000 teeth, which are arranged in rows on their tongue. They eat plants, fruit, vegetables, algae, mushrooms, fungi and sand and soil when seeking calcium to harden their shells.
Garden snails hibernate during the winter and live on stored fat built up during the summer months. They are nocturnal and don’t like sunlight because it can dry out their bodies. When conditions become too dry, the snail will retreat into its shell and seal the entrance with a parchment-like barrier known as an epiphragm.
Snails’ secrete a thick slime in order to move around. Because of this slime, they can move over upside down surfaces or crawl across the edge of a razorblade and not injure themselves. This slime, called “mucin” is used in many beauty products such as anti-aging creams, facemasks, moisturisers & eye masks. Snail spas are quite popular in Thailand where living snails are put on the client’s face and left to slither around.
Garden snails are hermaphrodites meaning that it possesses both male and female reproductive organs and these are located on the sides of their heads. Although it is able to self-fertilise most snails mate with another snail. Reproduction takes place in early summer and begins with pairing and courtship. After a period in which the pair caress each other with their tentacles, each snail pierces the skin of its partner with a spiny projection called a ‘love dart’. This ‘love dart’ is believed to be the inspiration for the ‘cupid love arrow’ myth. The function of this love dart is unclear, but it is thought that the mucus may act to improve the survival of sperm. Love darts are only made in sexually mature animals. Mating (lasting 4 – 12 hours) then takes place; each snail inserts its penis into its partner at the same time. The snails separate, and the sperm is stored internally until the eggs are ripe. After the eggs have been fertilised, the snails dig a pit in the soil in which to lay the eggs (usually around 85). After 15 days, the eggs hatch. The hatchlings have translucent and delicate shells.
Snails are a gourmet dish called escargot that is popular in France, Spain, Portugal and in many other countries around the world. Snails are low-fat, protein-rich and a good source of a variety of essential vitamins and minerals, including magnesium, omega 3, selenium, vitamin E and phosphorus. When cooked, snails are prepared with a garlic and parsley butter sauce, and are served in their shells as a starter. They are very expensive because they are considered a delicacy.
The mediterranean Gecko has large, unblinking eyes (ie: there are no eyelids) with vertical pupils. They have bumpy or warty skin and their somewhat odd appearance that also matches their rather intriguing habits. The Mediterranean gecko helps provide year-round insect pest control in our landscapes and homes by feeding on cockroaches and a wide variety of other insects. It is native to Southern Europe and Northern Africa. Geckos have adapted well to living in and around homes. For this reason, their numbers and range seem to be on the increase in many areas in the Southeastern United States. The Mediterranean Gecko body is cylindrical, squat and sometimes flattened on the upper side. They have soft, granular skin that feels velvety to the touch. The coloration of a gecko is very important to their lifestyle. The skin is usually gray with several brownish-red to bright red spots and flecks. They have the ability to lighten or darken the coloring of their skin. They usually do so in order to blend in or to be less noticeable to other animals. Mediterranean Geckos have toes that are equipped with claws and sticky toe pads to aid in climbing. They are expert tree climbers. Their sticky toe pads also allow them to climb walls as well as navigate across glass and screens. They are often observed perched on walls around outside lights, waiting to grab insects attracted to the light. By day, these lizards hide in cracks, crevices and under tree bark. Mediterranean Geckos are nocturnal, being most active during the evening and night time hours. They are frequently found near lighted areas (such as the front entryway), where small insects are abundant during the warm season.
The frog you are most likely to see in Britain is the Common Frog (Rana Temporaria), which lives on land in damp habitats for most of the year. It may be found in open woods, hedgerows, fields and gardens, not too far from water. The body colour varies widely, with upper parts usually brown or olive, but sometimes yellowish- orange or grey. The underside is normally paler, and the whole body is blotched or spotted with a darker colour, which helps to camouflage it against its background. This frog has a distinctive dark patch behind its eye. A male Common Frog is slightly smaller than the female, which measures about 7.5cm (3in.). Frogs move by hopping or leaping, using their long, muscular back legs; they do not crawl. They have very smooth, damp skins. The fully webbed hind feet help them to swim. Diet: Frogs eat insects and other invertebrates, such as slugs, snails and worms. On summer days, they like to hide amongst tall plants and come out on warm, damp evenings to hunt. Like all amphibians, it is hard for them to find food during the winter, and they cannot function in cold temperatures, so from about mid-October they hibernate in a sheltered place on land e.g. under a log, or in the muddy bottoms of ponds. Males often hibernate in the bottom of ponds, so that they are already at the breeding site when the females arrive in the early spring. They can take in sufficient oxygen through their skin during hibernation under the water. Breeding: A frog is ready to breed at about two years old. After their winter hibernation, frogs emerge to migrate to breeding ponds, returning, if possible, to the places where they themselves were hatched. The males usually arrive first, usually in February or March, but often January in the south-west of England and begin croaking loudly to attract the females. The male frog develops thick pads of rough skin on his thumbs, which enable him to grip the slippery female firmly whilst mating. The female releases about 2,000 eggs into the shallow parts of the pond, and, as they leave her body, the male releases his sperm over them. The jelly around each egg swells up, so protecting the egg and helping to keep it warm. The spawn sinks to begin with, but soon swells and rises to the surface. After spawning, the adults usually stay in the water until April, when the weather is warmer, and then live on the land. Tadpoles hatch from the eggs after about two weeks. It will be three months before they will have developed into tiny miniature frogs, ready to leave the pond. As they leave the water, they are very vulnerable to predators such as blackbirds. At any age they may be eaten by cats, crows, herons, ducks, hedgehogs, rats and foxes.