Monthly Archives: July 2013

Awed by Tiny Creatures

I enjoyed an exhilarating morning  in a field near where I live… crawling around through the tall grasses or moving snail-like as I joyfully stalked spiders and insects, searching for tiny spots of beauty that I could capture with my camera. Once I don my “photographer” eyes, I start to pick out possible subjects at every turn and today was certainly no exception. Iridescent jumping spiders, praying mantises, katydids, fireflies, honey bees, bumble bees, beetles, flies, butterflies…  Excursions into the macro world are almost always rewarding once I narrow my field of vision and start paying attention to the miniature world at my feet. Oh, such beauty exists there, though few people are aware of it.

Today the field was wet with dew and as usually is the case, time ceased to exist as I painstakingly moved about on my adventure to nowhere. Tiny water drops hung on every surface, perfect little circles of liquid shining like diamonds when the sunlight hit them just right. When I sat down, eye level with the curved blades of grass, the drops were everywhere and I reveled in the beauty, even knowing it would be nearly impossible to capture in such a way that would inspire the same wonder I feel as a witness. I can choose small parts of the bigger picture to photograph but without the context of the surrounding beauty, those will be lacking.

The first “little wonder” I photographed was a lovely jumping spider that had a reddish-brown back and iridescent blue eyes and fangs. Jumping spiders are among my favorite of all the spiders, as their two giant eyes front and center (they have 6 more smaller eyes) and their inquisitive nature I find endearing. They almost always rush to the back side of the leaf or blade of grass when they become aware of my presence. I move slowly, getting closer and closer and then carefully setting my tripod in among the grasses. The spiders eventually become curious enough to peek around the edge of the grass, only their eyes visible as we stare at each other. I wonder if they are sizing me up, thinking “If I can catch this one, I will be set for life!” Unlike many other spiders, jumping spiders have fabulous vision, able to spot and recognize prey 14 times their body length away. And they can jump up to 40x their body length… this would be like a five foot tall person leaping over 5 school buses parked end-to-end in one jump! They are amazing little creatures, leaving me endlessly fascinated.

The little spider and I played this game of looking at each other for almost an hour. With all the grass between me and her and all the distracting elements in the background, it is challenging to get all the conditions just right for an excellent shot. She would hide and I would move a piece of grass or two, then she’d peek out again at me, maybe eye up another blade of grass nearby and then! Leap! over there and rush to the backside of a piece of grass. I was hoping she would leap upon some unsuspecting prey during this time but she was too focused on me it seemed. Eventually I left her to to her thing and wandered off to see what else I could find.

Almost immediately I found several shed skins–from spiders and one from what I’m guessing is a praying mantis. Both grow through a process called molting whereby they shed their old skins. I photographed both, then moved on in search of other wonders.

Next I found several praying mantises and katydids, both of these masters of camouflage. But I was looking for them, a fact that makes all the difference. Just in the last week I have begun to hear the delightful chorus of the katydids as I ready myself for sleep each night… such wonderful music they make!

Three hours later, with perspiration soaked clothes and many new images to view, I finally decided to call it quits, silently making my way through the flowers and tall grasses, careful to go slowly past the feeding honey bees and bumble bees….


“The real secret of the study of nature lies in learning to use one’s eyes.”

 –George Sand

10 Things You May Not Know about Cicadas

cicada2-0743Cicadas are a type of insect that on any summer day in most places in North America,  can be heard calling from the treetops. If you’re like many people, you may have heard of them, but know little more than that they make a lot of noise! Here are some interesting things about them:cicada3-0755

1 Cicadas hold two records in the insect world–they make the loudest sound and are the longest lived insects in North America. It’s the males who are responsible, calling with all they’ve got in hopes of attracting a mate. The calls of some cicadas can reach 120 decibels and can be heard up to one mile away!

2. They make their sounds by vibrating a hollow drum-like organ on their abdomens. And they are LOUD, as high as 106.7 decibels!

3. Cicadas are found on every continent with over 3000 species. However, North America is the only place that the Periodical or 17-Year Cicada resides. In NA there are 7 species of periodical cicadas.

4. Like most insects, cicadas begin their lives as eggs. Females insect the eggs into small saplings at the tops of trees. When the eggs hatch into larvae 6-10 weeks later, they fall to the forest floor and burrow under the ground 6-10 inches where they will remain for a number of years depending on species–from one to 13 or 17 years.

5. The baby insects, called nymphs, will feed on the sap from tree roots until it’s time to emerge as adults. This means staying underground for one or two years or 13 or 17 years!cicada3-0761

6. Periodical cicadas reach astonishing populations, sometimes with 1.5 million per acre!

cicada3-07607. Cicadas have 5 eyes, 2 compound eyes and three ocelli. Ocelli are jewel like eyes between compound eyes that detect light and darkness.

8. Despite widespread belief otherwise, periodical cicadas are actually beneficial to the ecology of a region. As larvae they aerate the soil and as adults their egg-laying acts as a natural pruning for trees that results in greater numbers of fruits the following year. In addition, their mass emergence turns over large amounts of soil and their decaying bodies return valuable nitrogen and nutrients to the soil.

9. Females lay 1 to several dozen rice sized eggs in each branch, with a total of 400-600 in 40 to 50 sites. Problems may arise if the trees are not large enough to overcome this natural pruning.

10. The nymphs emerge on a spring evening when the soil temperature reaches 63 degrees.  This usually happens in late April or early May in the southern states and late May to early June in the northern states.

Click HERE to read about the night I witnessed a 17-year cicada emergence when I was thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail.

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Be brave enough to face your enemies, even when you’re scared to death.



(To read about the bobcat/woodchuck encounter, Click Here.)