Blue-Violet Iris Interior

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Pond Ecology

I've been increasingly interested in using my macro lens to photograph insects and other invertebrates. Bees are one of my favorite subjects and I had a delightful time photographing snails during my last stint of looking after Sweetheart. There aren't a great many insects to be found in the vicinity of my house, which is surrounded mostly by conifers in a suburban sort of way, so I'm always on the lookout for new environments that might offer up a different range of critters for my camera. While I was taking care of Mr. Gorgeous last week, I found one.

The lower pond is utilized by a great many birds, including this mallard couple.

Mr. Gorgeous' house is located on a long, steep strip of land. To facilitate runoff, an artificial stream bed has been created on the property, along with two pools. The stream bed is dry most of the time, but the pools are permanent. I'd spent some time photographing ducks in the lower pool recently, but hadn't explored the upper one because it is surrounded by tall grass. However, on the fateful day in question, I approached the lower pool to see what there was to see and startled away two rufous-sided towhees who were bathing in the shallows. I'd like nothing better than to photograph a rufous-sided towhee in the midst of a bath, so I thought I'd approach the upper pool with more stealth in case there were any birds bathing there. I didn't find any birds. I did, however, find a great deal of green slime. And in and among that slime, a fantastic collection of freshwater aquatic invertebrate life.

This photo of the pool's algae-chocked surface looks like it was painted by Monet--that is, if Monet had painted pond scum!

Air bubbles trapped by the slime.

A riot of green.

 Scores of water striders skimmed across the pool's surface in search of prey, their feet barely dimpling the water.

A water strider.

Two different kinds of water striders, one brown, one a metallic blue.

A tiny blue fly landed on the surface of the algae to feed.

(If anyone could ID this for me, that would be awesome!)

Below the surface, danger was everywhere. Different types of water tigers, the voracious predatory larvae of diving beetles, patrolled the thickets of algae.

Diving beetle larva.

Large water tigers can even prey on small fish and tadpoles; this one, perhaps a 1/2 inch in length, would have to be content with smaller prey.

A particularly scary looking diving beetle larva!

The open stretches of the pond teemed with backswimmers in search of prey.

These amazing, agile insects hunt on their backs just below the surface, using their long hind legs like oars.


But what really intrigued me was the ability of my camera to bring the mosquito larvae bobbing just below the surface of the water into view. During my first excursion to the pond, I tried taking some photos of them from above, as I did with the other insects. I decided what I really needed was a straight-sided, narrow container that I could dip into the pool to capture the critters that would allow me to photograph them from the side. Imagine my delight when I found this:

I was so excited to happen upon the perfect container that I hustled up to the pond while still in my pajamas. It turned out to be slightly difficult to get any larvae into the container (especially since I didn't want to fall in or have my camera fall in) and then when I did get some in the container, they displayed a frustrating reluctance to rise to the surface, but eventually they did, and I was extremely pleased that my macro lens was able to bring them into focus. It's hard to comprehend the scale when looking at these images, but to the naked eye, the largest were about the size of this "l" and the smallest were virtually invisible.

You can see how the larvae compare in size to the thickness of the container's walls.

At the surface at last! That thick, blurry, horizontal line is the surface of the water. 

All four larval stages of the mosquito are nicely represented here!

Biology is cool.

While mosquito larvae are not exactly pretty, I love any unexpected look at the world that my macro lens can afford. I certainly don't like hanging out with bugs in general and adult mosquitoes in particular, but photographing them is a different matter! I never had regular access to a pond when I was growing up, so I've never had the opportunity to peer into the depths and marvel at all the strange creatures that lurk beneath the surface, especially in this algae-rich environment. If there had been fish or frogs or photogenic dragonflies to photograph, I most certainly would have pointed my camera at them, too! (I would dearly love to get some great frog photos.) I was always very taken with the idea of ecosystems when studying biology and had I gone in a scientific direction rather than an artistic one with my life, ecology would have been my chosen field. These photographs showcase a nice array of the flora and fauna of a stagnant, freshwater pond ecosystem and I'm so pleased that my camera has the ability to record the minute inhabitants of this aquatic world.

1 comment:

  1. What i like about photographs is that they capture a moment that’s gone forever, impossible to reproduce

    Mark Duin

    Inspirational Speaker