Friday, November 13, 2015

Potter/Mud dauber wasp: the making

Respost for folks from Reddit.

Here's some sense of how the whole process goes. The series also gives you an idea of how long I spent on getting these images. Its only towards the completion of the second or even third pot that I got what I wanted. I think it took a week I think before I nailed the lighting and focus.

I wanted the wasp completely in focus, so absolutely parallel to the lens plane. So I watched it to figure out its behavior and realized it would hover in front of the pot for just a couple of seconds before landing. So I rigged the tripod to be just low enough to be eye level to the wasp and just parallel to its incoming flight path. 

My only light source was either natural light or my handheld manual Vivitar 5000. I did have an extension cable at least. Initially I just worked on getting the exposure right so I got nice wing blur but a stable insect. You can see their bodies are quite still, even when their wings move.

Then I worked on getting enough light on the wasp and on the wall behind the wasp. If you held the light parallel to the wasp body, the light on the wall fell off very fast and the right edge of the image was too dark. Not to mention the ugly shadow of the pot either below or beside the pot (See images 2, 3 and 4). I didn't have a second flash to do a fill light. (I was a poor grad student then.) 

So the light had to be held just so. Once the wasp was hovering, the ring-light was held behind it so the insect was in its centre. And the light was tilted towards the wall, so off at an angle to the wasp and pushing more light to the wall, behind the pot. The light is also slightly above the wasp, pointing down a bit as you can infer from the specular highlights and shadows. This last part wasn't necessarily intended, but altogether it worked. The image hangs together

As you can see there is still some fall off on the wall and the front of the mud ball and the face of the wasp is not as highly lit as the thorax and abdomen. But both those are acceptable compromises. The image hangs. And that is how I made this image. I didn't click it, I didn't snap it, no, no, I stalked it and I made it.

Bring mud to make pot

Shape pot out of the mud brought in 
Stock the pot with alive but paralysed soft bodied prey like caterpillars and spiders.
Lay a single egg and seal the pot. See sealed pot in image no 1.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The abundant end of summer

The Don valley parkway was closed this weekend. But it was very very busy in other ways. A few million midges had an end of summer party over it!

They had fireworks and everything!

It was quite the show. Summer got a grand send off.

Copyright © Natasha Mhatre If you're reading this without attribution to me anywhere other than at my blog Talking Pictures, its probably being plagiarized.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Lightening struck a lot more times than twice

Once it even struck twice at once. But that I saw, this I photographed. This you'll believe happened.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Oh God, what is this blog descending to. Kitten pictures?!
I may have to shut this outfit down soon.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Monday, March 02, 2015


I know that some of you came here to look at my science art. You may be interested in the fun and games at the #SciArt hash-tag. Don't bother with the 'Is it art' question. No line has been drawn between art, craft, illustration or doodling by anyone at all. This is Twitter after all but its fun nonetheless. Have a look.

To look at my word beasts

Sunday, February 15, 2015

This will not be the last time

Either you or I see this. This is the best we can hope for.
I'm afraid I have no photographic wisdom for you. Just photographs.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Winter light:Toronto

It's cold but it's bright. Sometimes.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Visiting a spaceship: Buzludja

When visiting a spaceship built for the future, be prepared to encounter the past.

More when I can.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Secret lives: it's a kotwal, ya drongo

Continuing in the theme of names:

A black form flies
chasing would-be thief
and with harsh cries
defies him to try again.
He's a king, not crow,
he's a black drongo.

Before him a bee
twists him in flight.
Though you cannot see,
he has it in a trice.
He's a king, not crow,
he's a black drongo.

My song is mine
but yours is too.
I use it as a sign
to misdirect and fool.
I am a king, not crow,
I'm a black drongo.

But he too is fooled
raises anothers child
and is cuckool'd.
Sometimes it no use
being a king, not crow,
sometimes, you're just
a black drongo.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Secret lives: Parasitoid wasp

This caterpillar puts up an impressive display of defences.  An bushy density of barbed utricating hairs covering every segment, pointed in all directions. And for all that they mean naught to our elegant little wasp, the wasp with iridescent wings, and a fragile waist. A slick player so small that it gets lost within the defences of the caterpillar. It is precisely because it is so small that it can get past the hair that keep large predators and perhaps even larger wasps away. Good things, small packages.

It is leaving some packages of its own behind. This is a parasitoid wasp. Such an innocuous sounding word, not parasite, merely like a parasite. An -oid, eidos, form of, an imperfect resemblance. But this imperfection is not in the least bit innocuous, it is very very sinister. This wasps imperfection is that it will kill the caterpillar. Well, its progeny will. The eggs it is laying in that caterpillar will hatch into larvae. These larvae will feed on the caterpillar from within until they are ready to pupate. At this point they will eat their way out of the caterpillar, now an emptied and dead cul-de-sac, and will pupate once outside.

A good parasite loves its host. It keeps it alive. In possibly the most ancient case we know, it loves it so much it nurtures it (our lovely endosymbionts: mitochondria, chloroplasts). The perfect parasite is one where the host cannot live without its parasite. To kill your host means you must find another one: a very imperfect situation. So, a parasitoid, an imperfect parasite.

'I'm Gentleman Death in silk and lace, come to put out the candles. The canker in the heart of the rose.'

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Secret lives: Pariah / Black kite (Milvus migrans)

It used to be called the pariah kite on the Indian subcontinent, the shite-hawke in England. Its lovely habit of rooting through your dustbins probably earned it this name. Now its more simply called the black kite in India and the black-eared in England. To seperate it from the red, which the English seem to like better and perhaps the Brahminy kite (Haliastur indus) in India, so named for its white head. In Australia, the Brahminy is called the much more regal name of red-backed sea eagle. It's a dumpster diver just the same. 

I cannot help but think that the Pariah was pejorative name, and referred specifically to the occupations of pariahs in India. (Pariah was a catch all name for all lower castes who usually did the dirty work, collecting and clearing garbage, including said shite.) Bird names and identities have always had their own heirarchy. There are the special birds we see when we go out twitching, the ones we keep records of. And the others whose existance goes unnoted. The Pariah was onesuch. 

From the 'Boke of St. Albans'

An Eagle for an Emperor, 
a Gyrfalcon for a King; 
a Peregrine for a Prince, 
and a Saker for a Knight; 
a Merlin for a lady, 
a Goshawk for a Yeoman, 
a Sparrowhawk for a Priest, 

the movie.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Secret Lives: Scarab beetle

The iridescent colour of these beetles is a form of structural colour. The most common form of iridescence in beetles is through multilayer reflection. Imagine a multi-layered cake, sponge layers alternating with cream layers. (If you're still here and not having a snack in the kitchen) Now imagine that each layer is transperant but has a different refractive index. White light falling on our cake will go through each layer, but when it hits a boundary, this light will get split, some will get reflected back upwards. If boundaries are between 380–750 nm apart, ie the wavelengths within the visible light spectrum, the returning light will interfere other relflected light from the top surface. And depending on the depth of each our layers, constructive interference will occur for some visible light wavelength, i.e. some colour will be made super bright within the white light spectrum, and voila presto, structural colour. Here's a nice review on beetle iridescence.

But this picture is about hairiness really, rather than colour. Why are so many insects so hairy? My thought is electrostatics, what's yours?

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Secret Lives: Funnel web spider

I don't have my kit with me. I'm bored. You shouldn't have to be. So here's some stuff from the past...also serves the purpose of making the images available under the new terms of CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.

Feel free to upload to Wikimedia Commons under these terms and to request any that you want.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Dust in the wind

It's nice to finally figure out when you're happiest. I need a road trip. I need to learn to drive.