Gromphadorina portentosa

I found myself with a few spare moments this weekend, so I decided to finally put together a white box and see what I could do with it.  And what better subject for a white box maiden voyage than Gromphadorina portentosa, the Madagascan hissing cockroach.  Grotesquely beautiful, it also presents a challenging subject for flash-based macrophotography because of its hard, shiny exoskeleton that produces strong specular highlights with all but the most highly diffuse of light sources.  It was also the only live subject I had on hand at the moment, other than a few larval noctuids – not nearly as impressive as these behemoths!  There were some early glitches – the enormous size of these insects made for long working distances, with the result that my box was almost too small!  However, placing the subjects at the back of the box allowed the camera lens and flash units to sneak just inside the front drape, and the closer shots went more smoothly.  I’m quite happy with the results – at least as a first attempt, and I think the method shows even more promise for some preserved specimen photographs that I am planning.

The males, of course, have “horns” on the pronotum, but one thing I had never noticed before is the well-developed lip at its anterior edge.  This is certainly an adaptation to the “shoving” matches that males engage in with each other frequently.  This face-on shot shows him for the formidible opponent that he is!

Sexual dimorphism is fairly evident in this species, as least compared to your average cockroach.  Like most insects, females tend to be a little larger, especially when they are gravid as the one below appears to be.  In my colony I note that they also tend to be more uniformly dark in color than the males, although that is not quite so evident with this particular female.

The big difference is, of course, the weakly developed pronotal protuberances.  Females don’t engage in the shoving matches that males do, so there is no need for the heavily armed pronotum.  Nevertheless, small pronotal humps are still found in the adult females.  Note also the lack of a well-developed lip on the anterior edge of the female pronotum.

Photo Details: Canon 100mm macro lens on Canon 50D, ISO 100, 1/200 sec, f/8-11, indirect MT-24EX flash in white box.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010

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16 thoughts on “Gromphadorina portentosa

  1. Wow! I like this white-box technique! What fabulous close-ups! I laughed gleefully as i clicked to enlarge that face-on photo of the male, and shoved it (my laptop) in front of AJ’s face. She’ll probably have nightmares. Ha!

    Ted, I am gaining a real appreciation for macro photography – when it comes to insects. I have been trying to photograph beetles for about a month now, only to see the photos turn out blurry at best. Those little suckers run fast, and are no match for my “kit” lens 18-55mm, f5.6.

    Can’t wait to see more of your light box work!

    • Thanks, Amber. But let’s be nice to AJ – we don’t want to scare away someone with such great blog carnival hosting talent!

      All you need for photographing insects is patience, a good macro lens, patience, a feeling for their behavior, and patience. Did I mention patience?

  2. These pics are a great start Ted, and what a superb first subject. No nasty specular highlights at all.

    A (very) small criticism would be that the contrast looks a touch low, making the images appear a little flat. Can I suggest a little tweak with the levels and smart sharpen tools in Photoshop? Reckon it would really make the image “pop”. Some people frown at any form of post production work, but in my opinion it is a necessity (and no different from the numerous darkroom techniques employed a few years back).

    Can’t wait to see a few tiger beetles photographed with this technique.

    • Thanks, Paul. I gave a link to Alex’s article about how to make a white box at the beginning of the post, but it’s really simple – line a large cardboard box with white paper. I used double-sheets of Kimwipes® laboratory wipers, which are bright white with no shininess or color cast.

  3. Biiiig bug! Very nice diffused lighting.

    If she is gravid, then we can look forward to photographs of her laying her egg case, no?

    And I am all for seeing more pictures of roaches, especially if they annoy AJ…

    • Thank you, Adrian. I can keep an eye out, but the eggs hatch at the moment the egg case is laid, so it’s not an easy thing to anticipate. They would make for some awesome photos, however – the nymphs are bright white as they’re hatching.

  4. Great photos, Ted. We have a couple of different boxes my wife uses for photographing her pottery. I’ve never had much luck using them for insect photos though. The enclosures work fine. Getting live insects to remain stationary long enough to photograph is the problem. I’ve yet to find a technique that overcomes insect movement.

    • Hi Marvin – thanks. And you are quite right about insect movement being a problem. Alex has a nice article at his site about the different techniques he uses to deal with such, at least as pertains to ants. Some of the techniques work for other insects as well, but I’m sure there are certain insects that won’t sit still in a box such as this no matter what you do (short of pumping CO2 into the box :)).

  5. Stunning, Ted! Wow! And a whole list of superlatives that would be understating the matter. These are spectacular shots. Glad to see you had the time to experiment a bit with this approach. It really brought out the beauty of the subjects. I can’t wait to see what else you accomplish with this technique.

    • Thanks, Jason. I’ve been using my new-found understanding of histograms and use of levels to enhance contrast, so expect some “new and improved” versions soon.

      I have to admit – white boxes do tend to bring out the features of a subject compared to “regular” photography.


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