Trichodes bibalteatus in Oklahoma

Among checkered beetles (family Cleridae), the genus Trichodes contains among the largest and most strikingly-colored species.  The 11 North American species of this predominantly Holarctic genus are primarily western in distribution, although two species (T. nuttalli and T. apivorus) do occur in the eastern U.S.  The individual in these photos was one of several I encountered feeding on the flowers of a yellow composite in the Gloss Mountains of northwestern Oklahoma during early July.  I take them to represent the species T. bibalteatus based on their close resemblance to the holotype of that species from the LeConte Collection in the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University.  While these photographs are admittedly far from perfect, they were about the best I could manage at the time considering the gusty post-storm winds that I encountered atop the mesa where these beetles were found (along with my continuing difficulty in achieving proper exposure with subjects on bright yellow flowers).

The striking colors of adult Trichodes and their frequent association with flowers for feeding and mating belies a more treacherous aspect of their life history.  While adults may serve as important pollinators of native plant species (Mawdsley 2004), they also lay their eggs on flowers.  The larvae that hatch from these eggs don’t eat the flower itself, but rather attach themselves to bees and wasps that visit the flower as they gather pollen for provisioning their own nests (Linsley & MacSwain 1943).  The larvae hitch a ride back to the hymenopteran’s nest, where they then prey on the developing brood and usurp pollen provisions for themselves.

Photo Details: Canon 50D w/ MP-E 65mm 1-5X macro lens (ISO 100, 1/250 sec, f/16), Canon MT-24EX flash (1/8 ratio) w/ Sto-Fen + GFPuffer diffusers. Typical post-processing (levels, minor cropping, unsharp mask).


Linsley, E. G. & J. W. MacSwain. 1943. Observations on the life history of Trichodes ornatus (Coleoptera, Cleridae), a larval predator in the nests of bees and wasps. Annals of the Entomological Society of America 36:589–601.

Mawdsley, J. R. 2004. Pollen transport by North American Trichodes Herbst (Coleoptera: Cleridae). Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington 106(1):199-201.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010

Rejoicing the end of summer

Russet browns of big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) and Indian grass (Sorgastrum nutans) blend with still-green foliage in early autumn at White River Balds Natural Area in southwestern Missouri.

Last week I awoke to refreshingly cool temperatures for the first time in a long time – a brutal heat wave that had gripped the Midwest for some time had finally (if only briefly) passed. Missouri typically experiences substantial heat and humidity during the height of summer, a result of warm, moisture-laden air sweeping up from the Gulf of Mexico and over our mid-continental position.  The first cool snap in mid-August, however, usually marks the beginning of the end of protracted heat. High temps may return (and usually do), but they are intermittent and the writing is on the wall – summer’s end is near, and fall is on its way! For most of my life, the coming of fall has always been something to which I looked forward eagerly – it really is my favorite time of year.  I don’t just love fall, I adooore it!!!  As a result, I sometimes forget that not everyone shares my feelings, so when I mentioned to a colleague last week how excited I was that fall was on the way, I was a little surprised by her less-than-pleased reaction. Kids I can understand –  fall means a return to school and the end of fun and sun and no responsibilities.  However, for most adults, fall does not entail as dramatic a paradigm shift – we get up and go to work everyday regardless of the season. Indeed, to my colleague, fall was not dreaded so much for what it is but what it portends – winter! I convinced myself that if she was as interested in natural history as I, surely she would appreciate fall as a time of transition in the natural world.  This logic proved faulty, however, when just a few days later one of my favorite entomologist/natural historian bloggers voiced a similar lamentation.

Xeric calcareous prairie (''cedar glade'') in southwestern Missouri - habitat for Cicindela obsoleta vulturina.

That the charms of fall are not immediately apparent to everyone is beyond me.  Who in middle America doesn’t rejoice the end of long, sweltering days as they cede to the cool days of fall?  Who dreads the crisp, clean, autumn air and its pungent, earthy aromas?  Who doesn’t marvel as they watch the landscape morph from summer’s monotonous shades of green – its forests becoming a riot of red, orange, and yellow, its grasslands a shifting mosaic of tawny, amber, and gold, and in all places shadows cast long and sharp by a cool yellow sun riding low in a deep blue sky?  For the natural historian, fall offers even more than just these sensory gifts – it’s not the end of the season, but rather part of a repeating continuum that includes birth, growth, senescence and quiescence.  Plants that have not yet flowered begin to do so in earnest, while those that have shift energy reserves into developing seeds.  The spring wildflowers may be long gone, but only now do the delicate blooms of Great Plains Ladies’-tresses orchids rise up on their tiny spires.  Grasses also, anonymous during the summer, now reach their zenith – some with seed heads as exquisite as any summer flower.  Insects and other animals step up activity, hastily harvesting fall’s bounty to provision nests or fatten their stores in preparation for the long, winter months ahead.

Gypsum Hills in south-central Kansas. Habitat for Cicindela pulchra.

For myself, it is tiger beetles that are fall’s main attraction.  Yes, tiger beetles are out during spring and summer as well, but there is something special about the fall tiger beetle fauna.  Glittering green, wine red, and vivid white, a number of tiger beetles make a brief appearance in the fall after having spent the summer as larvae, hidden in the ground while feeding on hapless insects that chanced too close to their burrows, until late summer rains triggered pupation and transformation to adulthood.  As the rest of the nature prepares for sleep, these gorgeous beetles take their first, tentative steps into the autumn world for a brief session of feeding and play before winter chases them back underground for the winter.  Every fall for the past several years now, I have looked forward to the annual fall tiger beetle trip to see some of the different species and the unique landscapes which harbor them.  From the “cedar glades” of Missouri’s Ozark Highlands and Gypsum Hills of south-central Kansas, to the Sandhills of central Nebraska and Black Hills of South Dakota, I’ve acquired an even greater passion for a season that I already loved.  I’ll never forget the first time I saw Cicindela pulchra (beautiful tiger beetle) flashing iridescently across the barren red clay.  I still remember the excitement of seeing my first C. obsoleta vulturina launching itself powerfully from amongst the clumps of big bluestem. I recall my amazement at my first encounter with C. limbata (sandy tiger beetle) as it danced across deep sand blows, undaunted by scouring 30 mph winds.  No doubt I have many equally vivid memories awaiting me in the future, as I intend to keep the annual fall tiger beetle trip a long-standing tradition.  For this year, I’m hoping that C. pulchra and a few other species will reward a late-September drive to the Nebraska and South Dakota Badlands.  Whether they do is almost irrelevant – I love fall, and the chance to see new localities during my favorite time of year will be reward enough.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010

Clown beetle surprise

As I slowly scanned my flashlight through the darkness across the mixed-grass prairie in the Glass Mountains of northwestern Oklahoma last July, there was one thing that I hoped not to see (prairie rattlesnake, unless from afar) and one thing that I hoped more than anything to see (Great Plains giant tiger beetle, Amblycheila cylindriformis). Fortunately, I encountered none of the former and found several of the latter.  It took awhile before I saw the first one, but in the meantime I saw all too abundantly the clown beetle, Eleodes suturalis.  A member of the family Tenebrionidae, this species is one of the most conspicuous components of the Great Plains beetle fauna.  Adults are commonly encountered walking about the grasslands or crossing roads, especially after summer rains.  I recall my first encounter with this species when I made my first insect collecting trip to the Great Plains in 1986, marveling as I literally watched hundreds of individuals crossing a remote highway in southwestern Kansas.  Now, they were just an annoyance – close enough in size and appearance to the object of my search that I had to pause and look at each one I encountered to verify its identity.¹

¹ In fact, a mimetic association has been suggested for Amblycheila cylindriformis and Eleodes suturalis due to their similarity in size, shape and coloration (black with a reddish-brown sutural stripe) (Wrigley 2008).  This may be true, as Eleodes suturalis is an abundant species capable of defending itself with noxious sprays that contain benzoquinone and other hydrocarbons, while Amblycheila cylindriformis is a much rarer species (as mimics tend to be) that lacks defensive compounds.

After finding a few of the Amblycheila, I encountered this particular individual clinging to a root sticking out of the side of a wash.  My closer look caused it to immediately assume its characteristic defensive headstand pose (from which the name ‘clown beetle’ comes), so I decided to take a few photographs (not an easy task at night).  The photos have been sitting on my hard drive since, but in examining them more closely, I realized that this particular beetle is not E. suturalis.  Rather, it is one of several similar appearing species that co-occur with E. suturalis in the Great Plains and sometimes resemble it due to their large size, sulcate elytra, and occasional presence of a similar reddish-brown sutural stripe.  From these species, E. suturalis is at once distinguished by its broadly explanate (flanged) pronotum and laterally carinate, distinctly flattened elytra.  This individual clearly exhibits more rounded elytra and as best as I can tell keys to E. hispilabris – distinguished from E. acuta and E. obscurus by possessing a normal first tarsal segment (not thickened apically) on the foreleg (Bennett 2008).  Presumably this and the other related species of Eleodes also possess chemical defenses similar to E. suturalis – an example of Müllerian mimicry where multiple species exhibit similar warning coloration or behavior (in this case headstanding) along with genuine anti-predation attributes.

Photo Details: Canon 50D (ISO 100, 1/250 sec, f/14), Canon 100mm macro lens, Canon MT-24EX flash (1/4 ratio) w/ Sto-Fen diffusers. Post-processing: levels, unsharp mask, slight cropping.


Bernett, A. 2008. The genus Eleodes Eschscholtz (Coleoptera: Tenebrionidae) of eastern Colorado. Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society 81(4):377–391.

Wrigley, R. A.  2008. Insect collecting in Mid-western USA, July 2007.  The Entomological Society of Manitoba Newsletter 35(2):5–9.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010

“A good photographer is invisible…”

Yesterday I shot down to the southeastern lowlands of Missouri to spend some quality time in the field with friend and fellow cicindelophile Kent Fothergill. We were primarily looking for migrants of the Ascendent Tiger Beetle (Cicindela trifasciata ascendens), a Gulf Coast species that doesn’t normally occur in Missouri but is well known for its vagility and late-season northward migrations and which has been seen in the state once before (Brown and MacRae 2005).  No such individuals were found, but no matter – the day was really about just getting out and enjoying the camaraderie.  Nevertheless, there were some successes.  We located burrows of 1st- and  2nd-instar larvae of the Ant-like Tiger Beetle (Cylindera cursitans) at a site along the Mississippi River where Rich Thoma and I found adults last year.  Previous attempts to rear this species from larva to adult have not succeeded (Brust et al. 2005), but I collected a number of larvae and transferred them to a rearing container anyway in hopes that the techniques I’ve developed for rearing the closely-related Swift Tiger Beetle (Cylindera celeripes) might work also with this species.  We also found the beast that I am photographing above – I’ll leave it to your imagination for now to figure out what it is.

In between stops there was plenty of time for discussion on subjects entomological and non.  One thing Kent knows a thing or two about is insect photography, and during a discussion about such he made an interesting comment. Beyond focus, exposure, and composition, he noted that good insect photographers have the ability to become invisible – i.e., they combine patience and persistence with knowledge of the subject’s behavior to make it forget about the big glass eye staring at them from 6 inches away and return to going about their business.  It brought some clarity to my mind about the things I’ve tried in my own attempts to photograph insects that really did not want to be photographed (and there have been many).  The point was emphasized when I came into the office this morning and found the above photograph in my email inbox – Kent had taken it yesterday while I was photographing the bug-to-be-named-later, and I was completely unaware that I was being photographed!  Yes, a good photographer is invisible…


Brown, C. R. and T. C. MacRae. 2005. Occurrence of Cicindela (Cicindelidia) trifasciata ascendens (Coleoptera: Cicindelidae) in Missouri. Cicindela 37(1–2):17–19.

Brust, M. L., W. W. Hoback, and C. B. Knisley. 2005. Biology, habitat preference, and larval description of Cicindela cursitans LeConte (Coleoptera: Carabidae: Cicindelinae). The Coleopterists Bulletin 59(3):379–390.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010

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Cicindela – A quarterly journal devoted to Cicindelidae

Being a cicindelophile (i.e., a tiger beetle enthusiast), I have on occasion highlighted articles published in the journal Cicindela (“A quarterly journal devoted to Cicindelidae”) (see previous post – also here, here and here).  This delightful little journal is the now 42-year old brainchild of Ronald L. Huber, among North America’s foremost experts of the group (and still serving as Managing Editor for the journal).  With Robert C. Graves and Richard Freitag also serving as Editors, the journal publishes four issues per year – each containing a variety of articles dealing with the taxonomy, biology, faunistics, and conservation of this captivating group.  More recent years have also seen the inclusion of color photographs.  For serious students of the group, the journal is an indispensable resource – its issues containing a significant portion of the recent tiger beetle taxonomic literature (indeed, I am fortunate to possess in my own library a complete and nicely bound set of this journal).  However, even those with only casual interest in the group can appreciate the journal’s informal, enthusiast-centric tone.  A remarkably longstanding labor-of-love, Ron himself lays out and delivers each issue to the printer, then mails copies to the journal’s few hundred subscribers.

One thing that the journal has lacked is a web presence.  This has becomes all too clear with each article that I’ve featured, each prompting requests for subscription information by readers whose interest in the journal was piqued but were then unable to find such information on the web.  All of that is about to change – with Ron’s permission, the journal’s editorial policy and subscription information are being reproduced here to make them more widely available to those who might wish to contribute or subscribe.  The cost of the journal is nominal (only $10 in the U.S.), so even the most casually interested person should be able to justify a subscription.

Editorial Policy

Manuscripts dealing with any aspect of the study of Cicindelidae will be considered from any author.  All manuscripts should be submitted to the Managing Editor via email or on diskette [see inside back cover for conventions and format].  Papers dealing with areas other than the Nearctic are especially solicited but should be in English.  Translations are also very welcome.  All manuscripts will be acknowledged upon receipt.  Proofs-for-correction will be emailed to authors for quality control.  Illustrations, charts, graphs, etc., are encouraged.  Authors that have institutional support or other funds available for publication purposes are importuned to arrange for at least partial payment of publication costs.  Current page charges are shown inside the back cover.


The subscription price for each annual volume of four numbers is currently $10.00 (domestic) and $13.00 outside the U.S.  All subscriptions begin with the first issue of the year.  Back issues of prior volumes, if still available, are priced according to age.  Inquire for prices.  All requests for subscriptions and back issue availability should be addressed to the Managing Editor: Ronald L. Huber, 2521 Jones Place West, Bloomington, Minnesota 55431-2837, U.S.A.

My appreciation to Ron for allowing me to post this information, and also to Ken Allen, for permitting me to reproduce the cover of the latest issue of Cicindela, graced with a gorgeous variant of Cicindela longilabris that he photographed in Glacer National Park.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010

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Bruneau Sand Dune tiger beetles caught in the act!

ResearchBlogging.orgThe newest issue of CICINDELA (“A quarterly journal devoted to Cicindelidae”) contains an interesting article by my good friend and fellow tiger beetle enthusiast Kent Fothergill, who presents a fascinating sequence of photos documenting a field encounter with a mating pair of the endangered Bruneau Sand Dune tiger beetle (Cicindela waynei) (Fothergill 2010).  This is one of several tiger beetle species in the C. maritima species group that inhabit sand dunes in central and western North America – others include the Coral Pink Sand Dune tiger beetle (C. albissima), the St. Anthony Sand Dune tiger beetle (C. arenicola), the Colorado dune tiger beetle (C. theatina), and the sandy tiger beetle (C. limbata).  With the exception of the latter, these species show highly restricted distributions in their preferred sand dune habitats, and because their populations are so small they are especially vulnerable to drought and ever-increasing anthropogenic pressures (i.e., invasive plants, motorized vehicular traffic, overzealous collectors).  While the Bruneau Sand Dune tiger beetle has not been accorded status on the Endangered Species List, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and the Bureau of Land Management have classified it as globally imperiled.

Bruneau Sand Dune tiger beetle, Bruneau Sand Dune State Park, Idaho. Photo © Kent Fothergill 2009.

Kent was observing these beetles in Bruneau Dune State Park in southwestern Idaho – the main habitat for this species – when he encountered several pairs of C. waynei in the process of mating.  Photographs were taken of one mating pair, revealing a fascinating sequence of behaviors that included vigorous but unsuccessful attempts by the female to dislodge the male, eversion and penetration of the female by the male aedeagus, and subsequent mate guarding (see photo above).  It is, in fact, this latter behavior that is most often observed among tiger beetle mating pairs and not actual mating itself, which is only rarely observed.  Kent noted the uniquely modified male mandibles (see photo below) and their possible role in preventing the male from being dislodged during the female’s initial protestations.

Male Bruneau Sand Dune tiger beetles sport impressive choppers! Photo © Kent Fothergill 2009.

This apparently is the first documented report of mating in this species, and its occurrence in May is considerably later in the season than Baker et al. (1997) speculated – significant because protection of 1st instar larvae is a management priority for conservation of this species.  The potential occurrence of 1st instars during a longer period of time is an important consideration for continued management of this species, as the Bruneau Sand Dune population continues to show evidence of decline despite the prohibition of insect collecting, cattle grazing, and off-road vehicles within the park (Bosworth et al. 2010).  Human trampling and pesticide applications to adjacent rangelands are continuing threats that have proven more difficult to manage.

My sincerest thanks to Kent Fothergill for presenting me the opportunity to review his manuscript prior to publication and allowing me to reproduce here two of his spectacular photographs of this gorgeous and rare species.


Baker, C. W., J. C. Munger, K. C. Cornwall and S. Staufer.  1997. Bruneau Dunes tiger beetle study 1994 and 1995.  Idaho Bureau of Land Management, Technical Bulletin 97-7, 52 pp.

Bosworth, W. R., S. J. Romin and T. Weekley.  2010. Bruneau Dunes tiger beetle assessment.  Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Boise, Idaho, 36 pp.

Fothergill, K.  2010. Observations on mating behavior of the Bruneau Dune tiger beetle, Cicindela waynei Leffler (Coleoptera: Carabidae: Cicindelinae).  CICINDELA 42(2):33–45, 7 color plates.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010

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What’s so special about this beetle?

Regular readers of this blog might recognize this as the swift tiger beetle, Cylindera celeripes. This tiny, flightless beetle was once common in the central Great Plains; however, the species has experienced dramatic declines over the past century due to near complete destruction of its preferred prairie habitats.  By the time I first became interested in this species a few years ago, the Flint Hills of Kansas were its last known stronghold.

But that’s not what’s so special about this beetle.

My colleague Chris Brown and I began looking for this species as part of a survey of Missouri tiger beetles.  Although not previously known from the state, historical records from loess hilltop prairie habitats in southwestern Iowa suggested that it might be found in extreme northwestern Missouri at the southern terminus of the Loess Hills landform.  Earlier searches in this part of the state by us and others had turned up empty; however, it was easy to imagine that the beetles had eluded detection due to their small size, cryptic resemblance to ants, and limited temporal occurrence.  In an effort to understand more specifically its habitat preferences and gain a better search image for the species, we visited one of the historical Iowa localities in 2008 and succeeded in finding the species ourselves for the first time.

But that’s not what’s so special about this beetle.

Armed with this experience, Chris and I conducted another dedicated search for this species in Missouri during 2009, targeting the largest and highest quality loess hilltop prairie remnants remaining in the state.  At last, our efforts were rewarded when we found beetles in several loess hilltop prairie remnants in Atchison and Holt Counties.  Their numbers were not high at any of the sites, but the finds nevertheless represented a new state distribution for a species that has only seen contractions to its known range for many years now.

But that’s not what’s so special about this beetle.

A few weeks before finding the beetle in Missouri, I had an opportunity to visit Alabaster Caverns State Park in northwestern Oklahoma, where BugGuide contributor Charles Lewallen had photographed the species in 2003.  I not only succeeded in finding the species at the original locality but determined also that its population there was quite robust.  Indeed, on the same trip I discovered robust populations at several nearby localities, suggesting that the species occurrs commonly throughout the red clay/gypsum hills of northwestern Oklahoma.  Further observations of the species in northwestern Oklahoma last month seem to confirm this.  The beetle in these photographs comes from Alabaster Caverns, but that’s not what’s so special about it.

What is so special about it is that it’s the first ever reared individual of this species!  For those of you wondering why this is significant, until now the immature stages of this species have remained completely unknown.  A few contemporary students of the group have tried to rear the species, but the adults are delicate and do not travel well – indeed, my own first attempt to rear the species when I found it in Iowa was not successful.  However, when I found the Alabaster Caverns population, I placed ~12 adults in a small terrarium into which I had placed a chunk of native soil and moistened with water.  The adults survived well in this terrarium over several days of travel, and once back in the lab I kept them alive for several weeks by feeding them small caterpillars and fruit flies.  When larval burrows began to appear I fed them periodically with very small caterpillars and rootworm larvae, inserting them into individual burrows and sealing the burrow entrance to prevent their escape.  Additional prey larvae were inserted into burrow entrances as they were reopened, and the soil in the terrarium was moistened whenever its surface became quite dry.  By late October, all of the burrows had become inactive, and I wasn’t sure if the larvae had died or were just overwintering.  Nevertheless, I placed the terrarium in a cool (10°C) incubator, where it remained until this past March when I pulled it out of the incubator and returned it to warmer temperatures.  Within days, larval burrows reappeared, and I knew then that I had a decent chance of rearing the species to adulthood.  In early July, the beetle in these photographs emerged from its burrow – the first ever reared swift tiger beetle!  Several more adults emerged during the following 2-3 weeks.

While this rearing was in progress, I managed to find larvae of this species on a return trip to Alabaster Caverns last October.  Both 2nd- and 3rd-instar larvae were collected and preserved to go along with the preserved 1st-instar larva that I had extracted from the rearing container when larvae first began to appear.  While these preserved specimens are all that I need to complete a manuscript describing the larval instars, having reared the species completely from egg to adult as well will provide a most gratifying conclusion for that manuscript.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010

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What’s more difficult to see…

…than a Trimerotropis latifasciata (broad-banded grasshopper) adult on lichen-encrusted clay exposures?

Answer: A T. latifasciata nymph on lichen-encrusted clay exposures.

My thanks to David J. Ferguson for confirming my initial ID as a species of Trimerotropis and provisionally placing these individuals as T. latifasciata.  Of course, I’m not at all an expert in grasshopper identification, but I recognized these individuals, found atop the red, flat-topped mesa of Gloss Mountain State Park in northwestern Oklahoma, for their great similarity to T. saxatilis (lichen grasshopper), a striking, more greenish species (at least here in Missouri) that I had hoped to but did not see during my visit to Lichen Glade Natural Area back in late May (it may have been too early in the season for them).  At first I thought these individuals might represent that species, considering the abundance of lichens that encrusted the clay exposures atop the mesa.  However, according to David the red hind tibia (seen in the photo below of a different adult – sans left front leg), longer wings, occurrence on clay (rather than rock or sand), and location in the Great Plains make T. latifasciata the most tenable choice.

Like T. saxatilis and other species of the genus, T. latifasciata provides a marvelous example of the use of camouflage (i.e., blending in with surroundings) – a form of crypsis – to avoid detection by predators.  Finding this species only strengthens my desire to find (and photograph) T. saxatilis – speckled green, white and black – amidst the green lichens that encrust the red igneous outcroppings of the St. Francois Mountains some 100 miles south of St. Louis.

Photo Details: Canon 50D w/ 100mm macro lens, (ISO 100, 1/250 sec, f/18-20, Canon MT-24EX flash (1/4 ratio) w/ Sto-Fen diffusers, and typical post-processing (levels, minor cropping, unsharp mask).

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010

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