Persistence Pays

For the past three years I’ve crisscrossed the country in search of some of North America’s rarest tiger beetles, each time hoping to get that “perfect” photograph of an unconfined beetle exhibiting natural behavior in its native habitat. I’ve managed to get photos of most, though there are a few that I wish I could do over, but the only one that I think really comes close to the ideal I have in my mind is this one of Cicindela formosa generosa, featured in the ESA 2013 World of Insects Calendar (and, ironically, taken only about 5 miles from my home).

A consequence of all this attention to uncommon species is that I’ve somewhat neglected getting good photographs of some of our most common tiger beetles. One of these is Cicindela repanda (Bronze Tiger Beetle), which can be found near almost any body of water throughout the bulk of eastern North America. This summer I resolved to correct that situation, but I found this to be more difficult than anticipated. The first time I tried to photograph the species was when I encountered them in late July on a wide, open beach along the Mississippi River on a hot, summer day. I found the beetles almost completely unapproachable due to the extreme heat and lack of any cover that could be used to my advantage. I had better luck in mid-August when I attracted some individuals to an ultraviolet light that I had setup one night at a spot further north along the river. Those photos were acceptable technically but lacking otherwise, primarily because the beetles didn’t assume any of the charismatic poses associated with the thermoregulatory behaviors exhibited by active beetles in the middle of a hot summer day. Finally, at the end of August, I encountered the species yet again on a small patch of sandy/muddy river bank along the Mississippi River just south of St. Louis. It was another hot day—quite hot actually—but with the help of some features of terrain I was finally able to get that photo of the species that I’ve been wanting.

Cicindela repanda (Bronze Tiger Beetle) | St. Louis Co., Missouri

I like this photo for a number of reasons. The beetle is nicely profiled while paused “tall” on its front legs (a common posture on hot days as they try to lift themselves up off the hot soil surface), the angle is low, and the subject and foreground are well focused in front of a nicely blurred backdrop of rocks. It is these rocks that actually helped me get this photo. I had chased several individuals down on the open sand for some time, but since the day was as hot as my first attempt and I wasn’t having any better luck. Every now and then one of the beetles that I was “working” would fly up into this rockier area, and I noticed that I was able to get closer to these beetles because I was able to stay lower as I made my approach. I began preferentially working beetles towards the rocks and finally got one that settled down and started showing normal searching behaviors despite the fact that I was already in fairly close range. At that point, it became a matter of waiting for the beetle to “lower his guard” while I assumed a shooting position, and as soon as it began acting normal I slowly closed in and began taking shots.

Getting close is a process, as these successive shots demonstrate.

This collage shows the four shots immediately preceding the final photo and how each shot brought me a little closer to the beetle (and that final composition that I wanted). The beetle was still in search mode as it crawled up the side of one rock and I began taking photos, but upon reaching the top it paused and lifted itself up high on its front legs. I knew I would have 5, 10, maybe 15 seconds at the most to capture this pose before it began moving again, so I closed in slowly but assertively and fired a shot every couple of seconds until I got the one that I wanted. At that moment, the beetle flew away, and although I tried for another 20 minutes or so I was unable to get another beetle back up on the rocks for more shots. How fleeting success can be!

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

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