BitB Best of 2009

In my first post of 2009, I looked back at the photographs I had posted during 2008 and picked some of my personal favorites. I hesitated then to call myself a photographer (and still do), but I at least now have suitable equipment to aid in my progress toward that eventual goal. I have learned much over the past six months in my first attempt at serious insect macrophotography (prioritizing in situ field photographs of unmanipulated subjects as a matter of personal choice).  Through this, I’ve come to realize the following skills to be the most important for success:  

  1. Composition
  2. Understanding lighting
  3. Knowing how to use a flash
  4. Knowledge of the subject

I’ll give myself a “A” in the last of these, but in the other areas I still have much to learn. With this caveat, and for the last post of 2009, I offer the following twelve photographs as my final choices for the 2nd Annual “Best of BitB”:  

Best beetle

Cylindera celeripes (swift tiger beetle), Woodward Co., Oklahoma

From Revisiting the Swift Tiger Beetle – Part 1 (June 30).  A decent enough photograph, especially considering that I’d had my camera for about a month when I took it.  However, the discovery of robust populations of this formerly rare and enigmatic species throughout northwestern Oklahoma (and later also in northwestern Missouri) was the most significant find of the 2009 field season, and this photograph is the best capture of that moment.

Best fly

Stylogaster neglecta, a species of thickheaded fly

From Overlooked, needle-bellied, thick-headed fly (Aug 14).  One of my first good “black background” shots.  The white tip of the abdomen compliments the white flower stamens against the background.

Best “true” bug

Beameria venosa, a prairie obligate cicada

From North America’s smallest cicada (Aug 4).  So many different shades of green with white frosting on the bug’s body.  I tried taking this shot in portrait and it just didn’t work—I liked this landscape shot much better.

Best predator

Promachus hinei (Hines giant robber fly) & Ceratina sp. (small carpenter bee) prey

From Prey bee mine (Sept 14).  Robber flies are immensely photogenic, especially those in the genus Promachus due to their prominent “beards.”

Best camoflauge

Dicerca obscura on bark of dead persimmon

From The “obscure” Dicerca (June 19).  Sparkling and gaudy as specimens in a cabinet, the coloration of many jewel beetles actually helps them blend almost perfectly with the bark of their preferred tree hosts.

Best immature insect

Tetracha floridana (Florida metallic tiger beetle) 3rd-instar larva

From Anatomy of a Tiger Beetle Larva (Oct 22).  “Otherwordly” is invariably the first word that comes to mind when someone sees a tiger beetle larva for the first time.  I was lucky enough to get this one in profile with a nice view of its abdominal hump and its curious hooks.

Best arachnid

Centruroides vittatus (striped bark scorpion)

From A face only a mother could love (Oct 6).  Despite some minor depth-of-field problems with this photograph, I’m fascinated by its “smile.”

Best reptile

Eastern collared lizard (Crotaphytus collaris collaris) adult male

From North America’s most beautiful lizard (July 10).  A simply spectacular lizard—all I had to do was frame it well and get the flash right.

Best wildflower

Spiranthes magnicamporum (Great Plains ladies

From Great Plains Ladies’-tresses (Dec 7).  Few flowers are as photogenic as orchids, even native terrestrials with minute flowers such as this one.  I like the frosty texture of the lip and the starkness of the white flower on the black background.

Best natural history moment

Thermoregulatory behavior by Ellipsoptera hirtilabris (moustached tiger beetle)

From Tiger Beetles Agree—It’s Hot in Florida! (Dec 18). I chose this photo for the classic “stilting” and “sun-facing” thermoregulatory behaviors exhibited by this tiger beetle on a blistering hot day in Florida.

Best closeup

Megaphasma denticrus (giant walkingstick)

From North America’s longest insect (Aug 21).  I haven’t tried a whole lot of super close-up photographs yet.  I liked the combination of blue and brown colors on the black background.

Best Landscape

Sand Harbor Overlook, Lake Tahoe, Nevada

From Sand Harbor Overlook, Nevada (March 23).   My choice for “best landscape” again comes from Lake Tahoe.  This is not a great photo technically—I was still using a point-and-shoot and had to deal with foreground sun.  However, none of the other photos I took during my March visit to the area captivate me like this one.  I like the mix of colors with the silhouetted appearance of the trees on the point.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Email to a friend

Overlooked, needle-tailed, thick-headed fly

Photo details: Canon 100mm macro lens on Canon EOS 50D, ISO 100, 1/250 sec, f/16, MT-24EX flash 1/4 power w/ diffuser caps.

Photo details: Canon 100mm macro lens on Canon EOS 50D, ISO 100, 1/250 sec, f/16, MT-24EX flash 1/4 power w/ diffuser caps.

While photographing the rare Typocerus deceptus on flowers of wild hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) at Trail of Tears State Park in southeast Missouri last June, I encountered this strange fly also visiting the hydrangea blossoms.  At first I thought it was some weird type of syrphid fly, but it turns out to be a member of an even more unusual group of flies in the appropriately-named genus Stylogaster¹.  Although classified in the family Conopidae (thick-headed flies), members of this genus are placed in their own subfamily (Stylogastrinae) due to their unusual morphology and biology (obligate parasites of crickets, cockroaches and calyptrate flies).  Ninty-two described species are currently placed in the genus, only two of which occur in North America (the remainder are found chiefly in the Neotropics and in sub-Saharan Africa and southeast Asia).  This individual appears to be a female S. neglecta because of its short 2nd antennomere (antennal segment) and highly elongate 3rd antennomere (in S. biannulata, the 2nd antennomere is almost as long as the 3rd). Thus, the “overlooked, needle-tailed, thick-headed fly” – and who said common names are easier?

¹ Derived from the Latin stilus (needle) and the Greek γαστηρ (belly, stomach), a reference to the highly elongated female abdomen, or “tail.”

Morphologically, stylogastrines are distinguished from other conopids by their eggs, which feature a rigid barbed tip.  This, along with some behavioral observations, seems to imply a shooting oviposition technique; however, morphological evidence suggests that the eggs are forcibly jabbed into their hosts (Kotrba 1997).  The larvae hatch and develop inside their host as internal parasites, but other than the egg very little is known about the life histories of species in this genus (Couri and Pont 2006).  Adults are further distinguished by their long proboscis, which exceeds the length of the body when fully extended and is used to access nectar within a variety of flowers.  Adult females aggressively intercept hosts in-flight for oviposition, and speculation has been made that they are obligate associates of army ants (New World subfamily Ecitoninae and Old World subfamily Dorylinae), relying upon the ants’ raiding columns to flush out their prey.  However, since the genus also occurs in Madagascar and parts of Africa where army ants are completely absent, it is clear that at least some species of Stylogaster have no obligatory association with these ants (Stuckenberg 1963, Couri and Pont 2006).


Couri, M. S. and A. C. Pont. 2006. Eggs of Stylogaster Macquart (Diptera: Conopidae) on Madagascan Muscids (Diptera: Muscidae). Proceedings of the California Academy of Science 57(16):473-478.

Kotrba, M. 1997. Shoot or stab? Morphological evidence on the unresolved oviposition techique in Stylogaster Macquart (Diptera: Conopidae), including discussion of behavioral observations. Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington 99:613-621.

Stuckenberg, B. R.  1963.  A study on the biology of the genus Stylogaster, with the description of a new species from Madagascar.  Revue de Zoologie et Botaniques Africaines 68:251-275.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl