Monday, July 21, 2014

Denizens of the Arboretum!

While we were visiting Beth and Phillip in Minneapolis the other day, we made an excursion to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, nearly 2 square miles of gardens, tree collections, prairie and woods.  Run by the University of Minnesota, it has miles of trails, and you can also tour the grounds on a 3 mile touring road.  We chose the drive for an easy way to get an orientation, and it was quite incredible with the variety of the displays and gardens.  While our group went through the visitor center and gift shop, I roamed the flower gardens out front in search of photographic prey...

One thing I've learned in the little time that insects have come into my viewfinder is how little I know about the insect world!  It is certainly more confounding than someone starting out in astronomy - sure, the planets move around and you need to pay attention to what is where, but at least the stars, while there may be thousands of them, like the thousands of insects in a particular area, don't present the same problems in classifying and identification...  Sure, there are easy ones to spot - for instance, the cone flowers were popular with pollinators - here is a honeybee with its "fanny pack"(pollen basket) full of pollen for transport back to the hive...  And at right is a bumblebee that was quite distracted by its feeding on nectar in the flower to pay any attention to me.  These are both very common in the Midwest, though you don't usually get to see them in this much detail except with the macro lens (100mm Canon used for all of these).  While there are many species of honeybee (genus Apis, with 7 species and 44 subspecies known) and bumblebees (genus Bombus with over 250 species known), people know what you talk about when you call it a bee, but I'm hard-pressed to identify the species more explicitly.

Some are a little easier to identify - for instance, this guy got my attention by flying past a flower I was shooting, and diverted my attention to track him down till he settled on a flower.  Looks like a dragonfly, and, of course, the bright, distinct coloration should help with an identification, which it does.  But it took a lot of looking and comparing image details to ID it - turns out it isn't a dragonfly, but rather a damselfly, a Northern Bluet (Enallagma annexum).  The final details of the id are the spots behind the eyeballs, and the broad, blue stripes on its shoulders.  This is shown at full magnification, so is considerably cropped from the original image.  They are notoriously shy and wouldn't let me any closer...

But some insects defy my attempts to identify.  I hate to call in the experts every time, so I look at images on-line, but other than general classification, I now realize how little I know.  At left here is a bee fly (very original, I know) from the family Bombyliidae, but has over 4700 species scattered through more than 230 genera, so I'm hesitant to try to guess what to call it...  Its a bee fly!  And at right is another mystery...  I thought it was a grasshopper when shooting it, but grasshoppers generally don't have long antennae, which might make it a cricket, but most crickets are brown, not fluorescent green and rainbow-colored, so maybe it is a katydid, but most of those are solid green, so perhaps it is still a nymph which are notoriously difficult to identify.  So I'm looking for help if anyone has any to offer!  let me know - click on my name in the far upper right corner or jump into the comments...  Whatever it is, it is pretty amazing-looking!

At least I can close without an insect - I was shooting so many cone flowers that got a 2-frame focus-stack, combining 2 frames with slightly different focus to increase the depth of field.  These coneflowers (likely Echinacea purpurea) were attracting lots of the interesting insects above, and is quite striking in closeup as well, the red and yellow florets contrasting nicely with the pale purple petals.  The yellow details seen in the full-size image are individual pollen clumps. 

For such a short period of time spent at the arboretum, I got a wealth of nice shots, even if I'm a failure in naming what I've shot.  At least I know how little I know!

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