Agapostemon aggregations!!!


OK, where we last left off, I was at Humber Bay on Saturday morning, looking for some sleeping hymenopterans. Other than the Polistes, I was not having much luck, but after the dawn light had past, I wandered a bit inland from the shore, and found this:


Yep! Your eyes are not deceiving you! That is a cluster of sleeping male Agapostemon virescens, one of the most beautiful solitary bees. I have a soft spot for shiny insects, and these bright little jewels fit the bill.


On Saturday, I found at least 4 such clusters, each on a mature Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota), and the largest cluster having about 40 bees within.


I tried many different types of shots, with the 35 and the 100 mm, but it was somewhat frustrating as it was windy, the sky was uniform blue, and the bees were waking up.


I knew I would have to come again at dawn to catch these against the dawn sky….


On Sunday I returned, this time knowing what to look for.

I photographed a couple of clusters, changing angle and lighting to change the mood.

On this one, note the snail appearing over the top edge…It seems to be in many of the subsequent frames.


Here is one with a diffused light from the left only.


And with the reflected sun from the water. The Canon 100 mm (non-L) doesn’t do highlights nicely!


That snail is really making the rounds!


The bees are starting to disperse, and the snail is exploring its options.


Before they all left, I took the time to get a closeup.


One on the finger!


Later in the day, I saw them going about their business as normal. I have read that these bees do this type of aggregated sleeping, and I had dreamed about it, but have never seen pictures of it before!

In Toronto!


Again I must apologizing for the lack of posts recently. Catherine and I have arrived safe and sound in Toronto, and are installed in our new apartment downtown. I was not very prolific with the photography on our drive across the country, but here is a brief photo chronicle to fill everyone in…This story starts in BC and ends in a cliffhanger here in Toronto, so bear with me!


Some of the last of BC’s mountains we saw, near Mt. Robson


We were both relieved that the killer storm that had followed us from Vancouver was behind us!


In Jasper, the elk were on hand to say farewell.


After stopping in Edmonton to see friends, we went to see if we could see some bison on the lone prairie. Sure enough, there were some!


Bury me not here…I think I would rather be buried in the rainforest. Or at least fed to the vultures!


In Northern Ontario, which is actually most of Canada, we just had to stop here!


Arriving south of Sioux St. Marie, we spied this awesome Gray Treefrog (Hyla versicolor).


And here we are in our new digs!


This is the view from our new place.


I did not really do a lot of shooting in the first week or so we were here, but did get a few pic in when I went to visit Catherine’s new lab in Scarborough. Here is a beautiful male Pelegrina proterva


And an Eastern yellowjacket killed by a crab


Here in the east, there are a lot more membracids to be found. This is Campylenchia latipes


The other exciting thing to be found is a lot more agelenids on vegetation. This is some kind of Agelenopsis.


Our wishes for dock spiders came true when we went out to the Entomological Society of Ontario meeting at the Queen’s University Biological Station north of Kingston. Here is a moderately sized one on the dock at dawn!


With loons calling in the background, this shooting was idyllic. Way nicer than the screams and shouts of drunks we are getting used to in downtown Toronto!


W emet a great group pf people at ESO, and I am a big advocate now for students joining up for a great conference experience. Next year is in Sioux St. Marie.


Catherine gave a great talk about Twitter for outreach, and I spoke about some of my yellowjacket work.


We have also noticed the abundance of mimetid spiders (pirate spiders) here in Ontario. These awesome spiders are spider predators as well as kleptoparasites.


This conference was a great introduction to Ontario entomology!


In the time since the conference, I have made a couple of outings…Once to High Park (my old stomping grounds), although I did not cover much of the park. I have noted the abundance of Myrmica rubra with some consternation. Here a worker is tending another membracid, this time Publilia concava


I did see a beautiful alydid, but I am not sure which species.


The one sleeping hymenopteran I found in High Park was this gorgeous Nomada.


And that brings us to this weekend! On Saturday, I went out to Humber Bay Park, another of my favourite places from when I was a kid (we didn’t live too far away). It is a great place to see the sunrise over the city. I, of course, was looking for sleeping insects and things.

This male Polistes dominula shows off his beautiful colours against the sunrise.


We are now in the land of the biggest jumpers in North America! Here is a big (but probably not mature) Phidippus audax.

So this brings us to the point where I found something  I had dreamed about, but never thoughy would come to pass….Check out the next post for that!



Leaving the West Coast


Sorry sorry sorry neglected blog! I apologize for the lack of blog posts over the past months. Catherine and I have been very busy, with a spider course in Arizona, ant work,  many manuscripts to finish, and an impending move to Toronto. Catherine is going to be starting a PhD on widow spider behaviour this fall at UTSC, and I am heading out with her to try to ind some work or a postdoc there.
For now, I will just post some photos with some rambling about what we have been doing in the last few weeks. I will try to get more in depth on the spider course and associated activities soon!


Catherine at the Spider Course in Arizona. This was an awesome 2 week trip for us, and a real education in spider ID!


During the spider course, I shot quite a few pictures…Here is a beautiful Chrysina gloriosa!


Wow. What an awesome beetle!


The spider course was held in the Chiricahua mountains, an absolutely gorgeous area that has a lot to offer the naturalist.


Off course, the spider course brought us to a great area or spiders…Here is a huntsman. Be prepared for many cool species when Catherine gets around to posting about them!


After our return from the spider course, we made a trip to Island View Beach to stock up on black widows or Catherine’s PhD research.


It was a gorgeous day for collecting, and the coastal dunes were doing their best to tell us not to leave!


A garter snake from Island View. We will look forward to a more diverse snake fauna in southern Ontario.


In the past few weeks, as we organized our gear for the move, we had some balcony visitors, including this juvenile Cooper’s Hawk. Right above our door!


The hummingbirds are still here, right outside the door…In Ontario, we will have but a single species, and only for part of the year :(


Ant work has kept me busy…Myrmica rubra tending to larvae.


I have managed to do some shooting on the weekends…Including a quick couple trips out to Iona Beach.


A Paciic Treefrog from this morning. We will definitely miss these little cuties!

Spider predation!

IMG_1271Nothing to see here, just a couple of cool spider species engaged in predation!


Misumena vatia (in white form) consuming a fly. These are called the goldenrod crab spider, but I find them on may flowers.


This plump one was the same one I had photographed on foxglove in the last post.


Misumena vatia in the yellow form with a fly. This one is not yet an adult.




Ambush predators are so cool.


A Phidippus jumping spider with another jumping spider!


You could share this and say she is carrying her babies to safety…Who will believe you will tell you a lot about your friends!


I wonder if these spiders make a lot of their living by preying on other jumpers. They seem to relish them!


So cool!


Country living

IMG_0567So Catherine and I are enjoying a stay deep down south in Langley. We are about 200 m from the US border, and are house, dog, cat, and mouse sitting here for Sofi and her partner Brian. The animals, being motile, homeostatic organisms, are quite easy to care for. The plants, during this ridiculous heatwave and drought, are suffering, even with daily watering!

Anyway, this is our home and family until Saturday, and we plan to make the most of it!


Callie, the dog, is one of our companions during our county sojourn.


Misto the cat looking elegant. What you can’t see is his special butt-hair trim that will spare us the pleasure of cleaning his rump daily.

Oreo the cat, an escape artist, has successfully broken out 3 times during our residency. We used a camera to document his route, and sealed him in for good.

Oreo the cat, an escape artist, has successfully broken out 3 times during our residency. We used a camera to document her route, and sealed her in for good.


In the back 40 are some rabbits, deer, and coyotes. Here is a baby bunny that lives near the woodshed.


Familiar faces are to be found here too: there are lots of cellar spiders!


Here is a common house spider (Parasteatoda tepidariorum) with a great brood of eggsacs.


Out on my morning walk with Callie I found this gorgeous Misumena vatia (goldenrod crab spider) with a big catch.


Here is some more successful predation, this time an Enoplognatha ovata with a crane fly.


There are a bunch of Rufous Hummingbirds here, many of them brood of this year.


Again, out for a morning walk with Callie, I shot this gorgeous Tibellus oblongus (a type of running crab spider) with an egg sac! I really took a lot of pics of this beauty, so let me know what you think!


Mixing in dawn light is one of my favorite techniques at the moment.


Against blue sky, because why not?


A Meet your Neighbours style shot.


Probably my favourite, this one against the hazy dawn sky (there are forest fires nearby!)


This one is shot with the YongNuo 35 mm with a Raynox DCR250.


Another with the 100 mm. 


To round out this post, here is another crab spider, this time a male of Misumena vatia, with spider prey. I believe the spider is a sac spider (Clubionidae).


Cheapskate Tuesday 27: the Yongnuo 35 mm F2


So my soujourn in Guyana was not entirely without casualties. Although I avoided getting eaten by the jaguar, my Canon 50 mm 1.8 II died. I have no idea what happened, but the whole front assembly became detached from the rest of the lens. Everything still works, aperture, focus motor, but I cannot figure out how to snap it back together.


The carnage: maybe the jaguar attacked it!

Anyway, I needed a new fast prime, and it just so happened that when  got back from the jungle, the YN 35 mm f2 was announced. It was retailing for 110 bucks, the same for the 50, and since i have a crop-frame camera, a 35 sounded like a nice focal length for a fast lens. After all, the legacy of the fast 50 mm prime is a holdover from film days, where it would be a “normal” lens on a 35 mm frame. With my 1.6X crop frame Canon, 35 mm is just about a normal focal length, so what I am really getting is not a wide lens, but a fast normal lens. I ordered one!

The waiting for shipment took way longer than expected, as it was on the slow boat from China, but when it arrived last week, I immediately tried it out. The first few images I took with it were OK, but not stellar. Then I remembered to take the protective plastic off the rear element!!!

OK, this lens is pretty cool, it is nice, fast focusing and decently well built (seems on par with the el cheapo Canon 50 anyhow, and is quite reminiscent). It does have a metal mount, and the autofocus switch feels way nicer than that of the Canon. So far so good. What about the images?

I intend to use this for a number of things I used to use my 50 for: documenting social events, fieldwork, and sometime putting it on tubes for macro. Here are my results so far:

Social documentation


Nice and sharp details, and the real advantage of this lens for me is that I do not have to run backwards to frame up a shot. It sees what I see!


I like the way colours are rendered (although a better body would help with the greens!)


The lens is decently fast in focus response, and hence feels fun to use.


The lens is not so wide as to significantly distort faces in close-up shots.


Most importantly, it captures the expressions of huskies well, especially that moment they discover there is a bag of chicken skewers nearby.


Because the lens is bright, getting focus right in the dark is way easier than using a slow zoom.

Field Documentation


Again, I like the focal length. If I want a snapshot of a GPS and a pitfall trap, it works great.


For documentation of habitat, it is wide enough to show the scene.


It can even work for a bit wider view of larger insect phenomena!



It does focus pretty close for a wide lens, but the magnification sort of sucks for macro.


With a Raynox DCR 250, it can be used for closeups, even in natural light. It gets to about 1:2. With 31 mm of extension tubes, it gets a bit better than 1:1. With more extension, the working distance gets pretty darn short. i will experiment with this kind of thing, but for anything approaching 2:1, I would be better off with the 100 mm as a starting point.


“Native” magnification. Not too impressive.


With 31 mm of tubes. A usable macro setup, though subject distance is small.


The seven bladed aperture definitely renders out of focus highlights better than the Canon 50 mm 1.8 II.



Well, this is certainly a usable and enjoyable replacement for my 50 1.8. In fact, with its focal length, it will likely be way more useful to me. I am impressed with the decently close focus, the fact that it is fast and light, and that it fits my budget! One thing to keep in mind about this versus the Canon 50 is that the front element is much less recessed, and hence ghosts and flare may be more common. I did not notice anything other than small blue ghosts when the sun was right in the frame.
I would say if you can afford to, one of the Canon versions of this lens would undoubtedly hold value way better, and perhaps offer an edge in build quality or some aspect of performance. But this is definitely a usable lens, and is quite sharp even wide open (I will post some samples soon!). I will certainly be making a lot more use of this lens than my 50 got, as this is a more valuable focal length for documentation and snapshooting. Look forward to seeing more from this lens in the future!






I have been a bit remiss in continuing to tell the story of the trip Catherine and I took to the Okanagan Valley this spring. I apologize, and in recompense, offer one of the most exciting observations we made.

One of the species we had most hoped to see was the Pacific Rattlesnake, Crotalus oreganus. I was anticipating that being early in the spring, the snakes would still be close to their winter denning sites, perhaps engaged in mating. As it turned out, we were too late. The snakes had already left their den sites for more productive hunting grounds further down the valleys.

The Pacific Rattlesnake is BC’s only rattlesnake, and like many northerly populations of rattlesnakes, is a threatened species. The reasons for the rarity of these snakes is that they have been persecuted by humans, and their habitats are being threatened by development. Persecution of these snakes was particularly damaging as they rely on safe hibernation sites, free of freezing conditions, and must migrate to these sites en masse in the fall. This means that entire populations of the snakes may end up in just a few suitable caverns, where humans can find and destroy them. This is in fact what has happened, not just in BC, but all over North America wherever these denning sites occur. In BC, there was a bounty on the snakes, and some people made it their mission to destroy every snake they could, dynamiting and gassing the dens.


Snakes and roads don’t mix: my unfortunate first encounter with a Pacific Rattlesnake. The snake was decapitated by a truck I was driving, Aug 22, 2008.

In addition, the seasonal migration also poses extreme risk as the snakes must often cross roads to get to where they are going. Needless to say, cars do not mix well with snakes, and death on the roads is undoubtedly a major threat to the species.  I know this all too well, as my first encounter with this species was a fatal one. Years ago, I was driving a truck doing fieldwork in the Similkameen, and hit a snake on the way to a campsite. I felt terrible about this, but by the time I saw the snake, it was too late.
Later that evening, I walked out on the road I had driven up, and saw 7 more freshly killed rattlesnakes! This was likely due to an active log hauling operation using the roadway, but really even a modest amount of vehicle traffic would kill snakes. The 8 I saw killed that day is a ridiculous amount of excess mortality for a long-lived and not very fecund animal, and it means that the population of these snakes is in decline.


On the lookout for snakes, spiders and whatever else we could see.

Every time Catherine and I were in likely areas, we would look at potential den sites with eyes keen for the snakes, but to no avail. We had a bit of inside info on historic den site locations, and so we felt well-prepared. Alas, the snakes did not show up. It was not until late in our trip that we checked out a site near Vaseux Lake. Here again we did not find any rattlers, but we did find a snake-catcher’s equipment in one of the likely den sites: tall boots and a large bucket. This was likely from someone in animal control or perhaps a pest control business that had used these to transport rattlesnakes to the den from someone’s house or other building in the fall (sometimes the snakes will end up in these locations on the way to their dens). This was most encouraging!

We occupied ourselves taking pictures of spiders and insects in the grasslands near the bluffs, always with an eye out for snakes. In the same area where we found  the racer, I finally spotted one!


This was quite a small snake, and when I saw it, it was fleeing our approach (I had thought they might just stay still, like Bothrops). Unlike most snakes which I am familiar with, this is a pitviper, adapted for camouflage and ambush predation, rather than quick flight. We wanted to get some photos, so I picked the snake up on my monopod and placed it in an open area. The little snake was obviously not too pleased with this, but only gave a halfhearted, barely audible rattle. In addition, at no time did the snake strike the stick. It was fairly easy to keep the snake in place just by moving the monopod in front of its head, and it soon just settled in a defensive coil. This made it very easy to photograph, although if I had a polarizing filter for the brilliant sunshine, the shots would have been better!
The ease I had handling these snakes is in stark contrast to just about every other snake I have met. They are relatively slow and cumbersome animals (though the strike is likely very quick).  I have no doubt any reasonably capable adult could move any “threatening” snake from their premises easily with a large bucket and a stick. Nonetheless, these snakes are still regularly (and legally) killed to “protect life and property”, which means that enforcement of their protected status is a nebulous concept.


The snake was absolutely beautiful, with chocolate-brown patches on a cream background.


This eye-level shot shows off the heat-sensitive pits (large holes on the front) which the snakes use to sense their warm-blooded prey. The vertically-slit pupils are a hallmark of predominantly-nocturnal snakes.


Landscape with reptile: a wide and close shot to show the surroundings.


This shot (like many of the previous shots) used a bit of fill flash in order to make the snake stand out.


This is how the snake looks in the grass. Very obvious if moving, but if coiled under a plant, it would be hard to spot.


After a short session (we did not want to stress the animal too much), I nudged it under a large rock, which would be a safe place for the animal to hide.

With these photos, it is obvious that the animal was manipulated into position for photography, and some might take issue with this from an ethical standpoint. I see where this comes from, and I agree somewhat. The snake obviously does not like being handled, and in point of fact, the majority of snakebite accidents probably happen as a result of handling. That being said, from the standpoint of this snake, what has occurred is that the snake was threatened, it could not escape, it stood its ground, and the dangerous animal (me) went away. In the life of one of these snakes, with hawks, cattle, dogs and cars to contend with, this is really small potatoes.

Anyway, it wasn’t long before we found a second, slightly larger rattler. This one was also fleeing, and in fact did not need capturing, as it took shelter under my backpack, getting caught around the straps in the process. Getting it into position for photography was just a matter of moving the pack to an open area and coaxing the snake out.

snake in a pack! Photo by Catherine Scott.

snake in a pack! Photo by Catherine Scott.


removing the reptile.

removing the reptile. Photo by Catherine Scott.


The sun was definitely more harsh in this shot, and a polarizing filter would have come in handy! You can tell that this larger rattler has molted more times than the other, as its rattle has more segments.


With this snake, I tried the 300 mm. It compresses the perspective, makes the colours pop a bit, and overall emphasizes the snake.


Again, a wide and close shot to put the snake in the landscape. This accomplishes the opposite of using a telephoto, but can also produce a pleasing composition.


After a short photo session, the snake just disappeared into the next rocky overhang. And that was the end of our rattlesnake adventure!


Dawn shots

IMG_7608This morning, I got up before dawn to take some pictures out near Iona Beach. I have not been getting out much recently, and so I thought I would change my routine a bit.


I was out for sleeping insects, and dawn is the best time to find them. It also allows me to mix ambient light with flash illumination in a pleasing way!


Small changes in the angle of the shot result in massive differences in the background. Compare this shot near the sun…


To this shot a few degrees away.


I am always excited to find new things. Here are a couple sleeping bees I have never seen before!


They sleep like many bees I have seen; gripping the vegetation with their mandibles.


I have no idea what these are, so if you have ID suggestions, let me know!


Whatever they are, they are gorgeous!


A bit of nudging got this one to grip the top of the flower.


Of course I could not have a dawn shoot without a Coelioxys!


I found this garter snake under a log.


A closeup with an unusually cooperative model.


I like to donate blood to those in need. This is Aedes dorsalis


There were a bunch of these red clover casebearer adults (Coleophora deauratella) hanging out. I assume they must begin mating before dawn.


For some reason, it is really hard to get a photo to convey their bright metallic wing scales! I will keep working at it!



Weekend Expedition 65: Mossom Creek


This weekend, Catherine and I took a trip to Mossom Creek in Port Moody, in search of a very special frog: the Pacific Tailed Frog (Ascaphus truei). The Pacific Tailed Frog gets its name from a copulatory organ present on the males of the species. Because their preferred habitat are these cold, fast-flowing creeks, the usual froggy broadcast of sperm over an egg mass would not be very effective, so these frogs use their “tail” for internal fertilization of the eggs within the female.

I had never been to this creek at this time of year, so I was a bit unsure whether we would find any, but it is such a lovely spot it would be nice anyway.



Looking under rocks is the best way to find larvae of Tailed Frogs, and incidentally is also great for finding stonefly larvae!


It wasn’t long before Catherine turned up this gorgeous Tailed Frog tadpole, clinging to a rock with its suction cup-like mouth.


Failing to find any adults, we continued to survey the creek for inverts


Here is a stonefly that is much smaller than the nymphs we turned up. This is likely a newly-emerged Isoperla.


It is a good thing Catherine examines salmonberries before eating them!


When in the woods around here, a rugose stag beetle is always a good find! Sinodendron rugosum is a gorgeous beetle, with elaborate ornamentation on the males.


If you scaled this up and cast it in metal, it would make a good beer bottle opener! The beetle used these projections for intrasexual combat.


A truly majestic beetle.


Aphids with newborns on a grass blade.

Catherine and I did not find any tailed frog metamorphs or adults. This is obviously not a good time to find them, and we will try to return later in the summer. But I do have some photos I took a few years ago that show the creatures in situ at Mossom Creek:



A better view of a great frog!


This larva was a lot more advanced than the one we found on Sunday. This one has legs!


Guyana: a myrmicine trapjaw ant


Sometimes, I never really know just how special the subjects I photograph really are. During the second night we spent on the Rewa river, I was dealing with blistered, sunburned hands as well as moderate fatigue. After dinner, it was tempting to crawl into my hammock and snooze, but I forced myself to go out, at least for a bit, and try for some nighttime arthropods.


A leafcutter trail briefly caught my attention, but doing any elaborate setup for shooting was beyond me that evening.


Right in our camp, just a few metres from the cooking tarp, I found these amazing ants. At first I thought they were leafcutters, but when I got closer I realized that this was some kind of myrmicine version of a trap-jaw ant! I had never seen these in French Guiana, and in fact did not know of their existence. These were Daceton armigerum, one of only two species in the genus, related to the leafcutters, but tree-dwelling and predaceous. They have evolved these amazing, lightning-fast mandibles, like their ponerine equivalents,  which they use for seizing prey. Their extremely crazy-shaped heads contain the heavy musculature needed for this strategy, and a trigger mechanism to release all of the force built up in a single stroke. For a great paper on this, showing the internal morphology, click here.

Unlike the ponerine trap jaw ants, they are quite fast and active, with seemingly large colonies contained in hollow trees.


Adult-adult trophallaxis is a difficult affair with these massive jaws, and the ants seem to use their maxillae for this.


I can’t get over these amazing heads!

A few of the ants walking towards nest entrances had prey, such as this pretty but unfortunate beetle.

A few of the ants walking towards nest entrances had prey, such as this pretty but unfortunate beetle.


Social life: most ants that passed each other on foraging trails up the tree at least antennated each other. It seems that other than tiny Crematogaster, no other ants are tolerated on this tree.


A few workers were carrying males, but whether these were alive or dead was hard to tell.


The males looked very different from the workers, as with most myrmicines, but really not that different from a lot of other mymicine males.


Nest entrances seemed to be scattered around the trunk, and these workers looking out show that there are definite castes in this species.


Some nest entrances were busier than others! Here are some males poking out along with a range of various-sized workers.


With a bit of waiting, the males came further out.


Daceton armigerum was certainly one of the oddest ants I had ever seen. If I had known how unusual it is to photograph them in situ, I probably would have devoted more time to photographing them.


The lesson is, even if something is big, obvious and odd, if it is from the rainforest, it may not have received much attention!


Gronenberg, Wulfila. “The trap-jaw mechanism in the dacetine ants Daceton armigerum and Strumigenys sp.” The Journal of experimental biology 199.9 (1996): 2021-2033.

Moffett, Mark W., and John E. Tobin. “Physical castes in ant workers: a problem for Daceton armigerum and other ants.” Psyche: A Journal of Entomology 98.4 (1991): 283-292.