We made several trips to the Botanic Gardens this week, and to the new Visitors Centre.
We made several trips to the Botanic Gardens this week, and to the new Visitors Centre.
This is our new favourite place – MakerCrate. Complete with 3-D printers. What's not to like?
Find out more here.
We have been working on ways to take photographs of insects at home. Here are some of the tools and techniques we have found useful:
We have been using an iPhone 5 with the OlloClip 4-in-1 macro lens. This gives us a magnification of 15 x – which is better than many hand lenses.
Magnification inevitably results in a shallow depth of field, so achieving a clear focus requires care. The iPhone camera software allows you to lock the focus, if you tap and hold until the square yellow box flashes around your finger. The Olloclip software doesn’t appear to allow this, although it does allow you to set the focus and exposure on separate parts of the image, which is sometimes useful too.
To keep it steady, the camera is held on a tripod with a glif attachment to hold the phone on.
C has made a scissor-lift (out of FischerTechnik) to enable us to do fine height adjustments of the subject, relative to the camera. The lift has a threaded rod, and turning a handle moves the platform up and down relative to the camera. This degree of fine control was not possible with our tripod, but the lift ensures it is easy to make frequent small adjustments.
We have a piece of plain paper on top of the platform to give a neutral background.
J has built a small glass container, approx. 80 x 50 mm, which stops any live subjects from roaming too far. They can still wander/skitter out of view, but it increases the chances of capturing a photograph. The box is made of 3 mm picture glass, glued together with a silicone glue (RTV). You can often get glass off cuts from a picture framer.
The sides of the box are only 11 mm high (with a glass lid on top of that) which enables us to get sufficiently close with the camera. For some creatures you can take the lid off – but for the more mobile individuals, that is not an option.
The flat sides also mean we can get clear photos from the side – unlike the distortions you get with a petri dish or a plastic container.
Any moving of the insects that is required is done with a fine paint brush.
Lighting is also important. Natural light (although not direct sunlight) is sometimes sufficient, since we are using a tripod. When it isn’t, we use an LED torch.
The reason for using LED’s is that (unlike a tungsten bulb) it doesn’t produce much heat, so it doesn’t overheat the creature below.
Here are some examples of our results so far, of insects found in several Christchurch gardens:
This same general setup is also useful for photographing other subjects, such as the details of plants, rocks, shells etc.
Some ideas we have yet to try include:
Do you have any tools/techniques you can recommend?
It is lady beetle season here. There are dozens of the larvae in our garden, so we collected some up and have been watching them, and feeding them aphids and mealy bugs. The larvae moult several times, getting larger each time.
We weren’t sure what species they would be. We didn’t find any kind of overview with information about the species that are in NZ, which are both native and introduced. It is especially difficult to find information about the larval stage.
After a couple of days, the first few larvae started to pupate. The pupa was a yellowy colour, later becoming much darker – almost black.
One evening, about a week later, the first beetle hatched. At this stage it was a pale cream colour.
By the morning it had turned the classic red and had two black spots. So probably, we have Adalia punctata. We now have about 8 beetles, apparently all of the same species.
The beetles don’t seem to be quite so keen on the mealy bugs, but are enthusiastic about the aphids.
And we now have several bright orange clusters of lady beetle eggs. Quite a few clusters of eggs were laid, but also quite a few of those were eaten by the beetles themselves. Lady beetles are described as ‘voracious’ feeders, with some eating 1000 aphids in a life time.
The whole life cycle was quite quick and we can recommend these as a species to try, if you would like to keep some insect pets.
While out and about recently, we have been uploading a few photos of plants and animals that we have seen to a web site called ‘Project Noah‘ – the Noah stands for ‘networked organisms and habitat’. Backed by National Geographic, Project Noah is a citizen science project documenting the worlds organisms.
You can use an iPhone or Android app to upload a ‘spotting’ while you are out, or, you can use the web interface of a computer to upload photos. Videos can also be included, along with notes and links to further information on other sites (Encyclopaedia of Life, Wikipedia). You can even request help with identification of your find.
The ‘field guide’ mode shows you the species that other people have found nearby. Once you find something relevant, there is often a link to additional information. It is also possible to ‘follow’ other participants, and to make comments on other peoples spottings.
Part of the goal of the app is to enable people to contribute sightings that are of particular interest to researchers. This ‘citizen science’ aspect is supported by the ability to assign photos to any relevant ‘missions’. Some of these are location based (e.g. Biodiversity of the Galapagos), while others are more focused on a particular taxonomic group (e.g. Monarch Migration). And what’s more, anyone can download the data for a mission.
Something we have found frustrating is that it is apparently not possible to search all the missions. Only some missions appear on the list you can look through. We have only discovered some of the most relevant missions to where we are (Christchurch, New Zealand) by noticing a mission link on someone else’s spotting.
You can also create your own missions, although we have been reluctant to start a new one until we can determine what is already underway nearby. This would be a great tool for a BioBlitz project.
Nevertheless, we are enjoying the challenge to find and document more species while we are out and about. Here is our favourite find so far – an Australian leafroller tachinid fly, introduced to NZ for biocontrol of some apple moth pest species (although we are not entirely confident that we have the correct identification).
The youngest and most eagle-eyed of us spotted a jumping spider making a meal of a fly. The fly had landed in the middle of a window pane and spider grabbed it. An impressive feat.
This spider has six eyes. The pair at the front move in tandem and give the spider 3D vision for approaching and catching prey.
The next day, the dried husk of the fly was on the window ledge and the spider was back patrolling the windows.
One of us is 7, so obviously we made a trebuchet. Actually we have made several in the last year or so – the current version goes sufficiently high and far to only be useable outside.
We used FischerTechnik, which allowed us to easily experiment with the design ourselves by adjusting each component.
This website was helpful in detailing what to aim for in the design.
The design features we found useful were:
It is interesting to adjust various parts and see the effect. For instance,
The projectile is difficult to see in a video, so we fired it at dusk with LEDs attached to the projectile:
And here is a video:
It would be nice to be able to provide a general description of the physics of how a trebuchet works, but it turns out to be rather more complicated than it initially appears. There is an explanation by Donald Siano here if you really want to get into it.
Physics explanations aside, they are quite satisfying to make and to fire. I expect our next (better, bigger) version will require trips to a park so as to be able to launch projectiles without losing them into the neighbours place.
Ash Keating has done a great large-scale artwork in central Christchurch – well worth a look if you are local. There is a video of him making it here.
We especially enjoyed the contrast to the rather desolate surroundings, where many buildings have been demolished, following the earthquakes of the last couple of years.
These sites have mostly been left flat, with a covering of rubble. Needless to say it is very dusty in town these days. More planting would be nice!
The backs and sides of buildings that were previously rarely seen are now very visible.
A number of projects have been done or are underway to improve the general environment. And nature is doing its bit, to set things right.
So, in the midst of all this, we really enjoyed a concrete proposition: