Look carefully

Ant on dandelion

On Tuesday I bought myself an early birthday present. I’ve been wanting a good macro lens for a while. In the winter I got a Canon close-up lens, basically the equivalent of a magnifying glass that you screw on to your existing lens like a filter. It worked fairly well, but unfortunately the lens that I had wasn’t top quality, it was the entry-level telephoto lens that came with the camera kit bundle. Sure does me fine for a beginner DSLR-er, and the price was definitely right (next step up is megabucks, relatively speaking), but because it’s low-end the optics are soft and the photos are never crisp. Generally this can be corrected with digital sharpening in Photoshop, but with the addition of the close-up lens, which softens the image a tad more, it was really hard to get good sharp shots without a tripod and ample light.

So I’d been eyeballing a dedicated macro lens. I find macro photography fascinating, because, unlike most wildlife photography, it’s a world that we don’t ordinarily see with our unaided eye. We also tend to overlook a lot of the small stuff, and I wanted to be able to capture these things to share with others. I wanted a lens that wasn’t afraid to get in there, and that would produce good sharp photos while doing so. The answer was the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro (quite a mouthful of a name!). I did a lot of research, and the general consensus was that the Canon 100 was the best bang for the buck at that price level. I couldn’t find a bad review. So I bought it.


I took it out to test-drive it that afternoon, swinging by the Leslie Street Spit, which wasn’t too far out of my way. It was unfortunately quite windy, and a little cool, and I had other errands to run after, so I didn’t stay out too long. I focused on the dandelions that were growing along the edge of the parking lot and nearby path, pretty much the only wildflowers growing yet in these disturbed areas. There didn’t seem to be anything visiting them, no bees, no butterflies, no insects of any sort. Until I looked closely. There, crawling around at the base of the petals, deep within the flower head, was a teeny-tiny ant. It had a slight purple sheen to it, and its antennae were tipped with pollen. I don’t really know what it is (aside from colour and general size, ants are so similar to each other…), but it does resemble the Odorous House Ant in the Kaufman guide to insects. I gather it’s not limited to houses, despite its name, and the “Odorous” comes from its habit of emitting butyric acid, which smells of rotting coconut (presumably someone who lives where coconuts grow, and subsequently rot, would know better what this smells like).

The above fly, although also on a dandelion, was from a couple days later, when I was back at my parents’ place. It was also the only insect I found on the flowers. Like the ant, flies are difficult to identify, but this might be Cheilosia sp., a type of flower fly from the family Syrphidae.

Click beetle

Later that day my mom and I returned to the same pond site where we found the salamanders for another check-up visit on the status of things for a program she’s doing next week. We decided to walk down the trail through the woods a little ways, looking at the wildflowers and seeing what was blooming. We were mostly focused on the flowers, so nearly overlooked this beetle, even though it was sitting out in the open on a leaf.

It’s a click beetle, though species is uncertain. Click beetles are named after a characteristic noise they make. They have a spine on the underside of their thorax that snaps into a groove a short ways further back. It’s the snapping of this spine that produces the distinct clicking noise. The noise is primarily used to distract predators, but the spine can also be useful for flipping the beetle back right-side-up if it gets turned over. The action can be quite violent sometimes, jumping the beetle some distance into the air.

Asclera ruficollis

Further down the trail I stopped to photograph some trilliums and found this brightly-coloured beetle perched on the edge of a flower. I discovered, when I went to look it up in the field guide, that there are quite a number of long, narrow black beetles with red collars. This particular one had the unique characteristic of two bumps on the red thorax that made it easier to distinguish from the others, but I still had to submit the image to BugGuide.net to get an ID for it. It’s Asclera ruficollis, a beetle of the northeastern woodlands. Adults are found feeding on the pollen of wildflowers during the spring period, from March to May.

Pseudexentera sepia?

The last bug of this post was a little moth that flitted across the trail as we were walking. I tracked it a short distance off the path, where it came to rest on a dead log. If I hadn’t watched it land, though, I may have been hard-pressed to locate it again. It’s just a small moth, maybe a centimeter (half an inch), and cryptically coloured so it blends in with the wood (it looks fairly obvious here because I’ve isolated it with the camera, but believe me, it wasn’t). I think it’s a species of Pseudexentera, though I don’t really know which one. I could even be wrong on the genus. All those micros can be so tricky to ID! There just aren’t a lot of field marks on their tiny wings to reference.

Going out with my new lens in hand, I was looking for little things to photograph, but I was somewhat focused on the flowers. The lesson here: look carefully and pay attention, there’s lots out there that you can just walk right by without even noticing!