Insect close-up

by Simon Knight

At this time of year I can begin to indulge in one of my favourite areas of wildlife photography – macro photography. Viewing the world through a macro lens reveals a whole new environment and details that would otherwise be missed.

I especially look forward to the emergence of the reserves Orthoptera – grasshoppers and crickets. At present in the reserve there are quite a few young Roesel’s bush – crickets (Roeseliana roeselii) about, but because they are nymphs and not fully grown, they do not have wings so are not singing, which makes them hard to locate. Also, they are currently only around 10 mm in size, which means they can easily hide behind a single blade of grass.

Roesel’s bush cricket, nymph and adult ( adult photographed 14.06.21)

There aren’t as many grasshoppers around at the moment and the header image is only one of two that I have photographed so far. I am not sure what species it is, I would guess at meadow grasshopper, but it is quite difficult to tell at this early stage of its life. I have noticed over the past two years that the Roesel’s bush cricket does seem to have a larger population in the park than the various species of grasshopper. 

The tricky part of macro photography is that being so close to your subject with a macro lens massively reduces your depth of field – the area of the subject that is in focus. To overcome this, the insects here (excluding the female scorpionfly) were taken using a technique called focus stacking.This is where multiple pictures (in this case 15) are taken at different depths of field (different areas in focus throughout the subject) and then merged or ‘stacked’ on top of each other in software or camera, to give one image that is in focus throughout the subject. I love this technique and it always feels like magic when the final sharp image pops into existence before your very eyes.

Scorpion flies, female and male

The male common scorpionfly (Panorama communis) here was the result of hours of searching for males (there seemed to be an abundance of females for a week or so before the males started to appear) and also finding one that was situated such that I could get a side-on shot. This is not the picture I had in mind, I wanted one with a much cleaner background and foreground and almost achieved this as I spotted one that had landed on a stalk of grass, but unfortunately I spooked it. But this shot achieves what I wanted and that was to show why the fly gets its name. The tip of the abdomen does not possess a sting like that of its namesake, instead this is where the male’s reproductive organs are. And just look at that beak with its jaws at the tip, what a strange and fascinating little creature. 

There are three British species of scorpion fly, the Scarce, Common and German scorpionfly. They are identified by markings on their wings and in the males, the genital capsules can also be used to distinguish between the species. The female here clearly shows the wing markings of the common scorpion fly Panorpa communis

Scorpion flies like to rest on brambles and nettles, so next time you are in the reserve keep your eyes peeled on the hedgerows and you may spot one or two of these little beauties. 

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