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Backyard safari through lens reveals big little world - The Galveston County Daily News : Features

November 27, 2014

Backyard safari through lens reveals big little world

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Posted: Sunday, December 29, 2013 12:00 am

Going on a backyard safari with a macro lens opened my eyes to an intricate world of sophisticated, evolutional phenomena and a palette of color barely discernible to the human eye.

Apart from swatting at mosquitoes or smiling at the blur of a butterfly, I had never paid much attention to insects, so I was enthralled when I took the time to discover the critters that cohabited my outdoor space here on Galveston Island.

The most prominent features of insects are compound eyes and antennae. The first is a natural high-tech tool, composed of up to 30,000 ommatidia. Each ommatidium contains a cluster of cells transmitting a still image to the insect’s brain, where a greater picture is formed out of the combined stills. Compound eyes also detect movement and changes in light intensity and give a very wide view angle.

Compound eyes can most easily be seen in flies, bees, wasps or dragonflies.

Dragonflies are fast predators that can reach a speed up to 60 mph when chasing mosquitoes, on which they like to feed.

In folklore of the Southern United States, dragonflies are sometimes called “snake doctors.” It was believed they follow snakes around and stitched them back together if injured.

Some bugs, such as the red-spotted mirid bug, qualify as pests since they pierce plant tissue in order to feed on the sap and thus damage crops. Nonetheless, it is fascinating to watch their hair-width legs feel their way across flower-buds that appear like an alien-looking landscape when enlarged through the lens. 

Spider webs host a variety of trapped insects trying to escape, fairly immobile for easier photography. Watching the insects trying to escape is a story of its own. 

Most bugs use their antennae for sensory perception, to feel for motion and orientation, as well as odor, sound humidity and chemical cues.

A bee will smell a flowers’ aroma before proceeding to collect pollen. The tiny flakes give the animal a dusting similar to confetti. The moth uses its long beak to suck up nectar. 

Both the bug, the green bee and the dragonfly are prey to the anole lizard. A small and common lizard, it can be found throughout the southeastern United States and as far west as San Antonio. The local species is called the “green anole.” Despite its name, it can turn color to a dull brown in a defense mechanism when blending in with a darker colored backdrop.

During courtship in the spring, the males extend their dewlaps, pinkish looking flaps of skin under their chins.

The next time I’m going to plant in my yard, I will pick flowers that I know attract insects of all sorts and I look forward to many backyard safaris in the spring.