And it’s that time of year – here are my best or perhaps more aptly – my favorite photos from 2012 (in no particular order).

First, a photograph of the once thought extinct Cicindela floridana – taken while I was conducting research in Florida at the end this August. I was quite surprised when this individual allowed my to approach it and snap a series of shots – the majority of the time I can barely get within a foot of these minute beetles.


Second, this shot of a grey hairstreak (read more here) was possibly my favorite butterfly photo of the year. While the composition is not very notable, it is the colors of the insect itself and the minute details which I find fascinating.


Third, this image of a bright green inchworm hurrying along a tree trunk stuck in my mind, if for no other reason than for the copious numbers of these inchworms which “took over” my college campus this spring.


Fourth, the menacing maw of this longhorn beetle (Orthosoma brunneum) was too neat to leave off this list.


Fifth, the colors and details in this shot of a mantidfly (Zeugomantispa minuta) snagged it a place on this list.


Sixth, and last for now, this photo of a female Xylocopa darwini Cockerell 1926 (OK, just the posterior end) building a nest was one of my favorite (insect) images from my trip to the Galapagos Islands in January of 2012.


I will have another six images posted by the beginning of the week so stay tuned!

And here are the remaining six!

An ant tending a small “herd” of aphids:


An ant grooming:

I found this small spider tucked in a pocket of its web:


This small cerambycid (Molorchus bimaculatus) busily removing pollen from its antenna:


A minute pirate bug peruses a thrips across a dogwood bud.


And last, two captive first instar Cicindela abdominalis:


I photographed this grey hairstreak (Strymon melinus) with my Canon 7D and an adapted Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5 lens over the past weekend. I used a diffused 580 EX Speedlite to provide fill light.

As expected for a 30+ year old lens, the focus is manual; but this is not an issue for macro work as autofocus is often useless for very small subjects. The other major issue with this lens is the manual aperture; this means I had to stop down the lens before focusing. This resulted in a darker viewfinder while I was focusing which was not too great an problem given a sufficient level of ambient light. Overall, I was very pleased with the sharpness of this lens; this 100% crop gives an idea of the sharpness:

I have been considering buying a focus confirmation chip for this lens – this would aid in focusing with the stopped down aperture – but that’s just a thought at the moment. For now I will continue enjoying this little gem of a lens – any thoughts or experience with this lens?

One last image – this American snout (Libytheana carinenta) was too neat to leave out.

Back at the end April I had a chance to escape from classes and get out into the field for a weekend of collecting and photography. The day was slightly cooler than anticipated but still productive; throughout the day I saw numerous Calosoma wilcoxi scuttling about. While smaller than its larger cousin C. scrutator, this species is still quite vividly colored – a striking combination of green, blue and some red edging.

The sheer number of beetle present was possibly the most surprising; I saw beetles running on the trunks of tress, on the road, and even, in copious amounts, in the leavings from a small mammal. This did make for many great, though at times frustrating, photographic opportunities.

Further information on Calosoma wilcoxi, C. scrutator, or on all of the species from Virginia.

and the Dogwoods are in bloom. Molorchus bimaculatus is a small cerambycid which commonly frequents flowers in the early spring; sure enough they were out in numbers this past Friday.

This mating pair was quite oblivious to my intrusion and went on about their business, or rather, the female went on about feeding and the male, well, went on about his business.

These stunning green-patterned wings are those of Callophrys gryneus gryneus, the “Olive” Juniper Hairstreak. I was experimenting with some old Canon gear, a FD bellows and 35mm bellows lens, hoping to create a composite image of a butterfly’s wing. But, creating a clean series turns out to be impractical as the focus differed too much between shots. I instead focused on the patterns of green, white, black and brown on the wings, examining the melding of and contrast between the different colors.

The minute scales are arranged in such fine, detailed patterns which I always find it quite fascinating. But is not just the arrangement of these scales which catch my eye, rather the green color; it is not merely a smooth, consistent color across the scales, but instead glitters, as light reflecting off a rough surface. Though quite familiar with this iridescent, structure-based coloration in tropical butterflies, for whatever reason I had not quite expected to see it in this species.

Below a 100% crop of the image gives a better idea of the magnification achieved; the green color of the scales is also more evident.

After seeing the rough, glittering quality of the green scales I wanted to get a closer look. Using an old microscope, I focused on a single scale, first illuminating it from below and then from above. The difference was quite remarkable; lit from below the scale lost almost all of its vibrant green color, replaced with a mottled, muddy brown instead. But, lit from above, the startling green color reappeared, now glittering more than ever.

First two photos taken with a Canon 7D, FD to EOS adapter, Canon FD Auto bellows, 35mm macro lens, and 580 EX lens. Third image taken with a Canon 7D, homemade microscope adapter, and 580 EX flash; top image using transmitted light, bottom with reflected light.

This summer I photographed quite a few ants, so here are the best of the bunch:

Photos taken with a Canon 7D , 65mm macro lens, and 580EX flash unit.

And yes, I did just go for the awful pun…