#63 – The Mayfly… gone in 60 seconds

Mayfly [Alamy image ref. BN4BKY]

If I knew little about cloud formations (see last week’s article) then my knowledge of insect life is even less impressive… partly because of a scheduling overlap with my favourite and more passable subject, so I never having studied Biology (nor the “Birds and Bees” for that matter) at grammar school.

According to Wikipedia… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mayfly
“Mayflies are insects which belong to the Order Ephemeroptera (from the Greek ephemeros = short-lived, pteron = wing, referring to the brief life span of adults). They have been placed into an ancient group of insects termed the Palaeoptera, which also contains dragonflies and damselflies. They are aquatic insects whose immature stage (called naiad or, colloquially, nymph) usually lasts one year in freshwater. About 2,500 species are known world-wide, including about 630 species in North America. Common names for mayflies include Dayfly, Shadfly, Green Bay Fly, Lake Fly, Fishfly (in the Great Lakes region of North America), Midgee, Canadian Soldiers and Jinx Fly.”

The life span of an adult mayfly is very short and varies depending on the species from a few minutes to a few days. In most species, the males’ eyes are large and the front legs unusually long, for use in locating and grasping females during mid-air mating. In some species, all legs aside from the males’ front legs are useless. Uniquely among insects, mayflies possess paired genitalia, with the male having two penises and the female two gonopores.

All of which leaves me only a little wiser but no more knowledgeable as to how to photograph such short-lived insects. I mean, with a life-span of only a few minutes in some cases, to spend even 60-seconds composing and focusing on a Mayfly may literally be half a lifetime to the insect. In my example, it had flown into my room one sunny afternoon and rested on the window pane. I framed and focused as best as possible… hand-held – not because of the longer time to get my tripod set-up compared to the insect’s life-span, but because it’s position made any method of artificial camera support impossible short of a bendy Gorilla-Pod attached to a strong rubber sucker stuck to the glass!

Depth-of-field control was another tricky issue as it is notoriously narrow at close-up distances, and I couldn’t stop-down much more than the optimum f/8 setting of my 30-year old 55mm Micro-Nikkor lens because of the resulting slowing of the camera shutter speed. As it was, I managed to take a sharp hand-held image at 1/30th of a second with just enough depth-of-field at f/11. I think the result was a lucky shot… and I would not like to have to repeatedly find and capture similar types of subject… they’re best left to the experts who have the patience as well as the technique.

The image was RM licensed by Alamy for reproduction up to 1-page in an editorial context in both a 50,000 print-run magazine and tablet application for a 1-week period under my “Nature” pseudonym.

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