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…
“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.

Praying Mantis, France. [Alamy image ref. B3GYAW]

I spotted this insect in a friend’s garden here in France about a day before I really saw it. I should explain… the Praying Mantis will often sit for hours (or for an extended day in this case) waiting for it’s prey to stray within range. They will remain motionless, and extremely well camouflaged, blending-in with their surroundings so well that you cannot be sure if you are seeing what you think you are seeing… if you know what I mean.

Trying to make an interesting image was not easy – more so as I am certainly NOT a nature photographer – but I decided to try to reveal the insect more by using it’s lighter body colouring against a darker shadowed background… whilst keeping the entire length of the insect within the narrow depth-or-field restriction imposed by the close-up position. Luckily, the creature didn’t move a muscle or take a nip at my fingers during my repeated clicks and refocusing attempts, and I got a series of usable images from the session. In fact, having sorted and retouched a selection of shots for Alamy, I returned to the garden shrub a few hours later to find the Mantis in exactly the same position… although I doubt she was thinking, “I’ll wait around for a few more hours and give him another opportunity at making a saleable shot if his first attempt didn’t look too good!”

From Wikipedia“Mantises are camouflaged, and most species make use of protective coloration to blend in with the foliage or substrate, both to avoid predators themselves, and to better snare their victims. Various species have evolved to not only blend with the foliage, but to mimic it, appearing as either living or withered leaves, sticks, tree bark, blades of grass, flowers, or even stones.”

The Praying Mantis has a typical “prayer-like” stance, although it’s name is often misspelled as “Preying Mantis” since they are essentially predatory. In Europe, the name Praying Mantis refers to Mantis religiosa. That’s as much as I know about these creatures having no knowledge or expertise about the Natural kingdom apart from the fascination of what I see through a close-up lens attached to my Nikon. All I can do here is to point readers to an excellent website dedicated to the Praying Mantis here.

Sold by Alamy quite quickly under my “Nature” pseudo to a retail book publisher in France for a 5,000 print-run as a 1/8th-page on a 1-year licence.

As a side note… there are 1,739 images on Alamy captioned as “Praying Mantis” and another 356 with the “Preying” spelling. Are those using “Preying” losing out… or should the 1,739 other images include “Preying” to attract those researchers who use the incorrect spelling?

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