A blog about what I love….photography and bicycles!

roger de la harpe

Some more photographs of Smaller Things

Some more photographs of Smaller Things As you all know I have been trying to master the MPE 65 lens that Canon produce and have been using it along with the MT 24 EX light system. This lens can get amazingly close and the 1,5 to 2,5X range is wonderful for smaller ants and things giving you reasonable DOF and a full image. Last weekend I decided to have a go at some ants and ladybirds. I was successful with the first and will have to go back to the ladybirds. Anyway, here are two shots of an ant on paper. I was chuffed with them.

But before we carry on I need your votes, please see http://photo.getaway.co.za/2012/03/01/salticid-red/# and vote for the AFROmacro spider

Ant shot at 1.5 x MPE

Again at 1.5x and with the MPE

And now for a few hoverflies.  The first two were shot at 3x and the last at 1 x

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The Kiln Gallery has a new Exhibitor

It has been a while since we had a new exhibitor at the Kiln.  Sarah van der Bank is not exhibiting at the Kiln building yet but her work is available on the Kiln FaceBook page and may be ordered directly from us.

Sarah is a born and raised Midlands lady. She grew up and was schooled right here in Howick and now lives in the Mkhuze Game reserve with her conservationist husband, Lance, and young son, Meryck.  Here is a taister of some of Sarah’s work. 

Like most of us at the Kiln, Sarah’s work may also be viewed and purchased through The PictureBox in Pietermaritzburg www.picturebox.co.za


A new series of Scarabs

I have, for a long while, been asked to photograph more Scarabs.  The problem has been finding specimens to photograph.  After much searching I found these.  This post is extremely short.  I just want feedback on the very simple “draft” photos of these four insects.  Please ignore the imperfections.

 Goliathus albosignathus, the Goliath Scarab.  One of the largest Scarab beetles on earth and found from Limpopo up into Central Africa.

Eudicella smithi, Smiths Scarab. Another interesting insect from Burundi, Central Africa.

Ranzania burtolinii, Burtolini’s Scarab, male from Tanzania, East Africa

Ranzania burtolinii, Burtolini’s Scarab, female, from Tanzania, East Africa.


Charaxes candiope candiope, the Green-veined Charaxes – Life History

Charaxes candiope candiope, the Green-veined Charaxes, is a common visitor to gardens here on the East coast of South Africa.  I planted the foodplant, Croton sylvaticus, in my garden five years ago.  The two that I planted have struggled due to the winter frosts.  While living on Botswana I noted them laying on another species of Croton. Anyway, I have seen the butterfly breed successfully on my trees for the last three years and finally decided to photograph it this year.

In March this year I found a number of eggs on may trees.  I gave a number to my friends, Stephen Woodhall and Harald Selb, and then bred the balance though.

The eggs are laid as singletons (very occattionally two) on the upper side of the large Croton leaf.  They are approximately 2mm in diameter and butter yellow on being laid.

After about 24 hours the egg gets the typical brown ring showing that it is fertile.

After about five days the first instar larva emerges.  The first meal is the egg shell.  This little chap is about three mm long on emergence.

After four days the larva has its first skin shed.  The second instar larva has the first dorsal spot.

After a further six days the next shed takes place.  At the shed the larva measures about 14 mm long. After the shed the larva has two dorsal spots and a rather fantastic head shield.  The next blog I post will be the head shields of this insect (which are spectacular).

After a further seven days the larva sheds again to become the spectacular fourth instar larva. Watch the next blog for head shield shots, this one is superb.

Again it only takes a week for the fourth instar larva to fatten up and shed its skin.  The larva is about 35mm long at the shed. The fifth instar is large, after 14 to 21 days of eating it reaches 50 to 60 mm in length and gets ready to pupate.

The larva finds a quite spot and spins a silk pad, hooks in (with anal hooks) and begins the pupation process.  This lasts three of four days afterwhich it sheds its skin and pupates.

The pupa, the incredible stage preceding the butterfly.

After three weeks the pupa begins to “colour up”, the stage when you can see the wing and body colouring appeat through the pupa.  Withing 12 hours it emerges.  The insect below is a female.  The males below.

Male Ch candiope candiope

Please watch this blog for the post of head shields, they are spectacular.


The miracle that is a butterfly….

 I have, over the last 20 years, bred many thousands of butterflies and am always blown away by the metamorphosis of lavae through pupa to butterfly.  I am currently breeding about 5 species.  A while ago I posted the life history of one of our Hairtails (Anthene).  Two days ago I discovered the larvae of our African Monarch, Danaus chrysippus aegyptius, feasting on my Stapeliads.  After a bit of a look I found a pupa colouring up.  I had great fun photographing the larvae, pupae and emerged adult.  So, not to bore you all with test, here are some of the photographs.

Final instar larva of Danaus chrysippus aegyptius (The Arfican Monarch) feasting on the leaves of Stapelia hirsuta, a carrion plant from the Eastern Cape.  The egg of this larva was laid, and initially fed on Adenium multiflorum (The Impala Lily) but went onto the Stapeliad when it has flattened the Adenium.  The larva is brightly coloured as a warning to birds that it is poisonous.

Pupa of D chrysippus aegyptius colouring up.  Note the wings, abdomen, eyes and antannae clearly visible.

Male D chrysippus aegyptius newly emerged from pupa.

Male D chrysippus aegyptius f. liboria, side view.

Male D chrysippus aegyptius f. liboria upper side.


Rocksitters in March.

Here in KwaZulu Natal we have two members of the genus Durbania.  Members of the species Durbania amakosa fly throughout the Eastern region, from the coast right up to 2500m is suitable areas.  They are also mid summer insects, emerging in November on the coast and later at higher altitudes.  Our localised Durbania limbata is a bit of an anomoly, it flies in late summer.  Mid March is the best time to find it.  A few weeks ago my old friend Harald Selb visited us from Cape Town and Steve Woodhall, Clive Curtis and I spent a day butterflying in the midlands with him.  I did not take him to the D limbata spots as I thought we may be too early.  Instead we visited the forests nearby and Woodridge.  A week later Clive and I visitied the old “Pennington spot” at Curries Post above Yellowoods.  Clive wanted HD video footage and I have to say that, despite having bred the insect from larvae found on the rocks had never seen it live.  So Clive and I visited the old spot.  After introducing ourselves to the owner we walked over to the colony (with his over active dogs in tow…..anyone who has ever tried to photograph butterflies will know that a bouncing, loving labrador is not a great help when trying to focus on a butterfly at 20cm).  We wondered around and saw very little apart from a very territorial Spialia spio.  I checked the rocks and found loads of old pupal cases but no insects.  After 1/2 an hour of searching I was beginning to think we were to late and then Clive saw a D limbata.  That was it, over the next hour we saw loads.  Along with the D limbata were what have to be the most frustrating butterflies on the planet to photograph, Stygionympha wichgrafi, they rarely site and when they do it is for a second or two.  I have a hard drive of in flight escape shots!!  I got one relaxing.  All that said, I feel that if we had stopped with Harald we would have seen them.  Pity but good reason for him to come up again next March.  Here are a few photos of the day.

Spialia spio, the Mountain Sandman

Spialia spio, the Mountain Sandman

Spialia spio, the Mountain Sandman underside

Spialia Spio, the Mountain Sandman, underside.

Stygionympha wichgrafi, Wichgrafs Brown.

Durbania limbata, the Natal Rocksitter.

Durbania limbata, the Natal Rocksitter.

Durbania limbata, the Natal Rocksitter.

Clive Curtis videoing D limbata.

Clive Curtis doing his thing.


South Africa’s largest butterfly, Papilio ophidicephalus phalusco, the Emperor Swallowtail, Life History

The largest butterfly in Southern Africa is, without doubt, the Emperor Swallowtail (Papilio ophidicephalus). The insect is found throughout the mist forests in Southern Africa (through into East Africa). In South Africa we have a number of sub-species, ssp phalusco is found in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal as far north as Greytown, ssp zuluensis in the Eshowe area, ssp ayrsi in the Northern KZN into Southern Mpumalanga, ssp transvaalensis in the Drakensberg and Wolkberg Notrh of the Oliphants river and ssp entabeni in the Soutpansberg way up there in the Limpopo Province. There are a number of other ssp including the nominate further North but we shall stick to ssp phalusco, the one that I know most intimately myself being an inhabitant of their range.
Before I carry on, this post shall not go into detail regarding the length and duration of the instarts (period between skin sheds), as this has all been documented at length by the likes of Clarke and van Son. Instead I shall discuss what I observed during the short eight weeks of the cycle from egg to adult.
My old friend Clive Curtis has always been very pationate about butterflies.  We have travelled all around the province together colelcting and breeding butterflies and he is currently working on a DVD about South African Butterflies (www.safarivision.com). Part of the work toward this is documenting the life histories of a particular species in each family. Clive chose the most spectacular of our swallowtails (P ophidicephalus phalusco) as one focus species to breed. He captured a female in the Karkloof had her lay about 20 eggs and past 15 on to me to breed at home.
The Papilionidae (swallowtails) are spectacular insects. All South African readers will know the Orange Dog (Papilio demedocus demedocus) or Green Banded Swallowtail (Papilio nireus lyaeus) from their gardens. These two breed on, amongst other plants, the Citrus species such as lemon, grapfruit and orange trees. Our species, the largest of all, is a far more selective eater. It eats a plant known as Clausena anisata (known as Perdepis in Afrikaans, loosely translated as Horse pee due to its smell when you crush the leaves). Anyway, the first stage of the life history is the egg. Eggs are laid lingly on leaves of the foodplant. The eggs are circular, cream coloured and between 1 and 1.5mm in diameter.  It takes the little larvae take about five or six days to mature to eclosure or larval emergence. Just prior to the little larva breaking out of the egg it darkens up. Upon emerging from the egg the larva has its first meal, the old egg shell. To gat an idea of size the larva is approximately 2mm long on emergence. So, to photos, the first photo is of the egg while the second is of the young larva eating the egg shell.

 

OK, after the little creature eats its shell it settles into life as a butterfly larva.  This is a dangerous life, birds, robber flies and spiders want to eat you, wasps and flies want to sting you and lay their eggs in your little body and have their babies grow in you (while you are still crawling around and eating).  You are not equiped with very much to evade these hazards, you cannot crawl fast but you can hide.  From the moment that these little larvae start to eat they begin to look like a piece of bird dropping.  From the first to the fourth instar they larvae look like a bird dropping.  They stay on the leaves, eating, growing and shedding skin until, after approximately four weeks they reach the final instar that is different.  Of interest is that, during the third and fourth instars, the larvae rest with a slight twist to their body (see the photos below).  Anyway, here are photos of the second, third and fourth instars.

 

The final instar is very different.  Rather then resting on the leaves they spend their sleeping time at the base of the tree or branch.  This means that they no longer need to resemble something grim like a bird dropping and are supprisingly different with beautiful green and brown patches on the skin.  The lumps and bumps are still evident (indeed into the pupal stage).  Of interest, the Papilio butterflies have a defensive mechanism, a foul smelling structure known as the ostometrium that it pops out of its head when threatened. As said they smell foul and obviously tell all attackers that they are not a pleasant tasting meal at all.  Below are a number of photos of the final instar (and a couple with the mutters with their ostometrium exposed)

The most magical of all butterly larval stages has to be larva to pupa to butterfly.  After 7 to 14 days as fifth instar larvae they get nice and fat and  lethargic.  The process of change begins.  They slip off and find a safe place to spend the next two or three weeks as a vulnerable pupa.  The Papilio butterflies all have a girdle holding the pupa in place.  Like most other butterflies they spin a silk pad which that they attach themselves to (by anal appendages known as cremaster hooks).  They also spin a girdle which is a little like you undoing your belt and slipping it around a branch and the fixing it.  It allows you the spend your pupal stage, head up leaning back.  The pupa is splendid, rather like a twig with a bit of lichen underneath.

Finally, after two to three weeks (and longer during winter) the adult emerges.  Not much more can be said of the butterfly, most people have seen it.  It is safe to say, and an awful cliche, that, like most jouneys the destination is great but the route is enlightening.  The path to adulthood of these beautiful butterflies is full of risk.  The response is a wonderful evolutionary result where larvae and papae are beautifully cryptic.  Below are shots of a freshly emerged male.

 

Anyway, I must conclude by saying that if you want to see these butterflies, it is easy.  All you need to do is get into open spaces within the mist forests on a sunny day in Summer (peak in November/December and again in March/April) and you will see them flitting around.  An old trick is that they love the colour red.  About 20 years ago I purchased a car for its colour, a bright red VW, and it was perfect to attract Papilio butterflies (especially P ophidicephalus and P euphranor) to come closer.