Year End Countdown # 7 — Staring Match
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My top 12 images include one last insect photo. This one is my absolute favorite of the thousands of images of insects that I made in 2015. I made this photo at the end of July on an extremely hot and humid morning at Sabino Canyon. There are mesquite trees in the canyon’s riparian area and they were putting out seed pods. These pods attracted a myriad of insects who were eating the young pods’ succulent flesh or who were drinking the nectar that exuded from parts of the pods that had been damaged from other insects chewing on them. The insects included Figeater Beetles — so-called “June bugs” — large scarabs that make their appearance in the Tucson area at the height of the monsoon. These beetles are pretty big, about the size of the last joint of my thumb. They are clumsy fliers, slow and ponderous in the air, that emit loud buzzing sounds as they fly. Several of them were on a mesquite and I attempted to photograph them.
It was quite an effort. The beetles wouldn’t cooperate. Invariably, any one that I attempted to photograph would be partly hidden by vegetation. It would fly away if I attempted to prod it into a more favorable position. In addition, the heat and humidity were overwhelming, and sweat was pouring down from my scalp into my eyes, making it increasingly difficult for me to frame images and focus the camera. I almost gave up in frustration.
But, then, I noticed this one beetle that appeared to be upset about something. It was sitting on a mesquite pod but it seemed unable to settle down. It was kicking out with its hind legs and frequently buzzing its wings even though it didn’t take flight. Something clearly was bothering it. I looked closely and realized that it was being harassed by a tiny fly. The fly was so small that I had difficulty visualizing it, but it was driving the beetle crazy, buzzing around it. Suddenly, it settled down on the pod, a millimeter or less away from the beetle. For just a few seconds, these two insects appeared to be having a staring match. I frantically took a series of photos and I got this one good image before the fly resumed its buzzing.
I love this photo partly because I find it to be amusing. The insects almost certainly weren’t staring at each other, but it sure seems that way from the photo. I also love the contrast between the tiny fly and the relatively huge beetle, which must be 50 or 100 times the fly’s size. Looking at this image, I wonder if the beetle could experience frustration or exasperation at the fly’s antics. I also really like this photo because, technically, it is a really hard shot. Getting both insects in the same plane of focus was a huge stroke of luck. At this focusing distance, just inches between my lens and the insects, and this degree of magnification the plane of focus (depth of field) is very shallow. If either insect had been even a fraction of a millimeter out of alignment with the other the image would have been useless.
Image made with a Canon 5DS-R, 180 f3.5L Macro Lens assisted by Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite, M setting, ISO 320, f16 @ 1/160.