While out in the garden this weekend I spotted a gulf fritillary, Agraulis vanillae incarnata. They’re stunning butterflies:
What first caught my eye was the silver reflections of the spots on the bottom of their wings. In direct sunlight it looks like they’re metallic; very eye-catching. But when the same butterfly is in diffuse light, those spots look white:
Compare the first and second picture, and you’ll see that in addition to changing from metallic to white, the butterfly can also choose how much color to show on its underside. When it spreads its wings (as in the first picture), the bright red/orange coloration of its forewing is revealed; but when it rests with both wings pulled together and upright (as in the second picture) it can completely hide the red/orange color, thus showing only brown and white/silver. It can also partially separate the wings, to reveal just a bit of color (as it liked to do when it was annoyed with how close I was getting).
And speaking of color, check out the top of those wings:
This butterfly only held open its wings for a few seconds after each flight attempt, so spotting the true colors of the wings takes finding one in flight and then watching it land.
For a fourth, and final, view of the gulf fritillary, how about a head-on look?
Sleek and slim, complete with a coyly resting forelimb.
And in case you didn’t realize, all four of these images are of the exact same individual. It’s surprising how different it looks depending on angle and lighting.
The larvae reportedly only eat passion flower vines; I wonder which of my neighbors has one.
Michelle and I tend our backyard garden every summer, and one of our joys is seeing the first produce of the year slowly ripen on the plants. Just this week our first cherry tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum) are finally ripening, and so yesterday I took a few pictures of the glorious first fruits:
The tomatoes were in some nice diffusely-lit shade, and that’s what you see above – I used a tripod to stabilize the camera, but otherwise didn’t need anything else.
But since I’ve been having fun experimenting with off camera lighting recently, I decided to pull out my lighting gear and try some “studio” style lighting on the fruits.
What a difference lighting makes! The black background makes the fruits pop out visually, thanks to less visual clutter, but I think it also makes the scene look more artificial (or as though it was taken at night). My favorite comment so far comes from my dad, who said that the fruit look like two “hot Jupiters”. Little tomato planets floating in space; I like it.
1 Two snooted flashes were setup, one on either side of the fruit, and I used my gray card to shade the background from the primary flash’s illumination. Both flashes also had great natural gobos: the branches of the plant itself.
As I’ve postedbefore, Michelle loves to make chainmail. So, it wasn’t a surprise when she recently asked me to take a picture of her latest project1:
For the purposes of this post, note the background: it’s seamlessly black, with nothing at all visible. And that background was created with no work at all in Photoshop (other than removing a string I used to support the project) – it was created solely by careful placement of off-camera lights. As the method is pretty neat, I thought I’d show you how I did it.
The first technique most people think of for getting a black background is to, well, put something black behind the object. While this works, it requires careful lighting and spacing to ensure that the black object doesn’t become visible (as more than just solid black) in the image. I did just this outdoors with my amaryllis flower bud images, but I had to find flower buds with enough shaded space behind them to hang a black T-shirt on a spare chair well behind the depth of field of the image, and then whenever stray light hit the T-shirt you could see the folds in the fabric. Annoying.
For the maille bracelet I created a black background by putting absolutely nothing behind the maille. And I mean literally nothing: here’s what the maille looked like as I was setting it up:
We weren’t planning on adding another family member (haven’t you heard that before?), but Bertie adopted us and we couldn’t turn him down. Bertie is, as you can tell from the pictures, a blue tabby and white domestic shorthair cat.
Bertie was a stray; we first met him when he meowed outside our window as we were feeding our own cats. He was super-friendly right from the start, wanting no end of petting and company. We ended up catching him, and discovered (thanks to his chip) that he was an abandoned kitty: the owner registered on his chip no longer wanted him. 🙁
So, we’ve decided to give Bertie a home, with the blessing of the prior owner. He’s currently indoors, isolated from our other two cats as we wait on test results to make sure he won’t transmit anything to them. When we first met him he was starving and thus wolfing down food (he hunts about as well as your average pine tree), but he’s back to normal eating habits now. He’s also spent nearly all of his non-sleeping hours grooming himself.
Planarians are free-living aquatic flatworms that are staples of high school biology labs. The species I was able to photograph, Dugesia tigrina, is fairly small, growing up to about an inch in length when stretched out.
Planarians are utterly adorable. Their heads have cute little eyespots (ocelli) that sense light and auricles (the triangular extensions) that reportedly sense water currents. The eyespots lack lenses and a retina, so these cute little worms aren’t looking up at you and seeing your face, but they can detect the intensity and direction of light, allowing them to swim away from light (which is one of the easiest behaviors to observe in them; shine a light on them, and they’ll swim directly away from it). And when they move, they glide through the water with serpentine elegance.
The dark portions of the eye are not actually the photosensory nerves. Instead, the dark portions are pigment-filled cells that partially surround the photosensory neurons, shading them from one side (thus allowing them to detect the direction of light without a lens, retina, or movable eye).
While many flatworms are parasitic, these planarians are not; they’re free-living omnivores that swim around in freshwater ponds nomming on whatever they can find predators feeding on small insects and other invertebrates they’re able to capture (see comment thread for citations). In the lab we frequently feed them small pieces of liver or thymus.
The way flatworms feed is just awesome. Instead of having a mouth at their head, they extend a tube (their pharynx) from the middle of their body and latch this tube onto their food. They then “suck” the food up through this tube and into their digestive tract.
Speaking of guts, flatworms’ digestive tracts aren’t built like ours are: they have just a single opening that leads to and from their digestive track. This contrasts with our style of digestive tract, which has two openings: a mouth and an anus. The planarian style of digestive tract is called a gastrovascular cavity, and it can be seen in the following image of a preserved planarian slide:
And yes, this does mean that digested food has only one way out: through the same opening that they used to get the food in.
Planarians are used in biology labs primarily thanks to their easy availability from biological supply houses ability to regrow tissues from traumatic injuries: when cut in half they can regrow the other half of their bodies. This is because while they can reproduce sexually using sperm and eggs, they can also reproduce asexually via fragmentation. Fragmentation is a reproduction mechanism wherein an organism literally pulls itself in half, with both halves growing into complete new organisms. This leads to the classic high school biology “experiment” wherein students cut flatworms in half and wait for them to regrow. We won’t be doing that here. But this picture of two flatworms swimming next to each other almost looks like it 🙂
I get live planarians each semester to show my biology classes, but sadly most students just give them a passing glance. Next time you get a chance to observe these cuties, put them in a dish of water, get a dissecting microscope and some liver, and plan to spend some time with them. They’re great fun!
Last weekend I got a few more pictures of my cats, this time focusing on the eye (as opposed to the tongue or third eyelid). Lucca was a great model with her beautiful green eyes and blue patched tabby and white fur:
The first one makes a great desktop background (and no, I’m not biased at all …); in fact, I can see Lucca’s nose and whiskers poking out just to the right of the window I’m writing this in 🙂
In my previous two posts on poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) flowers I showed that the flowers are much smaller than most folks think (the large red structures are bracts, not petals) and was able to get some closeups of the inflorescences illustrating their anatomy.
In case you’ve forgotten, the inflorescences of poinsettias are not your typical boring flower: multiple male flowers and a single female flower are surrounded by a sphere of fused bracts called an involucre, out of which the flowers emerge. The involucres often have nectar glands on them, which look like two green or yellow lips.
Frustratingly, when I took that first set of pictures I couldn’t find any female flowers on the plants I had. I’ve since learned that this is because the female flowers only develop and extend out of the involucre after the male flowers have matured and produced their pollen (reducing the likelihood of self pollination). So, I waited, and yesterday finally got a chance to photograph the female flowers up close.
Here’s what a female flower looks like coming out of the involucre:
There you can see the divided stigma (where pollen need to be deposited if they are to fertilize the flower’s eggs), the swollen ovary just barely protruding from the involucre, and the style connecting those two.
For more context, we can see that the maturing female flower is next to cyanthia filled with withered male flowers:
Those withered male flowers were actually quite delicate, and likely only remained on the plant because it was kept indoors and shielded from most disturbances. I delicately put a ruler into the scene to get a scale bar after the shoot, and in doing so knocked off most of the male flowers.
In the image above the female flower is just poking out a little bit. Looking around on the plant I found one that had extended far out of the involucre, supported by a large stalk (pedicel) that was longer than the stigma and style put together:
And that, my kind readers, is what poinsettia flowers look like in a single image: one female flower and multiple male flowers emerging from an involucre that has a nectar gland on it and is surrounded by bright red bracts.
I recently found myself sorting through a folder that contained a few dozen pictures of my cats in various poses, the sole consistent element being that they were sticking their tongues out at me. How this came to be started with this image:
I was sitting in my living room watching Lucca clean herself, as cats do, and I took a few pictures of her, as I do. But when I processed the images and saw her tongue in this one, I was entranced. I’d always known that cats have barbed tongues, but knowing something and seeing it are two different things. I then set about to get a few good images of cat tongues, and the above-mentioned folder of dozens of tongue-sticking-out images resulted.1
When cats clean themselves, their tongues are typically out for far too short of a time to see the barbs in any detail with the naked eye (at least not with my eyesight). And the tip of the tongue, which is the most likely part of their tongue a human will see, actually has no long barbs, as Kira kindly demonstrates in this picture:
Getting tongue pictures showing the barbs was not trivial2, but for those of you looking for closeups of cats naturally licking, here are three closeups showing a front, three-quarters, and side angle:
The barbs or spines are called filiform papillae. They’re opaque, hardened with keratin, and arise from widened bases that cover the tongue. The barbs are longer in the center of the tongue, and slowly get shorter towards the sides and front. These are what makes a cat’s tongue feel rough, like sandpaper, when it licks you.
The details on barbs may be a bit tough to see in those pictures, since they’re all essentially uncropped (to show context); but here’s what you really came for: closeups of the tongue focusing on the papillae3.
Friendly cats often groom each other, and so I absolutely have to include a picture of Lucca cleaning Kira while showing off her tongue barbs:
And I can’t resist ending with a silly picture of Kira looking cross-eyed as she cleans her front paw:
1 Try looking at 40-odd pictures of someone sticking their tongue out at you; it’s an odd experience. 2 It helps that Lucca goes through phases where she licks a sheepskin rug regularly. 3 Yes, these three tongue closeups are indeed just crops of the pictures above. Have I mentioned how much I love my Canon 60mm macro lens, and just how insanely sharp it is?