Tech Tip Tuesday: Improving Insect Observations

I know that it’s hard to believe, but warm weather is right around the corner. I promise. If you need something to entice you out the door, then just listen to the birdsong pouring in from all sides. This morning I saw a Rose-breasted Grosbeak perched on a tree in my backyard, my first sighting of this bird on my property! Despite having spent more time in my yard over the past month and a half than I have in a long time, I still encounter new plants and animals almost every week. As we continue forward into this unusual spring, I hope that you are also finding regular joy in discovering (or re-discovering) your wildlife neighbors. I know that I personally enjoy seeing everyone’s great observations on iNaturalist every week!

This Week on Tech Tip Tuesday

As the weather has gotten warmer, I’ve noticed a dramatic increase in the number of insect observations added to iNaturalist. Of course, this is to be expected and with their astonishing diversity, who wouldn’t be curious about them? Insects undoubtedly are fascinating subjects to add to your observation collection.

However, they’re not always the easiest animals to document. Some move far too quickly. Some are too difficult to find. And some are too small and end up out of focus. Below I’ll offer some tips on how to address these issues and improve your insect observations.

Most importantly, you first need to find insects. The easiest way to find insects is simply by looking and listening. Take some time to really observe the landscape around you. Explore at different levels by looking close to the ground among blades of grass, on and under flowers and leaves, and on the bark of trees and shrubs. Some insects prefer to hide out of sight, so you may find them in crevices between rocks or under fallen trees. Just make sure that you return any rocks or logs you move to their original spot.

You may have greater success finding fast moving insects by standing in place and fixing your eyes on a single spot. I find that if I let my vision soften, I can often see bees, butterflies, and moths flying more easily than if I was intensely focusing my eyes. Closing your eyes and focusing on sounds may help as well. Maybe you will hear a buzz or a chirp that will let you know which direction to move in.

If searching by sight isn’t yielding many new insect discoveries, you can also try a net or a sheet. If you have a finely meshed net, you can sweep it through tall grass or shrubs to capture insects who may be hiding. You can also target a specific insect with a net, however this is most easily done with flying insects who are just taking off or landing on a plant. Once you have captured an insect in your net, pinch off the top with your hand to keep it from escaping before you’re ready for a closer look.

You can also search for insects in taller trees or shrubs by shaking them. Simply place a light-colored sheet under the tree or shrub before shaking. As you shake, insects will fall and land on the sheet where you can get a closer look at them.

Now that you hopefully have found some insects, it’s time to photograph them for your observation! There are two main approaches: you can either photograph your insect in a clear container or “in the wild”. For photographing in a container, a small jar often works best. Just make sure to release the insect after you’re done photographing it. However, a container isn’t always necessary. You should be able to photograph slower moving insects on their own without too much trouble. To photograph faster insects, try to approach them slowly and avoid having your shadow fall across them. If you’re careful, you should be able to get close enough for a photo.

Regardless of which approach you choose, try to photograph the insect from as many angles as possible. Some identifying features are only visible from a particular side, so the more you can photograph, the easier it will be for others to help identify your insect. However, it’s important to keep in mind that some species are nearly impossible to satisfactorily identify, no matter how many photos you take. And that’s totally fine! Even though insects can be difficult to identify, it’s still important to add observations because there’s always a chance that you’ve made an exciting find.

One of the biggest challenges when photographing insects is getting your subject in focus. The best way to get a clear photo is to use a macro lens or macro setting (often depicted as a flower in your camera’s settings). If this isn’t possible, try shooting from slightly farther away and zooming in, rather than bringing the camera as close to the insect as possible. Don’t be afraid to play around and figure out which settings work best for your camera. It may take a bit of practice.

The most important thing to remember when photographing insects is that any photo is better than no photo. Even blurry or distant photos can be useful for identifying some species!

TTT Task of the Week

This week, I want you to find and photograph insects using some of the tips above. You don’t need to use all of them--just pick one or two that stuck out to you. If you’re looking for some inspiration, take part in our Backyard Lady Beetle Blitz starting this Friday! The goal is to find as many lady beetles as possible over four days. Or, if pollinators are more your thing, get out and look for some bees or butterflies. The good news is that, when it comes to insects, there’s never a shortage of species waiting to be recorded!

That’s all for this week! Thank you for helping us map Vermont’s biodiversity, stay safe, and happy observing!

Anotado por emilyanderson2 emilyanderson2, 12 de mayo de 2020 a las 05:53 PM

Comentarios

Any recommendations for type of jar and how to convince the insect to enter?

Anotado por jlayman hace más de un año (Advertencia)

A lot of biologists will use small glass vials, however really any clear jar, like a Mason jar, should work. To get the insect inside, you can either tap it into the jar off its plant or place the jar over top of the insect and scoop it in or wait for it to climb up the side. If you're using a net to catch insects, you can also place the jar over the insect while in the net and flip it so that the insect falls in.

Anotado por emilyanderson2 hace más de un año (Advertencia)

Añade un comentario

Entra o Regístrate para añadir comentarios