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Archive for the ‘Arachnids’ Category

It was probably my imagination, but the Wolf Spiders (Tigrosa georgicola) that I spotted last weekend while exploring in Fairfax County seemed huge. In the first image, the shadow makes the spider look even larger and gives it a somewhat menacing appearance. I am not sure why the spider in the second shot was out in the open, but its exposed condition allowed me to examine it closely—even relatively large spiders spark my curiosity.

wolf spider

wolf spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Most of the time when I see spiders, it is because I spot their webs first.  Some spiders, though, rely exclusively on speed to capture unsuspecting prey, like this Six-spotted Fishing Spider (Dolomedes triton) that I spotted on Monday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge.

Fishing spiders sit at the edge of the water with some of their long legs fully extended. When they sense vibrations of a potential prey on the surface of the water, fishing spiders can walk on the water to seize insects, vertebrates, tadpoles and occasionally small fish or even dive underwater up to 7.1 inches (18 cm), according to Wikipedia.

When I first spotted this fishing spider, it was perched on a semi-submerged log, as shown in the second image below. The spider somehow sensed my presence and ran towards some vegetation at the edge of the water. I was able to maneuver to a position from which I was looking almost directly down at the spider and captured the first image which makes the spider look rather large and menacing, which is why I selected the photo as the featured image.

six-spotted fishing spider

 

six-spotted fishing spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have not yet seen any large spiders this spring, but I have run across a few long-jawed spiders. The bodies of long-jawed orb weaver spiders of the Tetragnathidae family tend to be thin and they have extremely long legs of varying lengths. Most often I find them on vegetation overhanging the water, which in this case was a small pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge.

long-jawed spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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This week I did a pair of postings in a single day that I called “beauty and the beast” that was so well received that I thought I would do it again. Earlier this morning I did the “beauty” part with a shot of some crabapple blossoms in my front yard. For the “beast” part, I decided to feature this shot of a little orchard spider (Leucauge venusta) in the garden of my neighbor, fellow photographer and blogger Cindy Dyer. The spider was hanging in the midst of a group of irises that have not yet bloomed and I was happy to be able to be able to frame the shot so you have a sense of the spider’s environment.

As always, I offer my apologies to those who are creeped out by spiders, and recommend that you check out the crabapple posting if you have not seen it yet. As for me, I find spiders to be always fascinating and often beautiful.

orchard orbweaver spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Whenever I have my macro lens on my camera, I tend to scan small areas very carefully, looking for variations of color and patterns or signs of movement. The colorful markings permitted me to spot the tiny cricket frog that I featured in yesterday’s posting. Not far from the frog’s habitat, it was movement that allowed me to spot this cool-looking wolf spider (Tigrosa georgicola) on Monday. The spider was slowly crawling through some leaf litter and I was able to grab this shot when it paused for a second in an open area.

I believe that this is the first wolf spider that I have ever photographed. Fortunately I was able to get help in identifying it in a Facebook group devoted to spider identification. I know that some people are totally creeped out by spiders, while others are fascinated by them. I apologize to those in the former group, but hope that exposure to these spiders through my photos will help you appreciate their beauty—they truly are amazing creatures.

If you are at all interested in or curious about wolf spiders (and there are a lot of different species), you should check out Pete Hillman’s blog that just yesterday featured a photo of a wolf spider basking in the sun. Those who really like spiders will love a posting that Pete did earlier in the month entitled Not One For The Squeamish that shows a female wolf spider with a group of little spiderlings on her back—be sure to double-click on that image.

 

wolf spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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If you were to pit a mantis against a spider, which one would have the advantage? I thought it would be the mantis, but that was clearly not the case this past week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. This spider had a large web stretched over a path on which I was walking, and I guess the mantis was unlucky enough to get stuck in its sticky strands as it was moving through the air.

mantis versus spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was looking at a small patch of purple aster flowers yesterday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, I noticed that the center of one of them was a different color than all of the rest. I moved closer and was thrilled to see this very cool-looking White-banded Crab Spider (Misumenoides formosipes) nestled in among the petals of the flower. This kind of spider does not build a web, but patiently perches, waiting to pursue passing prey.

crab spider

crab spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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How do spiders decide where to place their webs? Is there some special secret that is passed on from generation to generation about optimal web placement for capturing prey? I know that human fisherman and trappers look for specific conditions and wonder if it is the same with spiders.

Whatever the case, this Black and Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia) appears to have mastered her trapping skills and looks to have caught both a female Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) and what I think is some kind of female grasshopper. I am not really sure about the latter victim, but that is what I believe the green-colored object is in the image.

Often I see the webs of this kind of spider in fairly thick vegetation, but this web was hanging in mid-air about six feet high at the edge of a small pond last weekend at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. The murky grayness in the upper right portion of the image is the water of the pond. In the left hand side you can see some of the web strands that tenuously connected the web to some nearby vegetation. This spider would not have one any contests for the beauty of its web, but there is no arguing with its success in capturing prey.

argiope aurantia

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was exploring Prince William Forest Park yesterday morning, I spotted this little spider. I was shooting almost directly into the sun when I captured this image and the light caused the spider’s legs to look almost transparent and the web to glow with all kinds of colors.

It looks almost like the spider was in outer space (and a Facebook viewer commented that she was totally ok with the spider being as far away as possible from her)..

spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Did you know that not all spiders build webs? Some, like jumping spiders, rely on stealth and speed to capture unsuspecting prey. One of my favorite spiders, the Six-spotted Fishing Spider (Dolomedes triton), sits at the edge of the water with some of its long legs fully extended. When it senses vibrations of a potential prey on the surface of the water, a fishing spider can walk on the water to seize insects, vertebrates, tadpoles and occasionally small fish or even dive underwater up to 7.1 inches (18 cm), according to Wikipedia.

Here are a couple of images of a Six-spotted Fishing Spider that I spotted earlier this week at Prince William Forest Park. I really like the way that you can see most of the spiders eight eyes in these images and the way that the environment looks almost alien and other-worldly.

Past experience has shown me that viewers will be split in their reactions to these images—some will find them to be really cool and fascinating, while others will find them to be completely creepy. As you might suspect, I am in the former group.

Six-spotted Fishing spider

Six-spotted Fishing spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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During a recent morning walk at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I came across some spiderwebs in the fields that glistened in the sunlight thanks to rain the previous night. Many of the webs were only partial webs and I wondered if perhaps the torrential rain had ripped them apart.

Light was mostly coming from the front, which made it a little tricky to get a correct exposure, but that kind of backlighting is the reason why the webs are visible.

The backgrounds were different for the different webs and most of the time I had to deliberately underexpose the images to have the webs “pop,” which meant that the backgrounds looked really dark. I was thrilled when I managed to capture the first image below with a background full of autumn colors.

autumn web

autumn web

autumn web

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When this Spotted Orbweaver spider (Neoscona crucifera) spotted me last week at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, it scurried along the silken threads of its web to the relative safety of the plant to which one end of the web was attached.

There is something that really appeals to me about this image. Maybe it’s the way that the colors of the spider match those of the plant or how the shapes of the stems are similar to those of the spider’s legs. Perhaps it is the contrast between the sharpness of a few elements in the image and the dreamy, almost ghost-like background.

Most of the time I strive for super-realistic images and try to draw a viewer’s attention to the details. When I am in an artsy, creative mood, though, I am content to capture an impression of the subject, leaving the details to the imagination of others.

spotted orbweaver spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Raindrops can enhance the beauty of many subjects, like this spider web that I photographed on Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. As I looked at the drops, they somehow brought to mind an elaborate necklace of loosely strung pearls.

wet spider web

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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When you shoot with a zoom lens, you can change the look of an image without moving from where you are standing. That can be an advantage, but it can also be a disadvantage, because it can discourage you from exploring different angles or different perspectives.

I really enjoy shooting with a lens of a fixed focal length, especially my macro lens, because it forces me to think more about composition. If I decide that I want the subject to be larger in the frame, I have to move physically closer to the subject. If the terrain doesn’t let me get any closer, then I have to consciously consider how else I could frame the shot.

This past weekend I saw a lot of black and yellow garden spiders (Argiope aurantia) when I was exploring Jackson Miles Wetland Refuge, a small park not too far from where I live. Some of the spiders were in bushes and others were overhanging the water of a small pond. It was a fun challenge to figure out how to photograph the spiders in different and interesting ways.

In the first shot, I decided to shoot the spider from the side rather than from the front as I normally do. I was delighted to see the way the the shape of the vegetation in the background almost matched the shape of the spider’s legs.

I also photographed the spider in the second image from the side, but the leafy backdrop and the inclusion of more of the spider’s web gives the image a completely different feel as compared to the first one.

When I saw the spider in the third image overhanging the water, I loved the shape of its body and its extended legs. If I had had a zoom lens, I am pretty sure I would have zoomed in on the spider. When processing the image, I was also tempted to crop in closely. I remember when I was shooting, though, that I deliberately included the vegetation on the left hand side, because I liked the way that it looked. So the image that you see is pretty much the one that I chose when I shot it, having zoomed in as closely as my feet would allow (without getting really wet). Despite my normal desire to fill my frame with my subject, I think it was good that I was not able to do so in this case.

argiope spider

argiope spider

argiope spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

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On Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge I watched with fascination as this spider (maybe a Marbled Orbweaver (Araneus marmoreus) spider) worked on her web. She seemed to have started with the spokes coming out of the middle and was adding the ribs when I photographed her.

If you look closely in the first image, you can actually see the web material coming out of one of her spinnerets, the organs in which a spider produces the different kinds of silk that make up a web. I tried to figure our her process as I observed her. It looks like she would produce a length of silk, maneuver it into place on one of the spokes with one or more of her legs, affix it in place, and then start the process over again. For the final image, I moved back a little to give you a somewhat better view of more of the web and a sense of its shape.

I have photographed spiderwebs many times before, but this was the first time that I watched one being built. My admiration for the skills and artistry of spiders continues to grow—they are simply amazing.

spider making web

spider making web

spider making web

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

 

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When you check out spider webs really carefully, you can often discover really cool-looking tiny spiders, like this Arrowhead Orb Weaver spider (Verrucosa arenata) that I spotted yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. If you look really closely in between its uppermost legs, you can see some of its multiple eyes looking straight at you. Information on BugGuide.net indicates that this spider is unusual because it rests in the web with its head up, not head down like most other Orb Weavers.

It’s hard to get a sense of scale when you look at this image, but I’d estimate that this little spider was less than an inch in length (25 mm). It was hanging in the air in its web at the edge of a trail when I first spotted it. I was able to move in pretty close with my macro lens—unlike many other spiders, it did not scurry away to the edge of the web. Sharpness is always an issue when shooting at at close range, but my monopod helped to steady me enough to get a relatively sharp image.

You may not like spiders, but you have to admit that this is a cool-looking spider.

Arrowhead Orb Weaver

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Unlike those that construct elaborate webs, some spiders instead perch at the shore with extended legs and sense prey through vibrations on the surface of the water. When the prey is detected, the spider runs across the top of the water, prompting some to call it the “Jesus spider.”

I spotted this cool-looking Six-spotted Fishing Spider (Dolomedes triton) in the shallow water of a pond this past Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Six-spotted Fishing Spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Sometimes the dragonfly is the predator and sometimes it is the prey—it appears to be primarily a matter of circumstances and timing. This male Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) met his demise this past Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

I am not sure how exactly the spider managed to snag the dragonfly, but I assume the dragonfly flew into the spider’s web, which was high in the air, spanning a gap between some tall trees. Interesting enough, I was only able to see a few strands of the web, so I wonder if this action took place at the extreme edge of the web.

common whitetail dragonfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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When I came upon this little praying mantis during a recent trip to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I couldn’t decide if it was the predator or the prey. Although the mantis seemed to be at least partially trapped in a spider’s web, the spider no longer seemed to be present. In addition, the mantis appeared to be trying to work its way out of the web.

There is definitely a story here, but I can’t figure out for sure what it is. You’ll have to choose an ending to the story on your own.

praying mantis

 

praying mantis

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Even if you find spiders a bit creepy (which I don’t), you can’t help but admire the beauty and artistry of their webs. This spider, which I think is a Black and Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia), went a little crazy with its zigzag pattern this past weekend at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Most of the time the webs of these spiders have a single zigzag pattern that leads to the center of the web. This spider, which seemed smaller than many of the others of this species that I have seen, for some unknown reason decided to repeat the pattern multiple times, which helped me to spot the web more easily.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Do you think about your photographic subjects one at a time? That’s the way that I tend to operate. One of my blogging friends, though, likes to organize photos of others around themes that transcend the boundaries of individual species. In this posting, Liz of Exploring Colour focused on the theme of Predators and Prey with photos that capture this reality of nature without becoming gruesome. Be sure to check out her other wonderful postings too that include her own photos as well of those of some other awesome photographers.

Exploring Colour

The reality of the natural world is that some creatures eat other creatures to survive. Nature photographers spend a lot of time outside and sometimes capture dramatic moments in the struggle for survival. Their photos and stories may shock us but we can learn so much from these encounters – animals seem capable of much more planning, strategy and applied knowledge than what most of us humans ever give them credit for.


** Click on any photo to view large-size version **

Note: Each photographer’s website/blog is listed at the bottom of this blog-post.


snake2_fish_blog

Mike Powell | Snake catches catfish | 20 July, 2017

  • Story plus 5 Photos showing the snake in various positions holding his catch, all the time in the water, until all of a sudden the snake somehow ingests the large fish and the last photo shows the snake with only the fish tail sticking out of…

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As I was loading camera gear into my car on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I noticed that I had a tiny hitchhiker—a crab spider that looked ready to embrace me with open arms. After photographing the cute little spider, I released it into a grassy area, where it seemed more likely to catch something to eat than on the roof of the car.

I do not have much experience with crab spiders, but think this one might be a Goldenrod Crab Spider (Misumena vatia). As always, I would welcome a correction or confirmation if you are knowledgeable about spiders.

crab spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Although some folks find spiders to be creepy, I look at them as wonderfully creative architects and artists and I was thrilled to capture this image of one in its web that I spotted early yesterday morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I have found that early morning is the best time to get shots of spider webs and they tend to show up best in shots that are backlit, which is to say that light is shining from the front. In this case I tried to frame the shot carefully for maximum effect and did not have to crop the image at all.

web art

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When a Black and Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia) traps a prey in its web, it often moves so quickly to wrap it up completely that it is difficult to identify the prey. That was not the case with the damselfly that I spotted yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge as it was being encased in a silken shroud.

The damselfly looks to be a bluet damselfly and if pressed, I’d guess that it might be a Familiar Bluet (Enallagma civile) or possibly a Big Bluet (Enallagma durum). The spider seems to be experiencing the same kind of problem that I encounter when I am trying to wrap an awkwardly-shaped present at Christmas time—it is hard to be neat and tidy, the process uses up lots of wrapping material, and the package always end up irregularly shaped and easy to identify.

spider and damselfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

 

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“Beautiful Spider”—I know that some people would consider that an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. I, however, am fascinated with spiders and photographed this Black and Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia) at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge as carefully as if I were doing a beauty shot in a photo studio. The spider had constructed her web on some vegetation overhanging a small pond, which is why  I was able to get such an uncluttered gray background.

Argiope aurantia

Earlier this month I captured an image of a spider of the same species while exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge—this seems to be the prime season for these spiders, which I have seen at multiple locations. This image shows well the amazing reach of the spider’s amazingly long legs and, as was the case in the first image, shows the ziz-zag portion of the web that is associated with this species.

Argiope aurantia

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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The beautiful Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) is often featured in conservation efforts that focus on its dwindling numbers and shrinking habitat. It was therefore a little disconcerting to stumble upon a Monarch that had been ensnared in the web of a Black and Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia) during a visit this past weekend to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

I have no idea how long the butterfly had been in the web, but it appeared to be totally immobilized. Spiders like this one, known also as Yellow Garden Spiders or Writing Spiders, kill their prey by injecting venom and often wrap them up in web material for later consumption.

I considered cropping this image to focus more attention on the spider and the butterfly, but ultimately decided that I liked the context provided by the elements of the spider’s web and the murky, out-of-focus background.

 

spider and Monarch

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

 

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Predator or prey? Dragonflies are fearsome predators, but they can also become prey—it’s the whole circle of life cycle in the natural world.

This past Friday as I was walking around Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I spotted the twisted body of a dragonfly suspended in the air against a backdrop of the sky. Instinctively I knew that there must be a spider web there, although it was not initially visible. The wing pattern of the dragonfly made it easy to identify as a Common Whitetail (Plathemis lydia).

As I got closer, I realized that a large spider was holding onto the body of the dragonfly. I am not totally certain of the spider identification, but it looks to me like it is a Spotted Orbweaver (Neoscona crucifera). Often when I approach a spider, it will scurry to the edge of its web, but this spider defiantly stayed in place—it looked like it was determined not to give up its prey.

As many readers know, I really like dragonflies, but spiders have to eat too. Undoubtedly this scenario plays out multiple times each day, but it is still a little unsettling to see it face-to-face.

spider and dragonfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

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Dragonflies seem to love to perch on this piece of rusted rebar that sticks out of the water at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. I really like the juxtaposition of the man-made and natural elements in this shot of a male Eastern Amberwing dragonfly (Perithemis tenera) that I spotted on Monday.

You can’t see it really well in the first shot, but there is a spider on the rebar in addition to the dragonfly.  I got a better shot of the spider later in the day. I don’t know for sure that it could capture the dragonfly, but it’s a potentially dangerous situation for the dragonfly (and I have photographed several dragonflies that had fallen prey to spiders in the past).

Eastern Amberwing


spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I know that some folks find spiders to be creepy, but I think they are beautiful, particularly when presented creatively in an image. I spotted this little spider earlier this week in a wooded area at Huntley Meadows Park.

The area in which the spider was located was pretty dark, so I decided to use  the pop-up flash on my camera. The light was a bit too powerful at such close range, so I  improvised a diffuser by slipping a plastic sleeve over the flash—when it is raining out, my Washington Post is delivered in plastic sleeves. All three of these shots were taken using the flash, but they look so different because of the direction of the ambient light. In the one that has a light background,for example, I was shooting almost directly into the light, so the flash was need to avoid getting nothing but a silhouette.

 

dramatic spider

 

dramatic spiderdramatic spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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If you go out early in the morning, you have undoubtedly seen flat dew-covered squares of web material scattered all over the ground. Yesterday morning at Huntley Meadows Park, I decided to explore several of them, hoping to find one of the spider-architects. Eventually I was able to find and photograph one of these spiders, which are commonly known as American Grass Spiders (g. Agelenopsis) or funnel weaver spiders.

According to an article on BugGuide.net, “For this family of spiders, the web is a horizontal, sheet-like web with a small funnel-like tube off to a side (or for some species, the middle of the web). This funnel is what the family is named for, and is used by the spider for hunting and protection. The spider will lay in wait in the funnel, and when an insect flies into, or lands on the web, the spider will rush out, very quickly check to see if it is prey, and if it is prey, bite it. The venom is fast-acting on the prey, so once the prey is subdued (within a second or two), the spider will drag the prey back into the funnel (for safety while eating, and to prevent other insects from recognizing the danger that lurks on the web).”

It’s fascinating to think about all the different ways that spiders are able to capture their prey, including all kinds of webs or even without webs, as is the case with jumping spiders and fishing spiders. It makes me happy that spiders are not larger, except perhaps in some Japanese science fiction movies, or we all might be in danger.

funnel weaver spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

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Most of us know what it is like to change a lens on a DSLR, but what is it like when you change a lens in one of your eyes? About 48 hours ago, I had surgery to replace the lens in one of my eyes with a plastic intraocular lens (IOL). Cataracts in both of my eyes had advanced to a point where they were interfering with activities such as night driving and both my optometrist and my ophthalmologist recommended cataract surgery.

I am in an interesting situation right now, because one of my eyes has been “fixed” and one of them has not. As a result I can’t help but do a series of before-and-after comparisons by looking at the world one eye at a time.

It’s hard to describe the changes, but it may be a little easier with photographers. Do you remember the first time that you looked at a RAW image? RAW images often look dull and flat. That’s kind of the way that things look in my right (uncorrected) eye. The view is darker, dingier, and has a slight yellow cast. The colors appear desaturated and there is not much contrast.

When I look through my corrected eye, it feels like a RAW image that has been adjusted by a skilled photographer. The whites are pure white, the colors are vibrant, and sharpness and contrast have been tweaked. Interestingly, the colors are a little on the cool side, with a slight blue color cast. One thing I didn’t expect is that objects in my corrected eye are slightly bigger than in my uncorrected eye. I asked my ophthalmologist if the lens he implanted has a magnifying effect and he noted that it did not—the phenomenon I had described was caused by my myopia, which causes objects to look smaller.

Previously I was significantly near-sighted and have needed glasses since I was in the fifth grade. The corrected eye is far-sighted now and my distance vision is amazing—for the first time in my life I was able to drive a car yesterday without glasses. My near vision now is essentially non-existent. I am hoping that it will improve a little bit as my eyes continue the adjustment process, but I fully expect that I will need the kind of reading glasses that I am using at this very moment.

Here is a photo of an Orchard Orbweaver spider (Leucauge venusta) that I took recently. The woods were pretty dark and I was trying to shoot from a relatively short distance away, so I decided to use my pop-up flash. It produced too much glare off of the spider’s shiny body, so I ended up throwing a gray bandana over the flash as a makeshift diffuser. The spider had just captured a prey (I think) and I am pretty happy that I was able to capture as much detail as I did. (Normally I like to be more nuanced when using a flash on close-up subjects, but I think the dark background works well with a spider;)

When I look at the spider with my uncorrected eye, the green and yellow on the spider’s body are pale and dull and the section of the body between the yellow areas appears to be gray. Looking though the corrected eye, however, I see a bright white area in between the bright yellow markings and even the green seems brighter and more intense.

In another two weeks the lens in the right eye is scheduled to be replaced and I’ll probably start to take my newer, brighter world for granted. For now, though, all I have to do is close one eye at a time to see what a difference a change in lens can produce.

Orchard Orbweaver

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

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