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Posts Tagged ‘cicada’

Have you ever tried to wrap a present that is large and awkwardly shaped? I have childhood memories of helping my parents wrap tricycles and wagons for my younger siblings on Christmas Eve. No matter how much wrapping paper I used, it was pretty obvious what was underneath the wrapping.

I have watched Black and Yellow Garden Spiders (Argiope aurantia) capture prey multiple times. After the initial capture, the spider wraps up its prey in a special kind of silk that looks like a long gauze bandage. (Check out my 2014 posting called “Wrapping up a meal” for a more detailed explanation and some close-up shots of the wrapping process.)

When I spotted this Black and Yellow Garden Spider on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I could see from a distance that the spider had captured something that was as large as it was, but I could not determine what it was. Once I got closer, I could see that the spider had awkwardly wrapped up what appeared to be a large cicada—it was impossible to hide the shape of the cicada’s large wings.

At some point in this process the spider injects venom into the prey, killing it and liquefying its internal organs for consumption. I cannot tell for sure if that is what the spider was doing at the moment I captured this image, but the position of the spider’s body suggests that possibility.

Spider and cicada

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I hear cicadas all of the time—it is hard to ignore that background buzzing noise. It is rare, however, for me to get an unobstructed view of one.

I spotted this cicada perched on a branch overhanging a pond on Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I couldn’t tell for sure if it was still alive. It was not moving, but it simply may not have detected my presence. While it was great to capture an image of this cool insect, I particularly like how the water in the background turned out—those wispy cloud-like whites were a nice bonus.

cicada

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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After spending most of their lives underground as nymphs, the 17 year cicadas (Magicicada septendecim) spend the few weeks of their adult lives looking for love. The males are very loud in their “singing” as they seek to attract females. I watched one cicada couple go through a very brief introduction and courtship phase and then suddenly they were mating.

I guess that you have to move quickly when your days are numbered.

love1_blog

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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What do you get when you place two six year old boys in an outdoor environment filled with cicadas? You get a whole lot of energy and excitement. One of the boys came running up to me with a cicada perched on his fingertip and almost desperately asked me to take his picture. How could I refuse a request like that?

I decided that the best backdrop for the cicada was the colorful t-shirt that he was wearing. I am not sure exactly what was displayed on the shirt, but it seemed to be some sort of monsters and superheroes, which somehow seemed to be appropriate.  Be sure to click on the photo to get a higher resolution of the cicada, which is a really cool-looking insect (in a slightly creepy way).

boy_cicada_blog

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Like Paul Revere’s call in 1775, the cry went out in early May, “The cicadas are coming, the cicadas are coming.” After 17 years in the ground, the cicadas of Brood II  (Magicicada septendecim) were coming back in force. The Washington Post ran a story with the sensationalist headline of Bug-phobic dread the looming swarm of Brood II cicadas” and hysteric anticipation gripped the metro D.C. area.

Like most of the snowstorms forecast in this area, the invasion of the cicadas has been underwhelming. I had not seen a single cicada until I traveled to Manssas, VA for a cookout and the got to see and hear a large number of these scarey-looking insects. Apparently we are past the peak moments, but the noise in some places was just short of deafening and there were some bushes that were covered with the giant insects.

I was struck by the contrast between the fierce look of this cicada and the delicate beauty of the purple iris on which he was perched.

beast1_blog

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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This past weekend when I was out taking photos I was startled when I heard the very loud “singing” of a cicada really close to me. I glanced down and could see the cicada right in front of me, clutching a plant and visibly vibrating. I managed to get this shot of the cicada.

Cicada singing

I decided to do a little research on the cicada because I really don’t know much about them, except for the panic we had a few years ago when the 17-year cicadas were here. In the Wikipedia article, I learned about the different types of cicadas and how they produce the noise that is associated with them that can go up to 120 decibels, among the loudest of all insect-produced sounds.

One of the most interesting statements for me in the article was that, “The cicada has represented insouciance since classical antiquity” and referred to a fable by Jean de La Fontaine. Why was this interesting to me? I love words and it’s fun to read words like “insouciance,” a word with which many people probably are not familiar. It comes from the French word for “care”or “concern” (souci) and “insouciance” usually refers to a carefree, light-hearted, nonchalant attitude.

Did I mention that I was a French literature major in college more than 35 years ago? In college I really liked the French classical literature of the 17th century and Jean de La Fontaine was a very well-known poet and fabulist of that period. (Now tell me, how often do you get to use the word “fabulist” (someone who writes fables)? “Fabulist”—it sounds like it should be something that you’d find in People magazine to know how a celebrity rates in being fabulous.)

I went looking for de La Fontaine’s fable about the cicada to learn more of its reputation for being insouciant. There are a lot of different translations from French into English of the short fable, but I decided to do my own translation to avoid copyright issues and to exercise my French skills.

Here is my translation of La Fontaine’s fable called the “La Cigale et la Fourmi” (“The Cicada and the Ant”).

“The cicada, having sung the entire summer,
Found herself strongly in need when the north wind blew,
Possessing not a single morsel of fly or worm.
She went to her neighbor, Madame Ant, to tell of her need,
Asking her to lend some grain so she could survive until the new season.
“I will pay you interest and principal before the harvest, animal’s oath,” she said to her.

Madame Ant, however, is not a lender, which is the least of her faults.
“What were you doing during the hot weather?” she asked the borrower.
—Night and day I sang to all those coming by, whether that pleases you or not.
—You were singing? I am so glad.
Well, dance now.”

We could have a fascinating intellectual discussion about the meaning of the fable, but I’ll leave that for another time. While I was doing research about the fable, I came across a really cool video of the fable on YouTube that was produced by Studio YBM. It’s a cartoon and is in French, but if you’ve read the fable it’s easy to follow. I don’t want to spoil the video for you, but I encourage everyone to watch it to see insects in snowsuits and hear the cicada performing as a hip-hop singer.

So, where do you see yourself in the fable? Are you more like the ants or the cicada? Are you insouciant or are you more like Madame Ant?

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This weekend a fellow photographer (Christy T.) pointed out some really interesting looking spiders while we were at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, VA. They were very colorful and big (at least they seemed really big, especially when looking through a telephoto lens). I had walked by the area where they were located (and there were probably at least ten of them), but had not noticed them until she prompted me to look more closely.

The spider (Argiope aurantia) goes by many different names including Black and Yellow Argiope, Yellow Garden Orbweaver, Writing Spider, and Yellow Garden Spider, according to BugGuide. These spiders had large webs with a very distinctive zigzag pattern in the center, which I learned from Wikipedia is called a stabilimentum. (I’m still going through my shots from yesterday when I returned to visit the spiders and may post a shot showing the zigzag pattern in a later post). Nobody seems to know for sure why they make that zigzag pattern, perhaps for camouflage or to attract prey.

One of the other really cool things about this spider is that it oscillates the web really vigorously when it feels threatened. My fellow photographer demonstrated this when she touched a web with a tripod’s leg (she did not want to get any closer). It was amazing to see the elasticity of the web as the spider moved—it reminded me of a slingshot being pulled back.

These spiders seem to catch some pretty big prey. There were grasshoppers in some of the webs and in the photo below the spider has captured a cicada. The Wikipedia article notes that the spider kills the prey by injecting its venom and then wraps it in a cocoon of silk for later consumption (typically 1–4 hours later). I think the spider in the photo may be in the process of wrapping up the cicada.

I continue to be amazed by the fascinating things that are in front of me that I have never seen before. It’s clear to me that my photographic journey is causing me to see the world differently, more attentively. That’s a good thing.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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