Oak Denizens After Dark

The English oak (Quercus robur) provides wonderful habitat for numerous creatures, but in the (relatively mild) depths of a British winter, they keep a low profile. Wait an hour or so after dark however and the trunk of an unassuming oak tree suddenly becomes an insect super-highway.

Oak bush-cricket, harvestman and winter moths montage

Oak bush-cricket, harvestman and winter moths montage

A particularly interesting creature is the flightless female winter moth, which emerges from the ground and climbs the nearest trunk to liaise with the flighted male moth at altitude. She then lays her eggs high up in the canopy.

Female winter moth

Female winter moth climbing oak tree

Male winter moth

Male winter moth lying in wait

In a ‘good’ year hundreds of female winter moths may be seen to climb the trunk of one tree in a single night. This is not necessarily good news for the tree however, as the caterpillars rapidly denude the leaves after emerging in the spring.

Taking photos of small wild creatures in the dark presents a few challenges!  To light these subjects I used an LED lamp attached to my tripod. This is a lot more predictable than using flash in inhospitable outdoor conditions, but does require a relatively long exposure time.

Many of these bugs will freeze in the bright white light required for conventional photography. This is not necessarily a bad thing for macro work, but it can alter their behaviour in an undesirable way. A young leopard slug was quickly in defensive posture for example, and remained so:

Young leopard slug

Young leopard slug

It’s also cold, dark and more than a little spooky in the woods after dusk in December, so requires several thermal layers and a degree of commitment!

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s