Arthropods of a Suburban Yard and Home
As of February 20, 2021 this album consists of 1,039
photos of 576 species of insects, arachnids, myriapods, and crustaceans
photographed in or around my suburban townhouse home near Rochester, NY
USA in the past 12 years or so. I am still finding new species
occasionally, and I plan to update the album from time to time.
Some readers may ask themselves what prompted me to undertake this rather laborious and time-consuming project. I was motivated in large part by a fascination with biodiversity. Also, I have long been interested in nature photography. Biodiversity can be overwhelming, but my small townhouse with its small patch of grass, shrubs, trees, and a few weeds seemed like it might be manageable, and as a retired person, I have plenty of time.
As a child growing up in New York City in the 1950s, I loved to visit the American Museum of Natural History. I was already fascinated by insects and other creatures large and small, so I sometimes visited the insect collections. Of course, I enjoyed looking at big, exotic-looking bugs from around the world, but I was also impressed by the collection of insects from a suburban yard made by Frank E. Lutz, who was then the curator of insects at the museum. I was astonished by the numbers and diversity of insects found in a yard in New Jersey. I don't remember how many specimens there were in the collection, and I suspect that it has long since been retired to a storage room if it still exists. I never met Mr. Lutz, but at one time, his now outdated Field Book of Insects, was something of a bible to me. This collection helped to inspire me to undertake my own yard collection. But instead of killing my specimens and mounting them on pins, I photograph mostly live critters and release them. Also, I have expanded the concept to include insects found in the house as well as in the yard, and arthropods that are not insects.
My collection is almost certainly not representative of the arthropods in my house and yard because of various biases. For one thing, many were found at outside lights (100 watt equivalent white compact fluorescents) on warm nights. Therefore, the collection is biased towards nocturnal arthropods that are drawn to lights, especially moths. Also, I am partial to moths. Additionally, I am limited by my equipment to creatures no more than 2-3 mm in their longest dimension. Of course, many insects are even smaller.
Some Notes on Methodology
I am currently using a Canon EOS 60D digital camera equipped with a Canon EF-S 60 mm 1:1 macro lens and a Sigma EM-140DG ring flash in manual exposure mode at f16 and 1/250th second. This exposure mode gives adequate depth of focus while avoiding motion blur and minimizing unwanted effects of ambient light. The camera automatically records the focal distance of the subject. This is a useful feature that enables me to estimate the sizes of objects in the photos. The lens is calibrated with a scale that shows the magnification factor from 1:1 at the minimum focusing distance of 0.2 m to 1:5 at a distance of 0.44 m. There is a linear relationship between the focusing distance and the magnification factor over this range. Initially, I photographed my subjects in situ, but this often resulted in awkward angles and undesirable backgrounds. Currently, I usually collect my specimens and chill them to a few degrees above freezing to immobilize them for photography. This usually works well, although some arthropods remain active after chilling, and they all recover quickly upon being warmed to ambient temperature. Many of my photos have been submitted to websites such as BugGuide.net and iNaturalist.org. and identified with the help of other naturalists.