Pholcus phalangioides – a kitchen-variety alien

There are people with telescopes and various recording devices constantly scanning the skies, convinced that there must be alien eyes watching us.  Some believe in friendly ET type aliens, while others fret about the less friendly Mars Attacks variety.  Either way, beings constructed to the same general scale and with the same basic bipedal design as humankind.

Which makes very little sense.  Five minutes wandering through any suburban garden, even on a cool winter’s day, and you’ll discover a dozen quite different systems to solve the biological problem of moving around, feeding, communicating, creating offspring, and all the other necessary life-tasks.

Alien eyes are watching us, and using other mysterious sense organs to gather information.

Daddy Longlegs is a name given to several quite different creatures, including crane flies and harvestmen.  Daddy Longlegs spiders create messy webs that hang in long trails and collect dust, exposing my sloppy housekeeping.  These webs aren’t sticky, and basically work by tripping up and entangling passing creatures, giving the spiders time to wrap up and bite the hapless bumblers.

Known in the US as Cellar Spiders, since they like to live indoors, and can breed undisturbed in cozy basements, they are also called “skull spiders”, because of a vague resemblance to a skull in the round head shape and three clumps of eyes.  I can sort of see it.

Daddy Longlegs spider

One urban legend claims that Pholcidae are the most venomous spiders in the world (even accumulating venom from their habit of eating other spiders), but are harmless to humans because its fangs cannot penetrate human skin.  An episode of Mythbusters explored and exploded this myth, their bite does penetrate skin, but their venom is fairly mild.

Daddy Longlegs spider




Getting flash, on a small scale

One of the basic technical skills I’m trying to wrap my mind around at the moment is how to use off camera flash – old school photographers, working with expensive film, used detailed metering and complex mathematical calculations.  I’m more inclined set everything to manual and play with the dials until it starts to look plausible.    My garden is always a good place to find models, albeit often very tiny ones unwilling to sit still for long.  These were shot using an old film 105mm Nikkor lens with an extension tube that takes it to 1:1 magnification.  Using a flash meant I could set the aperture to F/11 – 15 or so, and (since I was working hand held) keep the shutter speed around 150/sec.   I held the mildly unweildly length of the camera/lens/extension in one hand, and the flash in the other, adjusting the final focus by the simple method of leaning forward or back slightly, and moving the light-holding hand to various angles.




A wolf in my garden

Spider-of-the-day, a perfectly amusing wolf spider, a native to be found in most New Zealand gardens – Anoteropsis hilaris. With eyes arranged to look to the back and side, whenever you think something is watching you, it’s probably one of these guys. Wolf spiders are good parents, carrying their spiderlings around on their backs for a month or so, when the can-see-backwards vision must be quite useful.  More random spider facts . . .

wolf spider

Getting in close

DSC00617Ordinary things are amazing when you look closely – like this everyday Daddy Longlegs spider, crawling across a red-painted wall in my bedroom this morning.   Her/his kind (Pholcus phalangioides)  leave vaguely annoying strands of web in the high corners of the ceiling that gather dust, and as a species are generally more at risk of being vacuumed than appreciated.  But hey, those ridiculous legs have amazing joints that can rotate to pretty much any angle, used to tangle others spiders in silk from a safe distance, especially the somewhat bitey Whitetails.

This pic was shot with a basic lens, made more macro-capable with a budget extension tube ($25 from ebay).   One day I’d like to get the kind of fancy camera gear that would let me way closer, but an extension tube seems a good way to experiment with macro for now.

Technically, f3.5 1/160 sec, ISO 200, focal length of lens 30mm + a 16mm extension tube.  Also, camera flash. 

Wildlife portrait photography

I admit, it’s very small wildlife.  These were taken in the garden this afternoon, playing with a new macro lens  on my nearly new camera.   I’m finally getting the whole aperture/depth of field/shutter/iso interactions sorted in my mind, which is just as well since at this scale the tiniest tweak can drastically affect the outcome.

macro wasp

macro snail portrait

They say to always focus on the eyes

macro fly portrait

macro spider portrait