Never work with children, animals, or immature beetles…

Having had difficulty sourcing carabid species images, especially for larvae; I decided Tony presented a great opportunity as a model. Images could then be used for ID, reference, diagrams, extension, and promotion. The latter is very important. From the start it has surprised and delighted me how people have engaged with “Tony”, in the office and online! I have had lots of questions, so it has furthered understanding and appreciation of carabids and beetles more widely. Also I have got some new beetley contacts too.

So how does one go about photography of such a tiny and rapid creature? Well it’s a lot easier if you have access to the fantastic Visual Comms Unit at Rothamsted! Graham Shepard is a superb photographer; but he has had little experience of such a tricky entomological subject: his usual crop pests are much more willing to pose. However he rose to the challenge, we had a great time and got a few really good shots.

I brought along some moss and soil, and set up a small diorama of beetle habitat. In practice this was great for Tony, but not so much for Graham. Subterranean larvae naturally burrow away from the light as soon as they can, so I was fishing Tony back onto the moss, then Graham had a few seconds to snap shots before he found a way back down… Also Tony was quite upset at being forced to perform, flicking his body to escape, and actually biting in retaliation. Those tiny sickle shaped jaws are no joke. He literally hung off my finger at one point! (Don’t be afraid of larvae now though folks, he’s too small to draw blood and I couldn’t feel it)

Next we tried him on plain backgrounds, this was easier as Graham was able to track him for longer over the paper as Tony ran; before I flicked him back to the middle with a paintbrush. Still, it takes time to focus in properly; and Graham exhibited remarkable skill and patience in capturing a few fantastically sharp shots from this: you can see every hair, which is very important for larvae ID.

Tony the Pterostichus
Image credit: the wonderful Rothamsted VCU 🙂

Anthropomorphising aside, it really has been a great learning experience. Seeing how a larvae moves through its environment, evades capture, and the behaviours it uses in defence; feeds into my understanding of their autecology. I was particularly surprised at how well a predominantly subterranean instar could move on the surface. And I actually really didn’t anticipate how feisty they are!


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