Macrophotography Tutorial

If you pay attention to nature photography, especially macrophotography, you've likely seen the trend of using white backgrounds for portraits of insects, frogs, even birds. This technique is not only visually alluring, but it also serves as a great method of documenting a species' morphology for guidebooks and publications.

Here are some examples from my photography, and tutorial video above.

Expeditions 2018 - Join Me!

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Starting last year, I have teamed up with wildlife reporter Jason Goldman and the team at Atlas Obscura to lead trips to some of the wildest places in the world. These aren't just trips to have an adventure, these are a science-themed boot camp where you'll get hands on with ongoing field work and new discoveries all while staying at sustainable ecolodges and field stations in some of the most incredible places on Earth.

We've carefully curated our itineraries to make these some of the most unique visits to a country you can possibly have, starting from airport pickup and ending up in the rainforest staring a howler monkey, or on an island swimming with sea turtles. We also team up with local partners to ensure that we are supporting local conservation and research initiatives and to give you the best on-the-ground knowledge possible.

Our days will be spent hiking, swimming, learning and our nights will be spent having conversations about what conservation really looks like (hint: it's complicated) or staring at the Milky Way. We also provide professional photography assistance and training along the way.

Join us!

Announced:

Expedition Amazon in Peru: March 3 - March 9, 2018

Soon to be announced:

Galapagos

Ecuador and Yasuni

A Modern Take on a Praying Mantis Enclosure

A Modern Take on a Praying Mantis Enclosure

When I was a kid, I raised beetles and butterflies, had four newts, two frogs, two snakes, a lizard named Bubba, and, of course, a dog. I loved having all these pets and still would like to, but my tastes have changed. It's hard to have a modern/minimal decor apartment in NYC with a big boxy terrarium in there, so I searched around for something different. I wanted to raise praying mantises in style, so I tried out something new.

Here's what I came up with. It's green, it's alive, and I think it's kinda rad.

modern terrarium praying mantis
modern insect terrarium breeding mantis
cool mantis insect cage

Here's how it's done:

I bought this hinged roof terrarium on Amazon for $20. Then did some layering- a few stones at the bottom for drainage, 2-3 inches of organic potting soil, then 2 inches of moss for decor. I used reindeer moss like this, but I'm sure other mood mosses would work as well. 

The green plant growing in there? That's my favorite part. Do you ever buy potatoes, not use them all, and come back from a trip only to find your potatoes have sprouted and started growing? Yeah, it's time to take advantage of that. I buried the potato in there, and with water and a few days of light I had a full leafy stem perfect for mantises to climb on and molt on.

For maintenance, I have a spray bottle which I use every 3 days to spray the leaves, glass, and soil so that the plant grows and the mantises have droplets to drink. The potato plant also grows even faster than the mantises- I've had to trim a few branches as they grow to keep enough space in there.

Some lessons learned- if I had to do it again, I would have used more of a live moss to handle the moisture better without mold. Also, an acrylic or silicon sealant on the main joints and the very top would have made this terrarium a bit sturdier, more water tight, and sealed enough to better keep in the wingless fruit flies I feed the baby mantises.

When it comes to praying mantis husbandry (the actual care and feeding of them), I'll leave that to other resources on the internet. Just know a few essentials from the beginning- A LOT will hatch out of a single egg case, far more than you'll want in a single terrarium so hatch them in a separate container. Also, the mantises will become cannibals after their second or third molt (within a few weeks), so separate them as they grow and focus on a few healthy individuals. If it's a native species, the rest can hang around your back yard. And lastly, a single tub of live wingless fruit flies is enough to feed all of the mantises for the first several weeks of their life, making it relatively easy to care for them at first.

How to Explore Nicaragua

Nicaragua was the first rainforest I ever explored. I was 15, brought my family into the remote Bartola Reserve down the Rio San Juan, and found the butterflies and monkeys and spiders that made my dream of being a rainforest-immersed entomologist seem not only closer than ever, but more essential than ever.

I've since been back to Nicaragua several times- documenting sea turtle research conducted by Paso Pacifico, or taking my family along to see this gorgeous country. The people, the rainforest, the surf, the food- this is a country that should be at the top of your list for you next trip. Here are a few videos I've put together from my time there:

Say Hello to the Glitter Beetle

Say Hello to the Glitter Beetle

Some insects are more shiny than others. This weevil takes the prize for glittery, sparkly, and all around amazing.

Sea Turtle Shells Glow At Night

On a recent trip to Nicaragua I documented the incredible work Paso Pacifico is doing to protect sea turtles... and learned the most mind-boggling fact about sea turtle shells. (hint: it's glowy)

A long-exposure photo showing the zig-zag pattern the park ranger wiped with his finger on the sea turtle's shell. My guess? Bioluminescent phytoplankton accumulation.

A long-exposure photo showing the zig-zag pattern the park ranger wiped with his finger on the sea turtle's shell. My guess? Bioluminescent phytoplankton accumulation.

A similar glow is seen along the shore when you step near where the waves break- for some reason these plankton are highly concentrated on the turtle's shell.

A similar glow is seen along the shore when you step near where the waves break- for some reason these plankton are highly concentrated on the turtle's shell.

A First Ever Video Is Here, But The Silkhenge Mystery Remains

In May of 2016, Aaron Pomerantz (of UC Berkeley) and I joined the Tropical Herping team for a visit to Yasuni National Park in Ecuador. During our night surveys, we ended up finding five of the silkhenge structures we've previously documented in Peru. Hanging out back at the field station, this happened:

We're incredibly excited to be able to share this video, and the DNA barcode in the description of the video. These things have been sighted from Brazil to Peru, French Guiana to Ecuador, so we're convinced they are much more common than previously acknowledged, it's just a matter of time until someone figures out exactly who is making it, and why.

Any guesses?

You can read more about it as featured on National Geographic News, here.

 

The Velvet Worm - Onychophora

The Velvet Worm - Onychophora

Freshman year of college I had the delight of learning in a lecture that this thing exists- a velvety, leggy, slime-spitting creature called an Onychophoran, commonly known as the velvet worm.
 Ever since then it became a dream of mine to find one of these under a rotting log where they live in the wild and, of course, get slimed by one. Thanks to a recent trip to Yasuni National Park in Ecuador, this dream became a reality.

Velvet worms are odd. Sure, they squirt out a sticky slime to ensnare their prey (or defend against the dirty fingernails of photographers). And they aren't quite a worm, aren't quite a millipede, they are their own lineage that has hardly changed over 500 million years and is one of the closest relatives to the arthropods.

But the oddity only begins. Some species are considered social. They have an alpha female that leads the group hunting together; and feeds together by dining sequentially in order of hierarchy. Then, there's the mating. Some species mate by the males sticking a patch of sperm on the female which breaks into her skin and releases the sperm. The sperm eventually find their way down to fertilize the eggs, and the female then gives live birth to (very likely adorable) velvety mini-onychophorans.

Thanks to www.TropicalHerping.com for getting me access to Yasuni, and Aaron Pomerantz for the slime-on-my-finger photos.

Where Is the Most Biodiverse Place On Earth?

Where Is the Most Biodiverse Place On Earth?

Ecuador's Yasuni National Park, that's where.

I had heard about this rainforest- it is a forest for the entomologist, herpetologist, appreciator of all things small and diverse and complex. Sure, you may see some monkeys, or the footprint of a jaguar in the mud. But the real discoveries are beneath your feet, perched on leaves, or fluttering through the air. Oh, or giving you kisses like this tapir did.

Primary source of information on species richness: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0008767

Why We Should Love Spiders

Why We Should Love Spiders

Did the movie Arachnophobia scar you for life and make you afraid of spiders? Yeah, me too.

I met Jules Sylvester, the spider-wrangler from Arachnophobia that made them crawl, jump, and scare millions of people around the world. I now love spiders, so I gave him a shot at spider forgiveness to help me explain why we should LOVE spiders, not fear them. Have fun: