The first photos through the Leica S8APO

It has taken a while to get the camera hooked up to the microscope because it is quite a complicated process, involving lots of adapters and converters – not to mention getting the optics and the extension tubes correctly arranged. The first shots really weren’t worth looking at but today I started to capture images that are getting a bit better – still not the quality I hope to achieve, but getting there.

Although the microscope is rated at 80x the actual magnification through the microscope tube is related to the size of the sensor and this works out at about 10x – 15x but this is still very good and a perfect range for what I want to do. The lighting in these photos is very rough and contrasty because I haven’t experimented with flash diffusers yet but it gives you an idea of what is possible.

This is a butterfly wing (Eunica coelina):

This is a lateral view of Dinera grisecens, showing a bit of the katepisternum; a nice row of hypopleural bristles; the hind spiracle with hairy flap; haltere and abdominal tergite 1+2:

Contrast that with the spiracle of Exorista rustica, which has a “classic” single-flap arrangement:

Exorista rustica spiracle - showing the single flap

… and the next 2 show classic polideine spiracles, with 2 equally-sized flaps:

Lypha dubia spiracle - showing the 2 equally sized flaps

Lydina aenea spiracle - showing the equally sized flaps

I hope to make a few more photos over the coming days, once I have worked out the problem with parfocality – the camera should be in focus at the same point as the main microscope eyepieces but at the moment it isn’t … a bit more experimentation needed! 😉


Tachina lurida on the wing

Had a nice record from Tristan Bantock on the 17th – a Tachina lurida, seen on Parkland Walk near Crouch Hill tube station. They look superficially like the slightly earlier Tachina ursina but they are slightly less hairy and they lack a white band on the front of tergite 5.

Tachina lurida, © Tristan Bantock, 2012

We’re also getting plenty of reports of Gymnocheta viridis on the wing in the UK – usually seen sunning themselves on fence posts and tree trunks.

Gymnocheta viridis, © Chris Raper, 2011

Natural England funding

It has been a hectic and exciting start to 2012 for the recording scheme, with the recent good news that we had won funding from Natural England!!

For a while the government has been concerned to improve biological recording capacity in the UK and, with the support of Defra, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and Natural England they set up the Fund for biological recording in the voluntary sector. It was to this fund that we applied.

Our application had to be submitted in quite a hurry because the deadlines were tight but, thanks to some great help from our friends at the BRC in Wallingford, we managed to make the deadline and were one of under 40 applicants to be successful!

The funding has been given for the purchase of a new Leica S8APO microscope with lights and camera adapters so that we will be able to produce deep-focus photographs of key tachinid structures as well as tutorials on various aspects of entomology. The first articles have been published in the ‘Tutorials’ menu so keep checking back for more in the coming months.

Anyway, here it is – isn’t she a beauty!? 😀

In these photos the camera adapters haven’t been fitted because at the time of writing I am waiting for a few extra tubes to be sent to achieve parfocality with the eyepieces. But you can see the port emerging from the top of the microscope. My trusty Meiji EMZ sits to the left and, with its slightly deeper working distance (90mm instead of 75mm on the Leica), will still be used for sorting malaise trap catches etc.

More early sightings

The warm, sunny Spring weather has brought out the early tachinids and we have already received records for Tachina ursina, Gonia picea, Lypha dubia, Campylocheta praecox, Macquartia tenebricosa & grisea, Brachicheta strigosa & Cyzenis albicans!

Gonia picea on the wing – 21/3/2012

It was a sunny day so I took a short walk across Hartslock Nature Reserve this lunchtime, with a vague idea that I might see some tachinids, like Tachina ursina. But to my great surprise (because they had never been recorded there before) I saw lots of Gonia picea all zigzagging low over the grass. This species seems to have done well recently because we received more records than normal last year and perhaps it has benefited from the recent warm, dry Springs?

Anyway, it shows that there are interesting tachinids flying right now so get out with your nets and cameras on any sunny day! 🙂

Linnaemya picta – male genitalia

Linnaemya picta was added to the British list fairly recently but has been found in a few localities this year – namely Kent, Suffolk & Cambridgeshire. There was also a suspected record from the Reading University grounds but this wasn’t confirmed beyond doubt. So it is worth noting that the male genitalia are particularly distinctive, with the characteristic curved and spoon-shaped tip:

Linnaemya picta (male, genitalia, x4 magnification)

Linnaemya picta (male, genitalia, x3.5 magnification)

A typical tachinid wing

This is a photograph of a Tachina grossa wing, annotated to show the commonest features that are used in the keys:

I always orient myself by looking for the smallest vertical vein called r-m, the little one in the middle – it links the last true radial vein (r4+5) to the median. The median vein is probably the most important in tachinids because it often bends in different ways and either joins or doesn’t join r4+5. If the median vein joins r4+5 before the wing edge then it forms a small stalk called the petiole (not on this photo). Sometimes the bend has a little stalk (appendix – not in this photo) or crease that extends towards the wing margin. If you go up from r4+5 the next radial is r2+3 and these 2 veins meet together, near the body, at another important areas called the node. The node has varying numbers of hairs on it and sometimes these hairs extend along r4+5 towards or even beyond r-m. Above r2+3 you will see r1 and then to the left sc, the sub-costal vein. Along the leading edge is the costal vein (annotated in sections – CSx) – these sections are of varying relative lengths and this can be important. The last section (CS6) extends to a notional point that is the tip of the wing. Below the median vein the next radial is called the cubital vein and it is linked to the median by m-cu. The point where m-cu joins the median is important in some species, as is the length of the section of the cubital beyond m-cu. The final vein that is of interest to us is the anal vein – we are usually just asked to see whether it extends to the edge of the wing, but watch out – make sure that it isn’t just a crease that meets the wing edge! 😉

Some tachinid head close-ups

Here are a few of my latest stacks showing some nice tachinid head close-ups. Most were all taken using the Nikkor EL 50mm f2.8 lens reversed on bellows 🙂

Some Siphona… and Pseudosiphona

These are a few photos of Siphona spp. in my collection. A few of the identifications, like boreata and maculata, are easy but the others need confirmation because the genus is very difficult and I still haven’t got to grips with them. The specimens were actually taken abroad – in Finland.

The Pseudosiphona is neotropical but I included it so that you can see how it compares to our Siphona spp.


First “real” stacks

Today I test-drove my first proper stacking system:

  • Canon EOS 1000D (actually a Canon-refurbished Rebel/Xs)
  • Tamron 90mm f/2.8 SP Di lens
  • cheapo adjustable Yongnuo YN560 Chinese flash
  • cheapo Chinese Fotomate macro rail
  • a plastic cup, some foam & one of those sticky rubber mats that they sell to stop rugs moving on laminate flooring.

The exposure is set on f8 @ 1/125th (100 ISO) and the flash is being run off a PC-PC cable in manual mode, turned right down to the lowest power level. The lens has a little electronic fault that prevents it being focused at 1:1 but it will work at just less than that. The sticky mat just prevents any of the equipment sliding on the table and it keeps everything remarkably stable.

The results are really nice … to my mind anyway. The light needs balancing and the sharpness needs improving but it is getting there and these really are the first proper stacks I have ever done.