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Photographer Nicky Bay’s Purple Centipedes and Singapore Blues

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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house centipede, fresh from moult

A house centipede, fresh from moult, with its discarded exoskeleton. Copyright: Nicky Bay

I spend a great deal of time looking at weird insects on the Internet, and time and time again, Nicky Bay has the best shots of many different species and behaviours. The Singapore-based game designer managed to photograph that purple house centipede (Scutigeridae) mere moments after it shed its exoskeleton, which hangs quite beautifully on the branch above it. The purple colouring of its soft, new cuticle won’t last long – as the new exoskeleton hardens, the colour fades to a far less conspicuous light brown.

And see below for a planthopper nymph (Fulgoromorpha), caught defending itself by shooting rainbow ‘fireworks’ from its rear. It does this by consuming and storing plant sap, and when threatened, it excretes water, which mixes with the sap and causes it to crystalise and form a pretty bristle fan. It’s assumed that the bristle fan acts to alarm or ward off any potential predators, because wowow look at that thing! I had a chat to Bay about how he captures moments like this, plus what the white whale is for a person who’s already photographed a bunch of mirrored spiders. Turns out Bay’s white whale is actually very blue.

planthopper nymph

A planthopper nymph showing off its defence mechanism. Copyright: Nicky Bay

What does a usual day of shooting insects involve?

I usually go on shoots overnight with my friends when everyone else is in bed. The weather is cooler, the bugs are less skittish, nocturnal creatures are out, easier to gather friends with different schedules, minimal disturbance from runners, bikers, etc. And it is easier to see at night. Most people thought that it would be difficult to see at night, but with dilated pupils, it is actually easier.

We usually do not know what to expect when we go to any location, with some rare exceptions. Since what we shoot can go as small as 2mm, what we discover depends a lot on luck. On a good night, we may spend over four hours shooting and not move beyond 100 metres. I would normally keep and upload about 60 to 100 shots from each week’s shoot, and have a couple of highlights.

What is your most memorable experience shooting an insect?

Too many to mention! Recently, while shooting a tortoise beetle, I found that it kept flying off the leaf it was on and landing on my diffuser. It allowed me to make several attempts to shoot the preflight and inflight shots. Needs a very fast reaction time as I probably have less than 0.1 seconds to press the shutter and hope everything is in focus. Normally this beetle would be very skittish and disappear after the first flight.

Striated Tylorida Spiders Mating (Tylorida striata)

Striated Tylorida spiders mating (Tylorida striata). Copyright: Nicky Bay

You’ve shot a number of insects in really distinct stages or behaviours, such as the planthopper’s defence mechanism or the house centipede after moulting. What’s involved in capturing such rare moments?

Pure.. ass.. luck. : ) On top of it, we have to be really careful with behavioural shots as getting too close to the subjects may disrupt whatever activity that we are observing. Accidentally touching and causing any arthropod to drop to the ground while moulting may cause permanent damage to it. (See Bay’s post on the ethics of macro photography.)

What was your most difficult shot?

One of the most memorable would be the scene of a beautiful moulting cicada, which I searched and stood for the entire morning to capture the entire sequence. The cicada remains in this colour for just a few minutes before it turns black. I have also created animation sequences of the moult.

Black and golden cicada

Black and golden cicada (Huechys fusca), fresh after a moult . Copyright: Nicky Bay

Can you tell me about your day job?

I develop casual online games, taking every role except that of an artist. Quite a world of a difference from macro photography except when it comes to designing monsters.

Is there an insect or a particular insect behaviour that you’re dying to capture?

I have an ever-growing wish list. There’s always the Singapore Blue, which my friends and I keep using as bait to get each other’s butt off the chair. It is a large arboreal tarantula that had been sighted in Singapore before. Despite the name, there has not been any recorded sightings in Singapore in many years. This is a popular tarantula in the pet trade, but we would definitely prefer to discover it in the wild.

Related posts:

Glad you ditched the anal fork, Golden Tortoise Beetle

In North American Katydids, Green isn’t the Dominant Colour, Pink is

New Insect Discoveries: Forcepfly With Terrifying Genital Pincers and Tinkerbella, the Minute Fairyfly

 

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Order my book, Zombie tits, astronaut fish and other weird animals from Amazon.

Bec Crew About the Author: Bec Crew is a Sydney-based science writer and award-winning blogger. She is the author of 'Zombie Tits, Astronaut Fish and Other Weird Animals' (NewSouth Press). Follow on Twitter @BecCrew.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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