Eliciting insect and animal behaviour

Invoking insect and animal behaviour

This is a tricky one. Not only is it obviously dependent on species, but it also involves some creativity on your part and improvisation to the circumstances. I will be devoting an entire section to this later on, but currently don’t have the species breadth that warrants it. Here are a few things that I’ve learned:

A) The best shots of lizards and reptiles involve territoriality. Even better than being threatened, anoles, chameleons and many other species will show dewlaps, change colours and show interesting behaviours difficult or impossible to elicit otherwise. So, if you bring along a small pocket mirror (like those used for makeup) you can sometimes elicit these displays. It’s best to draw as little attention to yourself as possible, so I recommend setting up the mirror facing the subject and having it resting on a tripod. In this manner you can step back and photograph. In the beginning try to remain as low-key as possible. Bump up the ISO and shoot without flash, then gradually introduce the flash as the subject becomes more and more distracted with the presence of its rival.

B) Some insects show stereotyped behaviour, like the digger wasp:

A very interesting factoid about these Sphex wasps is that their behaviour is entirely programmed. In an experiment by Daniel Dennett, when the wasp arrived at its burrow with a prey item it left the prey to inspect the nest. The experimenter then moved the prey away about a foot. The wasp went looking for it, located it and then brought it back to the nest. Only it repeated the pattern, leaving the prey outside and inspecting the nest. This routine could be done any number of times without the wasp modifying its behaviour in the slightest. Such behaviour was then used as an argument by philosophers to explain how a variety of human actions though seemingly born of free will could simply be complex, innate behaviours.

Keeping this in mind if you miss a shot the first time around you can remove the prey, watch the wasp look around for it, bring it back to the burrow and try again.

C) There’s always the old standby of throwing the prey into the path of the predator. I’m sure we’ve all thrown grasshoppers or flies into the webs of spiders. Less common perhaps is refrigerating the predator, it slows down the metabolism but when it emerges from its induced hibernation it is generally quite hungry. Another programmed behaviour to deal with the onset of winter. Therefore it is more likely to feed on prey. I don’t condone this method due to its artificiality, the fact that you need to have both a fridge and predator/prey on hand and it doesn’t always work. But well, here it is.

D) Nocturnal insects and birds are attracted to white flowers unlike their diurnal counterparts. This means that if you have either white, fake plastic flowers (okay, not the most common of paraphernalia) or some kind of white plastic, you can daub this with some kind of sugary substrate and you can attract a variety of moths, earwigs, ants and other nighttime critters. This really works the same way as an insect trap though. Set it up and then return to it several hours later or else you’re in for a very boring time.

E) Changing the subject’s physical environment. Anoles, chameleons and other colour changing animals will change their skin colour to match their surroundings. This might be a tough sell for the fast moving anoles, but chameleons aren’t a problem.

Some Monkey frogs (Phyllomedusa sp.), are called waxy monkey frogs for a reason. They spread wax over their bodies to both protect themselves from UV light, but more importantly to conserve moisture. If you place one of these frogs in a sunnier environment, it will begin to spread wax on itself.

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More to Come

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About pbertner

Studied cell biology and genetics at UBC in Canada with a focus in microbiology. However, have gravitated more recently towards ecology and biodiversity. Have traveled the rainforests of Peru, Ecuador, Guyana, Malaysia, Brunei, and Thailand with plans to visit many more.
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