Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A comfortable moth

In a discussion on The Bug Geek's blog, about our attempts to photograph lively insects, sometimes "cheating" by cooling them in the fridge or with ice packs to slow them down (which I resort to almost always), Ted MacRae wrote, "I’ve yet to take (or see) a photo of an insect that has been cooled (by whatever means) that doesn’t somehow look “off.”"

I've been thinking about that. So when Laurie brought me another small moth, I decided to keep it comfortable at room temperature.

Found in a bag of bird seed.

The moth was very small, smaller than the usual bird seed moths I see, a dull greyish tan, with brown and yellowish accents. I left him loose on my desk, after a brief resting period under a pill bottle to calm him down. As he walked around, slowly, spending a bit of time grooming himself, I followed with the camera.  He didn't seem to notice, but after a bit, he wandered off to the edge and flew away.

The colour seems different depending on the angle of the light.

I was surprised by the photos; his colours show up much more vividly than I had expected. Was it because he is warm enough? Does a cold insect get pale, like we would do?

Quite a shiny little critter.

The discussion also touched on the substrate; a natural substrate may work better, both as a natural background, and as a way to keep the insect feeling comfortable. I had used the white cloth to set my camera's white balance, and the moth walked onto it from my desk, so we went with that. Next time, maybe I'll use a layer of bird seed for these moths, since that's where they show up.

And patience. Or "brutal persistence," as Ted put it. Very important. I can do that, usually. But an unfettered insect, with the use of his wings; can he be patient? Not this guy: it was barely three minutes from the time I took the first photo before he'd had enough, and flew away.


  1. Some of the moths are really beautiful once u start to photgraph them and look closely at them. I have taken lots of photos of insects, surprisingly good results can be obtained with a decent compact camaera. Its handy if it has a back screen that can rotate. so you can put it really low to the ground. Often insects are less disturbed by an inanimate object moving slowly closer to them. If you can turn the shutter sound off and the flash of , if possible, you will get more shots.(unless its dark and they are at light then they dont seem to care to much)turn the flash as low as you can, set a fast shutte speed and maybe you will have to use the exposure compensation button to darken them, to stop burnt out sections. If you watch them for a while, some butterflies and moths eventually settle to feed or rest, then it is easier. Im sure they get tired :) Here are a few of my moth pics. there other insects on the site too, they are listed in the labels. A telephoto lens on a digital slr that focus to about 25 inches is very useful for dragonflies and butterflies too. Looking forward to seeing more little critters you find. :)

  2. That sounds like a long time for a moth to stay put if you ask me. And for persistence, that you have. - Margy

  3. I'm not sure about the colors being affected, but the positioning of the legs and antennae look spot on for an uncooled critter.

    It might be different for different insects - I think those with longer appendages might be more at risk of having them look "bum" when the insect has been cooled.

  4. Ted, Thank you! Your input is so helpful.


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