|[Note Guidelines] Photographer's Note|
|...and on cue, after my monster moth demonstrated such amazing antennal abundance, we have for contrast the opposite Lepidopteran approach to head hardware. |
These Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) sport the slim and simple antennae typical of butterflies. After the Polyphemus saturniid (thanks Steve!) of my previous two posts, one might wonder how monarchs can accomplish anything with those wimpy antennae. But they apparently do, flying all over the world, including to places like New Zealand! This success merely serves to reiterate my earlier question about the giant antennae of my saturniid moth- what is their evolutionary advantage?
There is also a connection between monarch butterflies and one of my other recent posts. Monarchs are well known among biologists for consuming milkweed and making themselves unpalatable by sequestering some nasty tasting plant chemicals. This ties into my own long term interest in the astonishing world of plant/fungal chemistry and chemical ecology. If you don't like self-indulgent geeky scientist comments, you should stop reading here. But if you do keep going, you will get a glimpse of my thinking on something very old (and perhaps at the same time quite new to you).
For millions of years animals have been eating plants and fungi, which can't run away (duh!), so must defend themselves by other methods. This simple fact is why plants and fungi have evolved into such phenomenal chemists. Some people have smoked plants for their tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or nicotine, or eaten fungi for their hallucinogens. Many of us also know someone whose life has been saved by digitalis (extracted from foxglove) or related cardiac drugs. And if even you and your friends and family have led such pure and healthy lives that none of these examples apply, you still cannot escape the reach of plant chemists. One prototypical plant chemical is salicylic acid, which (with various derivatives) is found in pharmaceutically beneficial concentrations in willow bark. But if you protest that you have never gnawed on willow bark, just think instead of aspirin, which is acetylsalicylic acid.
During evolution, the animal world has responded to the chemical defense strategy of its immobile victims by developing detoxification enzyme systems and such, but also by sometimes turning plant chemistry to its own purposes. Monarchs and their use of cardenolide glycosides from milkweed is one such story, but by no means the only one. In fact that story is well known primarily for another evolutionary twist. Viceroy butterflies mimic monarchs to take advantage of their successful defense strategy. The mimicry works, despite the fact that the viceroy doesn't contain any bad tasting milkweed chemicals. It is enough that viceroys look like monarchs and that birds avoid them. This is standard stuff for a degree in biology, and there is also lots more reading out there on this if anyone wants more- even Wikipedia has some decent stuff on Batesian/Mullerian mimicry.
This whole process of give and take is actually referred to as coevolution, a very important concept, and a term which captures much better what actually happens during evolution. Coevolution shows up on TN in many ways already, such as hummingbirds drinking from (and pollinating) certain species of flowers. Likewise for many orchid/insect pairs. But matching of gross anatomy or behaviors is only one facet of coevolution. There is so much more happening which we do not see. The ongoing chemical warfare I described above occurs below human awareness because we're not equipped to directly detect either chemical weapons or defenses. But this warfare does exist, has existed for eons, and because of the concept of coevolution is far more important than most people understand.
This leads to my final comment, again tying back into an earlier post. With my "out of the bottleneck" post on elephant seals and other victims of genetic bottlenecks, I argued that meaningful biodiversity goes far beyond just the number of species in your ecosystem. Here I'll add an even more important point- that the chemical and genetic legacy hidden inside this biodiversity is much larger than most of us grasp. The majority of this legacy lies in the chemistry and biochemistry of yet unstudied species. If we can protect these species from destruction, their genomes and the resulting chemistry/biochemistry will remain intact and shrouded in mystery, waiting for some future generation of human scientists to decipher the genetic code and the chemical/biochemical world that it creates.
tech notes- a contrast here also to the prior moth shot- this was a tripod shot 5-6 m away with longest optical zoom (432 mm) and using self timer for additional stability; slight cropping, slight shadow/highlight adjustment to improve detail, slight brightness and contrast tweaking, one step sharpening, no color adjustment
Alex99, tuslaw, roges, eqshannon has marked this note useful
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- [2009-04-18 10:45]
Pictured scene is simply amazing. Sunflower with so fine visitors is looked delightfully. Quality of the shot is also outstanding. DOF, sharpness and details, lights and colours as well as the framing and composition of the picture are great. My congratulations.
- [2009-04-18 16:10]
Exceptional image Bob,
The composition is perfect along with some super sharp detail and gorgeous colors!!! The overall photo is top of it's class! Bravo!!! TFS.
I have only seen a few butterflies so far this year, and most have been those that overwinter here in Ohio. I did see a cabbage butterfly today while I was out back trying out some lenses.
A great image of these Monarchs enjoying a sunflower.
Very good exposure with nice colour and good sharpness throughout.
TFS & cheers,
- [2009-04-21 9:40]
Hi Bob !
A superb catch.
I really like the contrast of colors.
Have a good day,
I was wondering why such a wide open f/stop of 3.5 created such a huge depth of field in this "biochemistrated" beautiful photograph of these moths and sunflower. But the distance you were shooting from and the mm focal length answered that wondering. The definition, sharpness, and color is so right on that it looks almost like a great creation of plastic make up. Yet I know it is real. Another A+ Excellent grade, Bob. You should be proud of your report card for photos, and writing descriptions. How many shots did you manage to get off using the self timer? That is another amazing feature of this photo in that the moths stayed in place and still for so long.
Your Canon Powershot is 'supposed to be' an advanced amateur camera but in your hands it looks much like a DSLR would do..VERY well sutured colours Bob...Nice image and yes I do know refraction from reflection and I am happy to see someone finally mentioned it!:-)
This is a nice shot indeed, my friend! Colors are very beautiful and sharpness is very good. I really like the little details. Congratulations and TFS.