Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Welcome, Cora

Our daughter Cora was born on Thursday, the best day of my entire life.

That's all for now.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Maui, Photography, Biology, Poetry

The Aristocrats
Simiao and I are on vacation in Maui, and I wanted to share a photo that has quickly become one of my favorite photos that I've ever taken.

I'm not a very good photographer.  My equipment is nothing special, I don't have the most artistic eye, and I lack the means to go exotic places that few have ever seen.  I always think it's odd that when people go on vacation, you see certain scenic areas that people swarm on and take photos of.  This makes sense if there are unusual conditions, if the photographer is using advanced equipment, or if the photographer is taking photos of friends and family.  In many cases, though, people are simply holding up an iPhone and snapping a picture.  In this case, why wouldn't one just Google an image of the location by a professional photographer or buy a postcard?  Better photographers with better equipment have probably waited out better conditions for the perfect photo of the canonical scenic vistas, so if you're not willing to invest that kind of time and money in a postcard-perfect shot, why bother?  This is certainly the case for the lovely scenery at the resorts at Wailea where we're staying, and this is why I tend to think small when I have my camera out on vacation.  I like to look for a subject that is uniquely mine rather than something that's been photographed a million times before by better artists than myself.  With that in mind, today when we went for a stroll I brought my macro lens.  It turned out that I photographed more than I bargained for.

The invader and the thief

On our walk, I spotted a member of one of my favorite genus of spiders, Argiope.  These spiders have a proclivity to draw unusual patterns called stabilimenta on their webs which are believed to play a role in drawing prey to their webs and perhaps in confusing parasitic wasps that might like to feed the spider to their young. The breeze was strong and the web was bouncing, but using a flash, a slightly higher F-stop and some patience I managed to get a photo where the web looked crisp and my subject was in focus.

When I researched the species of spider later, I learned that this girl is an argiope appensa, an introduced species in Hawaii.  One thing I noticed only after looking at the photos at home, though, was the tiny fly sitting on the spider's meal.  In this particular photo, the fly was kind enough to center itself on the cocooned meal of the spider, which adds to the pleasing composition of my photo.

I had one final question, though:  what business did this tiny fly have on the spider's meal?  Was it a parasite on the spider, a kleptoparasite on the meal, or just a coincidence?  After some research, I identified the fly as milichiella lacteipennis.  Indeed, milichella lacteipennis is a kleptoparasite, and in the picture above it is drinking the spider's meal right under its nose!

I found this scenario poetic after listening to This American Life #611, Act One about the Robinson family's administration of native Hawaiians on Niihau.  The island is entirely owned by the Robinsons who administrate the native Hawaiians on the island in a largely autocratic way since the natives live there at their luxury.  Their manner of rule as described in This American Life felt immoral at best and exploitative at worst, and I can only hope that someday the native Hawaiian residents are able to take back what is theirs from the invaders.