A SCUBA Diving Bee?

Posted in Under the Sea on July 6th, 2010 by MadDog
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This morning I was out stumbling around in my garden looking for something to shoot. I was nearly ready to give up, not having found anything that I haven’t already snapped a hundred times, when I came across this small bee wearing a SCUBA diver’s mask:

It’s only Tuesday and I’m already running out of material. When I start pulling your chain about diving bees, you can tell that I am desperate. Yeah, I know that it’s silly, but look at its eyes. I have never seen a bee, or any other insect, with eyes such as this. They are huge. They also have an unusual shape, which I suspect give it an enormous field of vision. This makes me think that it is possibly an insectivorous bee. A bee which hunts on the wing would need exceptional vision. It also does not resemble the standard, flower-visiting bee. I watched it for some time. It was showing no interest in all of the flowers around it. In fact, it gave the distinct impression of a hunter lying in ambush.

UPDATE: Faithful reader and friend Alison Raynor has already nailed down the identification of this bee. It seems that I coulnd’t have been more wrong. Oh, wel. It’s not the first time:

HI JAN,
COULD THIS BE YOUR CRITTER?
Blue-banded bees (Amegilla cingulata) are native to Australia, but also occur naturally in Papua New Guinea, East Timor, Indonesia and Malaysia. Unlike other bee species, blue-banded bees are solitary insects. They typically build nests in sandstone, mud or the mortar-gaps in the brickwork of houses.

Blue-banded bees specialise in an unusual sort of flower pollination called ‘buzz pollination’. Normally flowers release pollen passively, but some species are specially designed to be pollinated by ‘buzz pollinators’ that grab onto the flowers and vibrate them quickly to release the pollen.

Okay, the bee doesn’t dive, but I do. I ran through some more frames from our dive at The Eel Garden last Saturday and found a few which may amuse, if not amaze you.

Though this will probably mean little to you, I can testify that this is an unusual image. This Sea Cucumber (Thelenota anax)  does not belong on this bumpy coral. It is a creature which gobbles up sand by the bucket, runs it through its innards, sifting out the digestible bits, and then excretes the sand out of its other end:

Why it is wandering around up here on this coral shelf, metres away from its feeding ground, I have no idea.

The lower fish, whiskering around in the sand, is a Goatfish, specifically a Parupeneus forsskali:

They feed by bulldozing around in the sand, throwing up big clouds of “dust” and using their whiskers to find food. The other fish is a Redbreasted Wrasse (Cheilinus fasciatus),  a fish which usually stays far enough away to be difficult to shoot. It is not unusual to find other fish hanging around where a goatfish is feeding. They often stir up items which do not interest them, but other fish find tasty.

This is a Longnose Butterflyfish (Forcipiger flavissimus):

It’s not a particularly good shot, but my excuse is, as usual, they try to stay at a distance. How they calculate the distance at which it becomes nearly impossible to shoot them, I don’t know. They must know more about cameras than I do.

This is a reather handsome Soldierfish named Myripistis amaena.  His friends call him Misty. He has a gender identity problem. That’s why he wears the butch outfit:

Chain mail is very “in” at the bars where he hangs.

You are undoubtedly tired of the Phyllidia varicosa  nudibranch. Well, you may as well get used to it, because it is one of our more common varieties and I haven’t got the absolutely perfect image on one yet:

I’ll let you know when I do.

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The Spooky Eastern Sunset

Posted in At Sea, Under the Sea on June 1st, 2010 by MadDog
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Whoah, got a day behind again. What a bummer! I don’t know what happened to the clock yesterday. It kept moving in big, sporadic jumps. I had intended to tell you about Saturday evening at Kranket Island  where we had a party for Jo Noble’s birthday, but now I’ve already forgotten most of it.

The part that I do remember is the stunning sunset effects which we saw in the Eastern  sky. Yes, that’s right, you are looking East in this shot, just as the sun is nearing the horizon in the West:

I know that there is a proper name for this effect, but I can’t remember it right now. It’s 05:00 and I’m not going to trudge through Google to find it. I’ll count on a knowledgeable reader to leave a comment. The effect lasted less than five minutes.

The curve that you see in the ray on the right is an effect of the way which I took the panorama shots. The image is made up of about seven frames. Of course, the boat was sloshing around a lot, so it was difficult to hold the camera perfectly straight. The image covers about 150°

Here is a single frame image of the centre of the scene:

The main ray on the right side shoots up (or down, rather) past the huge cumulonimbus incus cloud on the horizon, which is still catching the last rays of the sun, reddened by their passage through the dusty lower atmosphere. I think that these rays are shadows of clouds near the horizon in the West. They appear to converge on the Eastern horizon at a point opposite the sun because they are passing through the atmosphere at a low angle and are visible for a long distance. Think of a pair of straight railroad tracks stretching off to the horizon. They seem to meet at a point in the far distance.

Okay, if that isn’t geeky enough for you how about the pileus cloud cap on the top of this towering cumulus cloud:

The pileus is the fuzzy little hat sitting on top of the cloud. It is formed when the cloud is rising very rapidly, pushing warmer, wetter air up into cooler areas. The moisture condenses out into a little lens-shaped cap which folds over the top of the main cloud.

Okay, enough meteorology. Since we’re doing reddish stuff, have a look at this Spotfin Lionfish (Pterois antennata):

The image is actually upside-down. I found him under a ledge and could barely see him. I had to stand on my head and shoot to get the image. This fills your sinuses full of salt water pretty quickly. It usually produces a few good sneezes when you get right-side-up again. Sneezing into a regulator underwater is an amusing experience.

I’ll throw in one more reddish thing before moving on. This lumbering, spiky critter is a kind of Sea Cucumber, specifically (Thelenota rubralineata):

The rubralineata  is one of the more colourful Sea Slugs. I have another picture of one here.

Well, that’s it for yesterday’s post. I have to hurry on to today’s post or I’ll miss the sunrise.

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Sunday at the Office

Posted in Under the Sea on February 21st, 2010 by MadDog
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Wooo Hooo, I just LOVE driving all the way to work on Sunday morning to do a post because swampsucking TELIKOM can’t figure out how to twist two wires together so that somebody can get an actual dial tone for more than two hours. However, it does produce the occasional side-benefit. Witness this lovely, if somewhat sombre, morning scene at Coconut Point:The water was all sparkly and the sky looked like it had just dropped some acid. Very trippy, indeed.

Speaking of trippy, I showed you some Blue Coral (Heliopora coerulea)  in a mixed bag of things that I picked up on the beach. It took me a long time to figure out where it came from. There’s nothing that looks like it underwater. Then I discovered that it is actually brown on the outside. I began looking around for the right stuff and finally found a little bit that had been broken off. On Saturday’s dive, I found a big spot where something, probably a clumsy diver, had broken off a couple of knobs:As you can see, it’s improbably bright blue inside. I’d be interested to know what causes this blue colouration, but I’m far, far too lazy to research it. The beach at Wongat Island  is covered with the stuff that has been broken up by natural means and washed up and tumbled. That’s what you see in the image to which I’ve linked to in the paragraph above. The image here is the live stuff that has been broken off.

I simply love these chubby, cuddly looking Starfish (Choriaster granulatus).  They are the puppies of the Starfishes:I noticed that this one was particularly pink, especially in the centre. The do vary somewhat in tint. The posture here is suggestive that it’s leaping over the boulder with its arms outstretched, probably hollering “Whoopee!” Don’t believe it. Their top speed is about a half-metre an hour.

Here’s some very gaudy female Purple Antheas (Pseudanthias tuka)  flitting around at the local mall:The male is around somewhere, probably near the edge of his harem, keeping an eye out for poachers.

I showed you one of these nightmarish Sea Cucumbers (Bohadschia graeffei)  a few days ago:This is a much better shot. It clearly shows the sucker-like food-gathering thingies that reach out continuously and grab onto anything remotely edible.  As soon as one of these appendages has sucked something up, it bends around in a particularly creepy fashion and shoves itself down into the gob of the squishy, prickly, disgusting critter.

You’ve gathered by now, I’m sure, that this is not among my favourite creatures of the sea.

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Nightmare From the Sea

Posted in Under the Sea on February 16th, 2010 by MadDog
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Well, I am again today trying to get caught up. I can’t really speak, since my voice box seems to have malfunctioned. I got a call from California today, pretty important call, but I had to give up and say I just couldn’t do it. Try again tomorrow. Fortunately, there’s nothing wrong with my fingers – yet.

I’ll continue today with a few more shots from last Saturday’s dive at the Eel Garden. Some of the critters you’ve seen before. These are different angles or show different features. For instance, I showed the the ugly mug of the Papuan Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis papuensis)  yesterday. Care for a game of “find the fish”? It’s not to difficult with this one. It was having trouble matching the leather coral on which it was lurking in wait for a meal:I’d really love to see one of these catching a fish. I’ve read that it’s one of the fastest actions in the animal kingdom. I imagine that all that I would see would be a puff of “dust”, probably accompanied by a loud popping sound.

I don’t often bother with most of the damslefishes. Except for a few, such as the anemonefishes, they’re not particularly pretty. However, I do like this shot of a White-Belly Damselfish (Amblyglyphidodon leucogaster):It’s one of the few shots that I have in which the image actually is prettier than the fish itslef.

You saw these two Reef Lizardfish (Synodus variegatus)  yesterday. Here is a shot of them from the side:It’s amazing how often one sees them in pairs.

You have seen a lot of images of these Solitary Coral (Fungia fungites)  here before. This one is unusual because of the white stripes. I can’t find any reference to this differentiating between species, so I’m guessing that it’s some kind of “sport” or mutation that’s not harmful to the individual. Any other guesses out there?It is not an uncommon sight, as is the purple stain that you can see at the top. I’ve seen these bright colours before on these corals.

Butterflyfish are extremely exasperating to photograph. I have very few good shots. This Spot-Tail Butterflyfish (Chaetodon ocellicaudus)  blasted past me at full throttle and I just pointed the camera and pressed the shutter release:Talk about a lucky shot!

Today’s nightmarish feature is this Sea Cucumber (Bohadschia graeffei):The body extends to the right, where you would find the stinky end, if you cared to look. I don’t want to think about what comes out of there.  The worst part is the end at the left, which is the consuming bit. I wouldn’t use the word “eat” to describe what this thing does. It engulfs, it vacuums, it . . . sucks!  The frilly black things with white edges are constantly reaching out, gluing themselves to anything remotely digestible and then shoving them down the ugly gob of this, this . . . thing.

Fortunately, it doesn’t move very fast.

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A Good Spotter Makes All the Difference

Posted in Under the Sea on February 9th, 2010 by MadDog
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Since my good dive buddy Richard Jones got bent a while back he has not been able to dive, until recently. He finally got an insurance company to cover him down to 18 metres. So, when we go diving, we stay shallow and enjoy the best that the reefs have to offer. This is good news all around. Rich is back in the water, we are more or less confined to the best part of the reef for photography and Rich has eyes like an eagle.

Rich and I have had some great diving adventures together and I’m so glad to have him back on Faded Glory.  He also has just purchased a Canon G11 and housing, so I’m expecting that a competition will soon begin. He is a nudibranch freak. Get ready for a steady diet of rare nudis. Yum, yum.

Here’s a shot of Rich on our first cooperative, “I spot, you shoot.” dive:

Notice him giving me the “come hither” signal.

The first thing that we saw when we got off of the boat in pretty miserable conditions, with dirty fresh water from the Gol Gol River  over us was this lumbering Sea Cucumber (Thelenota ananas):Pretty is not a word that I would use to describe these alien critters.

I think that this must be some kind of algae, although the colour looks highly improbable:It really is as purple as it looks. It waves around in the current like silky hair. I thought that there was a slim possibility that it was a clutch of nudibranch eggs, but nothing that I can find matches it. After Googling for a few minutes, I gave up. Anybody have a better idea? I also tried “purple marine algae”, but no luck.

We see giant Barrel Sponges all the time. However, we seldom see small ones. It’s the old, “Where are the baby pigeons?” question. Here is a shot of a very young Barrel Sponge (Xestospongia testudinaria):It is only about the size of your fist. The big ones can be the size and weight of a Volkswagen. There is a Squirrelfish or Soldierfish of some kind peeking at me from below the ledge. I can’t see enough of the body to identify it.

This poor crab was somebody’s dinner. All that’s left of him is one claw:It’s amazing that we see so little evidence of the nightly carnage on the reef.

I snapped this quick shot as a school of Narrow-Stripe Fusiliers (Pterocaesio tessellata)  with one Blue and Yellow Fusilier (Caesio teres)  flashed past me. It’s a credit to the G11, not to me, that the image came out looking as good as it does:Not a wall hanger, but you can identify the fish.

Finally, here is a nasty-tempered Moray Eel (Gymnothorax javanicus):This grumpy customer kept sticking his toothy face right out at me. If he looked as if he were going to bite, I’d just bump his nose with my camera, not hard, just enough to make his teensy-weensy brain reboot. He’d pull back in his hole and sulk for a few seconds and then peek out again. No harm – no foul.

I know that I’m going to get bit some day. Ah, well, a few more scars. It just adds to the legend (in my head).

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More Underwater Critters

Posted in Under the Sea on January 27th, 2010 by MadDog
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Well, the charter to Bag Bag Island  is off. There have been several small craft lost at sea in Astrolabe Bay  over the last few days. There’s a fierce nor’easter blowing and the chop is reported to be up to three metres. I’m poor and wild, but I’m not completely insane. The money was good, but the risk too great. As soon as I told my good friend Trevor Hattersley about the charter he called me back several times to talk me out of it. That is what good mates do. Thanks, Trev.

So, I find myself presently incomeless, but safe and dry.

Therefore, let me attempt to entertain you for a few minutes with some miscellaneous pretty pictures and some verbal rambling. This Coral (Lobophyllia hemprichii)  is not the stuff of of raw excitement, but it’s interesting to speculate how something that looks like this is actually alive:I’m reminded of the old Star Trek  episode in which the rocks were sentient, albeit slow movers.

After a few thousand dives and more time underwater than most people spend at church in a lifetime, you get to the point at which you can make educated guesses. Here’s a shot of a motion-blurred Oriental Sweetlips (Plectorhinchus orientalis)  and terror-frozen Many-Spotted Sweetlips (Plectorhinchus chaetodonoides):I knew how this shot would play out. The Many-Spotted Sweetlips will freeze for a while when it spots you. It will try to hide by pretending not to be there. “Look at me. HAH! Can’t see me, can you?” Then, as it slowly sinks in that it’s being observed, it will begin to swim away, usually without too much fuss. The Oriental Sweetlips, however, is easily panicked and makes haste to use the nearest escape route. I could see around a corner that the two fish were slowly finning in the sluggish current side-by-side. As soon as I popped my head up over the top of the coral bomie, the spotted fish froze for a moment and the Oriental Sweetlips headed for the door – thus the blurry fish image.

You’ve seen these fat slugs before. It may not sound politically correct to call them that, but that’s exactly what they are, so it’s okay:It’s a Sea Cucumber (Thelenota ananas),  a particularly pink one. They are usually more brownish. Possibly it has a fever.

Sometimes I need to show you a really bad image just so that you can see that underwater photography is a crap shoot. This is a Blacktip Shrimpgoby (Cryptocentrus polyophthalmus),  a fish which I seldom see:I knew the shot would be awful, because the fish was back in a hole and I couldn’t get close. Nevertheless, it’s the only image that I have of this species. I’m not bursting with pride.

This, however, is a nice little reef scene with a couple of male Purple Anthea (Pseudanthias tuka):When I saw these two, they were engaged in a little ritualised sparring. I snapped the shot as they were returning to their corners for a time-out. That’s why they are swimming away from each other.

Here is a perfectly beautiful image of a nudibranch that I still  can’t identify:I’m going to have to invest some money in a better nudi book.

You’ve seen these Divaricate Tree Coral (Dendronephthya roxasia)  here several times. I’ve mistakenly called them Diverticulate Tree Corals elsewhere. Gonna have to fix that:The one above is particularly nice. Good, symmetrical shape, rich colour; I like it.

Enough of the fishy stuff. Let me show you two UFOs that I caught on camera the other day. Actually there may be three, a big green one with an orange one riding on its back and a purple one up higher:

I yelled at them, but nobody came down to visit. If there were aliens aboard, they must be a snooty lot.

Of course, all that is wishful thinking. The coloured blobs are obviously lens flares caused by internal reflections within the optics of the bright orb of the sun.

Someday I’ll show you my real  UFO shots. They’ll blow you away!

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Underwater Photography – Abort, Retry, Fail

Posted in Under the Sea on January 4th, 2010 by MadDog
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Back in the Bad Old Days of MS-DOS, if you were working with computers you would see, probably once an hour (it seemed so, anyway) the unhelpful message on your screen: Abort, Retry, Fail.  None of these three suggestions were ever of much help. It was Microsoft’s way of saying, “That’s not gonna happen, man.” Yeah, sure, you could usually figure out what was causing the problem, but most of the time there wasn’t much you could do about it.

You’ll be happy to hear that there is a way that you can once again experience these excruciating moments:  through the magic of underwater photography. I’ve collected a little gallery of horrors to illustrate a few of they infinite things that can go terribly wrong. I hope it amuses you, as an observer, more than it does me, as a practitioner.

SUBJECT RUNS AWAY

I wanted, longed, deeply desired, the moment that I saw this fish to capture its soul in digital bits. Sadly, the job is botched. This is a rather rare yellow colour variation of the Blackspotted Puffer (Arothron nigropunctatus):

When I say rare, I mean that I have never seen this species with as much yellow on its body. It really is a beauty. This one, as you can see, was at a cleaning station – it’s like a car wash for fish. The underpaid and little appreciated workers in this car wash are the little cleaner-fish, one of which you can see here vainly chasing the Puffer in hopes of gobbling a few more parasites from its skin. You can see the little Bluestriped Cleanerfish trailing along behind. These little puffers run away (probably screaming in fishy terror) as soon as anything big approaches. They don’t swim very fast – just fast enough to spoil the shot.

The observant observer will note that the image is spoilt by motion blur. I was trying to pan the camera to follow the movement of the fish, which should have produced a reasonably sharp image of the fish with a motion blurred background. As it happens, I got it half right; both fish and background are blurred by the camera movement. I’m putting this one in the RETRY category. The big problem is that I may never see such a magnificent specimen again.

SUBJECT LOOKS PRETTY UNDERWATER – TERRIBLE ON THE SCREEN

These little Striped Catfish (Plotosus lineatus)  looked ever so pretty fluttering in the lazy current along the bottom at the Eel Garden close to Pig Island  on Saturday:However, the finished image is sadly lacking any interest whatsoever. You had to be there. As soon as I started working with the image I realised that the magic was in the motion. You can’t truly capture motion in a still image. I’m putting this one in the FAIL category.

SUBJECT IS A CAMERA TEASER

This juvenile Midnight Snapper (Macolor macularis)  is a pretty cool fish. They don’t look anything like the adult, which is a big brown lump of a thing. However, cool or not, this fish is a nightmare to photograph. Like many fish, it has an inbuilt standoff distance or “comfort zone” which you can, under no circumstances, violate. If it could talk, it would be saying, “Back off, Jack!”:

I did manage to get this rather pathetic shot from about four feet away with the flash turned on. It was as close as I could get. Apparently not many photographers have done a lot better. I Googled for images of this species and didn’t find anything much clearer than the shot above, except for images that were obviously shot in aquariums. I’ll let this one pass with a RETRY.

SUBJECT DARTS AROUND FRANTICALLY

This rather uncommon species, the Red And Black Anemonefish (Amphiprion melanopus)  swims spasmodically back and forth in its host and never even gives you an adequate opportunity to frame the shot. If fact, you’re lucky if the fish is even in the frame  when you push the shutter release. I only barely managed to catch it in this shot:This is compounded by the confounded shutter lag that is common in point-and-shoot cameras. I’d guess that the Canon G10 I’m currently using waits about a third of a second before capturing the image after I press the shutter release. So now, you have to guess where the fish is going to be during your next eye-blink. It’s like guessing which kernel of popcorn will explode next. This one can only be a RETRY.

SUBJECT DOES SOMETHING INAPPROPRIATE

Sometimes you just get a surprise. I would not ordinarily take a picture of an animal defecating. It’s simply not that interesting unless you’re a kid obsessed with scatological humour. We were at the deep end of the Eel Garden’s sandy slope where I was shooting the Red and Black Anemonefish when my dive buddy Carol Dover directed my attention to this big Sea Cucumber (Thelenota anax):

As you can plainly see, it was enjoying a nice, leisurely, satisfying poop. Without going into the unsavory anatomical details, I’ll simply point out the you can clearly see where the poop came from. There’s quite a bit of it, since the critter eats about 99% sand and digests only the digestible bits. All the rest comes out as tidy little sand sausages.

I’m putting this one in the ABORT category.

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