I almost stepped on this girl. This female Dog-day Cicada (Neotibicen canicularis) was found on my driveway as I was heading out to run some errands, and I quickly placed a bug net over it and gently transported her to my studio for some ultraviolet work.
This is the second time that I’ve photographed a Cicada in ultraviolet fluorescence, and the first one inspired me so much that I decided to pursue this line of photography. The first image can be seen here:
http://www.donkom.ca/glow-of-the-cicada/ (there is a link to the regular-light version in the text there so you can see the difference)
Amazingly, the wings of a cicada glow brightly blue under UV light, a feature that very few insects share. One species of dragonfly I studied has the same fluorescing wings but this is uncommon magic. The wings are normally completely transparent, and the eyes are normally black. Both of these parts of the insect curiously glow with the same hue of blue, with some small variations in colour around the base of the wing.
The first attempt at photographing a fluorescing cicada was done on a first-surface mirror for a fun reflection, but this time I wanted a more natural setting. Cutting a stonecrop flower cluster from my garden, I placed the cicada on top and she sat patiently and perfectly still for the shoot. The flower dimly glowed compared to the brilliance of the insect, giving a nice depth to the frame.
For those that have never encountered a cicada personally, they are incredibly cooperative insects. Like a walking stick or a praying mantis, you can pick them up and put them down somewhere and they will not be in a hurry to move. Perched on this flower, the lovely little creature sat still for at least five minutes while I experimented with different angles, camera settings and the locations of the UV flashes to maximize the results. Once I got the shot, she was placed on the bark of our apricot tree.
After taking the UV fluorescing shot, I thought it would be interesting to see the results of a UV reflectance shot to compare. The fluorescing image has nothing to do with how insects see, but how do the glowing areas look to other insects? Is there a difference that could give us some clues as to the purpose of the fluorescence, or is this just a side-effect of the molecular building blocks used here? Interestingly, the eyes remain dark and the wings are transparent, just as they would be in the visible spectrum: http://donkom.ca/bts/DKP_9791.jpg
While the fluorescing elements appear much the same, the markings on the thorax vanish in ultraviolet. I have no idea if this is important, but it was a fun bit of scientific curiosity to explore.
Cicadas are wonderful creatures, even more so when they glow.