Like Taking Honey from a Bug

ambush bug mating with honey bee prey

When photographing bugs and other tiny critters, I try to do no harm to them or their habitat. Of course, sometimes ground will be trampled, and I will take the liberty to bend branches which sometime break. The point I like to keep in mind: don’t squish a bug, for heaven’s (or especially art’s) sake, just to put its image in a photograph. Following that principle literally and figuratively, I especially dislike running a bug off a meal. Now I suppose if you count scaring nectaring bugs off flowers, I am a rather big hypocrite, but I am thinking more of predators who have captured their prey and are enjoying the fruits of their labor, the difference to my mind being an opportunity cost. The shot of a spider clutching a fly can inspire great emotion, wonder and horror, but getting too close with my camera lens only to see the fly plummet to the ground and the spider scurry into a dark cranny is a diminished endeavor no matter the aesthetic results. After a few years, I have become fairly good at pushing the envelope without making a fiasco of it. Sometimes I will skip a scenario altogether if I judge the hunter too skittish from the get-go.

But then…there are those other times.

I can earnestly say they are not abundant, but my over-zealousness does get the best of me at times, as it did with these mating jagged ambush bugs featured in the photographs of this post. I misjudged how skittish they were and possibly their ability to hold their position — on flowers edge with honey bee prey hanging in space — in the face of a threat like me and my camera. It didn’t take long for the feeding female to drop her bee, as my paucity of shots with prey indicates. I was actually a bit miffed in this case, as I had, relatively speaking, not even approached that closely. I did feel bad however: an expectant mother needs to nourish herself well. It was a good lesson learned, if only for me, since the damage for the bug was irreversible.

Lately, as a writer, I have been thinking about stolen joy and how one writes. We can tell stories and describe wisdom, and the words inspire and nourish and enlighten; they become gifts. We can also spill words over something true and valuable until it is obscured and even lost forever. The danger seems multiplied in our chattering, noisy world where words, whether written or spoken, are never in short demand. Maybe it is the anxiety of the day as much as any self-importance or narcissism that drives this cavalcading cacophony that steals our joy and wonder and even our horror. In many ways, this is the time to say nothing: This is the wind on my cheek. This is the zip and buzz of the hovering hummingbird clearwing; this is the emptiness when it vanishes just as fast as it appeared. This is the mangled body in the wreck. This is music to my ears. This is the bloody massacre. This is my sister’s child. This is your moment.

Perhaps, I have overcompensated: I have said too little in the face of so much. I have much to say, although I am often afraid to say it. But I also know how a word falls where a bug flies. I am a writer, and this is my challenge: to let words fly and to let bugs live. This is writing. So much is given to me; I strive to write back to you, in words and light.


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