Night diving centres your attention on the tight circle illuminated by torchlight. Low visibility narrows that perception even further, the suspended murk often limiting vision to a metre or two. This leaves two options: abandon the dive as a waste of air; or slow down to a snail pace and methodically search of the reef. After a difficult week at work I was in no mood to ditch the dive, so a slow crawl across the reef it was.
The murky conditions might reduce the chance of spotting wildlife at the limit of the torchlight, but payoff of the slow approach was finding several cryptic species I’d normally overlook. The most unexpected was an orange Striped Anglerfish ‘walking’ across the sand on its muscular pectoral fins. I shifted to the side while one of my dive buddies set up to photograph the angler. Watching the angler from the front I realised with a start that the rock it was walking towards was actually a second, and much larger, Striped Anglerfish.
Most species of anglerfish have marked size differences between the sexes. Female anglerfish are much larger. In some deep sea species the male is permanently attached to its mate and reduces to a vestigial body entirely reliant on the female for nutrition. Differences in size between the sexes is a relatively common in fish, including taxa such as wrasse that start their reproductive lives as males and transform into females as they grow. It makes good evolutionary sense for females to be larger, as the number of eggs that can be produced is proportional to total body mass. Conversely, even small males can produce plenty of sperm. Small works for sperm, while size makes all the difference when it comes to eggs.
There have been loads of Striped Anglerfish around Sydney in recent weeks. Seeing these two interacting made me wonder whether breeding activity might be the reason why so many were being seen on the shallow reefs.
Exiting the water I started babbling about the pair of Striped Anglerfish. My dive buddies had only spotted the mobile male and were sceptical about claims of a courting pair until I pulled the camera out of the housing. Striped Anglerfish have amazing camouflage, and it was really only the movement of the male that had alerted us to his presence.
A few days later my partner called me over to a shrub she was trimming in the front garden. After working away for a solid fifteen minutes she’d noticed that one of the dead branches was actually a Stick Insect, an animal of nearly 25cms in length.
The biggest frustration of macro photography is the shallow depth of field that comes with high magnification. I tried several different ways of maximising how much of the long thin insect was in focus, including using a very small aperture (f32) and an external flash. It proved a hopeless task, the only way of getting the entire insect in focus being to back away, which defeated the purpose of having a macro lens. In retrospect I would have done better with a 35mm lens, which focuses close while offering a much better depth of field.
Sticking with the 90mm macro I figured that the only option was to concentrate on individual segments of the Stick Insect, accepting that the rest of the body would be a blur. It forced me to concentrate on particular features, exploring the essential ‘stickiness’ of its mimicry. Reviewing the images afterwards it was easy to get confused about how the individual segments of the body combined into a complete animal.
I don’t expect great wildlife encounters while diving in murky water or working in the garden. However unpromising these situations might appear, slowing down and concentrating can reveal amazing wildlife hiding in plain view.
Odds and sods