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Found another mantis today — I guess a few are still hanging on. She was missing one of her prey-catching forelegs — maybe in an encounter with a bird, maybe in a romantic bout with a male? — but was otherwise undamaged. I had just built a light box out of foam-core to take some pictures in a controlled setting, so she was my first subject. I tried to place in her the center of the floor of the box, but she wouldn’t stay put — then I hit on the idea of giving her something to cling to. I let her climb onto a ruler that happened to be out on the table, stuck it in a glass, and she settled down immediately and started grooming herself while hanging upside-down. Even a big insect like a mantis is barely bothered by gravity. I could have flipped the photos in post, but since her angle of repose didn’t bother her, it didn’t bother me.
I learned to use a light box at “Bugshot,” the macro photography workshop I attended in September in Belize. If you can get critters to hold still, it’s a great way to control lighting and get some really nice shots using bounced light from multiple off-camera flashes. By the way, another tidbit I learned at the workshop is that the dark spots in some insects’ compound eyes, that seem to follow you no matter where you move, are “pseudopupils.” They’re the manifestation of an optical effect, not actual eye pupils. The best explanation I heard was that if you imagine the compound eye as a whole bunch of hollow tubes packed together, the pseudopupil appears whenever you’re looking directly into a cluster of tubes — in essence, you’re looking down straight into the depths of the tubes, where light is absorbed, whereas other parts of the eye are off-axis and light reflects back out. You can see a pretty clear example of it in the last photo, which I cropped to emphasize the compound eye.