(1) Sunny and warm, late morning hours of an autumn day. Bucolic landscape, large eucalypt and acacia trees, bush and grassland, air scented with pollen, teeming with invertebrate life, butterflies and other inconspicuous miracles. Photographer has just escaped dense bush, been chased by mosquitos, witnessed a dead Tawny Frogmouth. She is still keen to make most of the time that she stole from herself in order to be in nature for some lonesome time, to experience beauty and honesty of nature, silence. Many amazing species are already on the cropped sized camera sensor.

Bush with curly leaves and web Ichneumon wasp

(2) Rolled leaves on a bush in front straight ahead. All neatly arranged and folded in place with some silk, interwoven into a labyrinth. Experience tells that many insects build similar nests: ants, spiders, caterpillars. She never disturbs or investigates with her hands. Rolled leaves are nothing for her. Nothing to really delay a photographic journey and a mission.
Oh, quite the contrary, a wasp just buzzed past. It landed. Joy. Look at that beauty - definitely an Ichneumon wasp, a common one (or not!? actually her third, almost identically looking species that nobody might ever identify, hardly anybody ever does). Any wasp is a good wasp, except when one stings you! Hurtful childhood memories put aside. Camera is ready. Click! The wasp was gone before it was in focus. The photographer is ready to move on, lets her eyes follow the airborne wasp. It returns. She knows exactly what that means, from experience: it wants to be in the spotlight, be on social media in a selfie-narcissistic style! Of course not. The wasp is like a returning warplane and its focus is clearly on the silk producing beast. It hops and lands, crawls from leaf to leaf. The keen photographer needs to follow suit. She has to change sides, angles, direction, has to plan the light, move closer. Closer. Click. Closer. Click. Surprising that the wasp doesn't take off, just avoids the camera and the photographer, plays hide and seek, or catch-me-if-you-can. Click. That should do, at least one photo should show details nicely in focus.

(3) Not stung by the wasp, the photographer set foot to move on. Enough harassment, only as much as was necessary to get a decent shot. May the wasp find what it was looking for. May the story of life unfold. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted movement between the rolled leaves. She expected to see a spider. But here we go, like a leech, a caterpillar comes out in tremendous, hasty speed. It moved like a looper does; bending tail to head, moving head forward one body length, and repeat, inch by inch. This was fast. Click, click. If only moving subjects were easier to photograph. If only it were easier to identify caterpillars. The lepidopteran went down the leaf stalks and branch. Why leave home into uncertainty, become a refuge!? Nobody will shelter and care for a creepy crawly. But while the photographer tried to locate the wasp, the caterpillar had second thoughts. It returned to its rolled nest. Safety or trap?

Geometrid Caterpillar Ichneumnon wasp on curly leaf Ichneumon wasp closeup

The wasp was visibly confused, started searching again. It can only be assumed that the wasp finds its target by smell, at least partially. Maybe the caterpillar had tried to trick its predator, the wasp, with pheromones, with a smell track, pretending to have left the nest and live in exile. Would the wasp fall for the deception? It kept searching. Click! It seemed to give up. It stayed still, and gave the photographer plenty of opportunity for the perfect portrait, the gift to the persistent. Did the photographer really want to become a spectator, a paparazza, in a game with life or death at stake?

Ichneumon wasp from the top Ichneumon wasp finds caterpillar

(4) No, it was an uneven encounter. In a bull fight, only one party can win. The photographer is not into arena fights and social media spectacles. She made another attempt to leave the scene. She was happy to have two portraits, two taxonomic challenges. There is nothing worse than portraying an animal, and having a second one in the photo. Some crazy people like animalistic photo bombs, fake or not, present and praise such mishaps on the mother of all click-bait media. Catching two different species in one photo ruins the taxonomic concept of the photographer, like lichen or jellyfish disturbing the science that builds on breaking nature into clearly defined entities, into apartness, not togetherness. And yet: the photographer knows that it is the interactions of all her animal and plant friends, and herself being a part of them, that make our lives, at least hers, unique and liveable. Nature is not harmonious, friendly and just. It can be cruel and unfair. Silence and peace is crumbling in her heart. Where to head from here? Is it justifiable to move on, turning the eyes away from the havoc that humans, animals and plants can cause if their power is unchecked? The decision was not hers any longer.

Ichneumon wasp sits on rear of caterpillar Ichneumon wasp finds head of wiggling caterpillar

(5) The curtain of the rolled leaf opened once more. Oh no, stupid, stay in hiding. Why, caterpillar!? You didn't need to do it for the camera, sacrifice your life. No question now that the wasp would not be far. It would jump onto centre stage, the hanging caterpillar, and play the part that it seemed to be very experienced in. Click. The photographer had thought for a moment to interfere, save the caterpillar's life. It would have been for her own peace of mind. The photos would not turn out okay anyway. Excuses, excuses. A refusal to witness the dramatic life event would have equalled a refusal to take responsibility for her job and destiny, and to participate in life as it presents itself, true, neither hypocrite, arranged nor photo-shopped. Why would anyone rob the wasp from its non-vegetarian meal? It had shown considerable experience, patience, and determination so far in pursuit of its programmed genetic code. It would probably not kill for pleasure. Click! Here it was. The wasp was clamped onto the caterpillar. Click, click, click, the camera shutter rolled like tears. Tears of sadness, but also of joy, confusion. Make it short! Her own presence would not have mattered. It did not influence the outcome, nor did it facilitate the start. Did it? Click. Focus. Hope. She owed it to those two majestic animals to document their lives adequately, make them heroines. It is never the photographers, the scientists, or the nature lovers who are the heroines, but the ones living their lives. Wiggle, the caterpillar is not happy, fights like a rodeo horse, trying to rid its rider with erratic movements. Will the photographer get a shot of the wasp's stinger, like the torrero's sword entering the chosen victim? Disgustingly low journalism gossip. The wasp stayed calm, had the caterpillar in a firm grip. The wiggly animal spun a silk thread and dropped half an arm's length. The abseiling happened at faster speed than what the camera could follow. Waiting for its destiny to unfold? The caterpillar straightened its body, pretended to be dead. The wasp rearranged itself, had its stinger no longer near the victim's rear, but close to the caterpillar's head. Click. The photographer doesn't do machine gun mode. One shot at a time. Subtle. She is not a videographer, but is tempted to produce some war journalism in this situation, witness and document gruesome acts. She had not wished for it. That's life. She hurt, emotionally and physically. Click.

Ichneumon wasp still on caterpillar's back
Ichneumon wasp aiming at caterpillar's head Ichneumon wasp sets final blow

The show must go on. It did, and time stopped. Click...the fatal blow, click. Applauding thumbs up or down, like or not-to-like, that is the question. More time of senseless struggle. Out of the blue...a miracle? The wasp seemed to fall dead like a rock from the caterpillar, as if a major force had called back its rogue sleeper. The caterpillar alive, crawling back into its rolled nest. The wasp was gone. Its genes will soon arise from within a rolled leaf nest. The next generation of warriors is probably growing in someone else's body and mind, dreaming in a leaf-rolled fog of half-life, a cartridge used until it becomes useless for the big brother. Click. And fall of curtain. Bucolic life can go on. Click.

Powered by SmugMug Owner Log In