Here are some caterpillar images I took during my last session with the SEM (scanning electron microscope). I have cropped and edited them, these versions are just for fun – I’m saving most of my shots for potential publications.
I would like to give people a sense of what is hidden in the world around them – these are landscapes that exist on such a small scale. Yet they do indeed exist, and can be found with enough patience and determination. Awaiting you could be great beauty, or potentially nightmarish scenes. Regardless of how you feel about insects on an emotional level, I encourage you to consider the complexity these creatures hold and the wonder they can provide.
Acronicta falcula. Crochet hooks (little claws on the abdominal prolegs), 500x magnification.
Acronicta falcula. Skin texture, 1000x magnification.
Acronicta falcula. Skin texture, 2000x magnification.
More images to come soon!
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I can see all sorts of cool ways to use these images to talk about various biodiversity issues. Habitat nuances come to mind, but also the general idea that our industrial system is pretty much propped by things that are alive.
“The Take Over”
By the awesome Brandy Masch. Lots more to see at her website (Note, she also did some amazing work for phylomon which I’ll try and highlight later.
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Surrounded by bone, surrounded by cells,
by rings, by rings of hell, by hair, surrounded by
air-is-a-thing, surrounded by silhouette, by honey-wet bees, yet
by skeletons of trees, surrounded by actual, yes, for practical
purposes, people, surrounded by surreal
popcorn, surrounded by the reborn: Surrender in the center
to surroundings. O surrender forever, never
end her, let her blend around, surrender to the surroundings that
surround the tender endo-surrender, that
tumble through the tumbling to that blue that
curls around the crumbling, to that, the blue that
rumbles under the sun bounding the pearl that
we walk on, talk on; we can chalk that
up to experience, sensing the brown here that’s
blue now, a drop of water surrounding a cow that’s
black & white, the warbling Blackburnian twitter that’s
machining midnight orange in the light that’s
glittering in the light green visible wind. That’s
the ticket to the tunnel through the thicket that’s
a cricket’s funnel of music to correct & pick it out
from under the wing that whirls up over & out.
I can’t say enough good things about The Natural Histories Project / Natural History Network, birthed out of a series of workshops to initiate dialogue between ecologists, geologists, educators, university presidents, and artists about the re-imaging of natural history. The audio and video clips of different perspectives on natural history are fantastic. But what really caught my eye was the Journal of Natural History and Experience, in particular the ongoing series of “101 Natural History Books That You Should Read Before You Die.”
So far, the (early) list includes the following.
The Log from the Sea of Cortez by John Steinbeck
A Naturalist on a Tropical Farm by Alexander Skutch
The Art of Falconry by Frederick von Hohenstaufen
Field Notes on Science and Nature by Michael Canfield
The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin
The Naturalist on the River Amazons by Henry Walter Bates
Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinocital Regions of America by Alexander von Humboldt
It’s a great list so far (myself only having read, and only then in part, half of these). Having a community-agreed upon canon of works to read, or a reading list to guide you in general, is always welcome. Like having a steady professor-friend by your side to offer advice only an insider would harbor.
A few colleagues and I recently had a paper published in Nature on “A comparative analysis of the evolutionary of imperfect mimicry”. Those of you fortunate to have a Nature subscription can read the paper here. Alternatively, you can email me and I’ll send you a copy. Unfortunately, I can’t make the paper available due to issues with copyright from Nature (see elsewhere for details of scientists’ love-hate relationship with publishers…) but I can summarise the paper here.
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Large lymphocyte from a normal blood film
One of my favorite essays by the immunologist-poet, Miroslav Holub, describes the symphony of cellular life enacted after a muskrat drowns in the writer’s pool and is shot by a neighbor. The scene itself is grim yet fairly boring and commonplace; dead animals, be it a robin flown into our window or a white-footed mouse decapitated by our cat, seem to be an ordinary part of suburban life. But Holub views the situation from the interior view of the animal and with the sense and extrapolation of a poet. His interest in the phenomenon of death lies in the cellular process that are taking place long after we conceive of the animal as “dead.” While ordinarily we see the spectrum of alive to dead as having a definitive moment of change from A to B, a universe of interactions, an ecosystem of cellular bodies, continues to communicate, move, exist. I’ve copied my favorite excerpt from the essay, that of the lymphocytes (an immunologist’s specialty), below.
So there was this muskrattish courage, an elemental bravery transcending life.
But mainly, among the denaturing proteins and the disintegrating peptide chains, the white blood cells lived, really lived, as anyone knows who has ever peeked into a microscope, or anyone knows who remembers how live tissue cells were grown from a sausage in a Cambridge laboratory (the sausage having certainly gone through a longer funereal procedure than blood that is still flowing). There were these shipwrecked white blood cells in the cooling ocean, millions and billions of them on the concrete, on the rags, in the wrung-out murkiness. Bewildered by the unusual temperature and salt concentration, lacking unified signals and gentle ripples of the vascular endothelium, they were nevertheless alive and searching for whatever they were destined to search for. The T lymphocytes were using their receptors to distinguish the muskrat’s self markers from nonself bodies. The B lymphocytes were using their antibody molecules to pick up everything the muskrat had learned about the outer world in the course of its evolution. Plasma cells were dropping antibodies in various places. Phagocyte cells were creeping like amoebas on the bottom of the pool, releasing their digestive granules in an attempt to devour its infinite surface. And here and there a blast cell divided, creating two new, last cells.
Posted in Excerpts, Literature, Microbes, Visualization
Tagged biology, immunology, literature, microbes, microcosm, Miroslav Holub, nature, umwelt
“When lions started speaking English, animal keepers were the only ones who could understand them. Others didn’t take the whole thing seriously – Wittgenstein famously said that if lions could talk, they would stop being lions. He didn’t clarify, however, if animal keepers would remain human, should they understand lions’ roaring.
On Sundays animal keepers and lions sit up straight at the round table in the local inn and, scarcely exchanging remarks, divide between them a huge Union Jack cake.”
– Anatoly Kudryavitsky