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Thursday, July 06, 2006

"Designer" Jewelry with Insect Larvae

Caddis flies live near ponds and streams. As larvae, they live underwater and make wearable tubes from local materials, such as twigs, sand, stones, or snail shells. The items they select are bound with silk and the larva hooks itself inside with the end of its abdomen. They are thus candidates for our stable of "natural assemblage artists" which include the bowerbirds and the Xenophora. The tubes serve various purposes - stones can be added to increase traction in fast-moving streams; irregular twigs make the tube (and its inhabitant) difficult for a trout to swallow. This may be considered more engineering than artistry, but in this case nature has a human collaborator. French artist Hubert Duprat has developed a method of getting the larvae to use more upscale materials, such as gold flakes, pearls, and sapphires, which would of course have no practical benefit in the wild and thus gets much closer to "art". Here is an interview with the artist as he describes the process in detail, and he and an art critic discuss whether there is actually a creative contribution from the insect in this "collaboration".

Here are some examples of what the caddis fly larvae build on their own:

from Scotland's Hunterian Museum Animal Architecture Collection

From the book Animal Artisans


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