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October 2012: Imperial Moth Caterpillar

"...common species that have often been taken for granted are revealed in a new way."

From the Photographer...

Clay Bolt    

I am an explorer with a passion for traveling to exotic locations, spending at least some part of each and every day deep within some uncharted part of the world. During my travels I’ve witnessed creatures with forms and behaviors so bizarre, so fantastic, that they defy the imagination and yet getting there isn’t difficult or expensive. You don’t even need a passport to travel. Patience, and a change in perspective, is the key to this kingdom. Be warned though: once you descend into this wilderness you’ll never see the planet in the same way ever again!

This place that I’m talking about is the miniature world at your feet, the one that dwells within the leaf-litter on the forest floor and in between the cracks in the sidewalk. These hidden places, which may seem lifeless from our high vantage point, are havens for wildlife. As Piotr Naskrecki points out in his brilliant book The Smaller Majority, “over 99% of life on Earth is smaller than the human finger.” Allow this soak in for a few moments. Whoever said “exploration is dead” has surely never spent even a few moments gazing into the eye of a flower or scanning the moss covered buttresses of a decaying stump. As a macrophotographer, my mission is to take viewers into this realm so that they might be encouraged to go out and see it for themselves.

The subject of this photo is an Imperial Moth caterpillar (Eacles imperialis), a species commonly found throughout the Southeastern, United States. It was photographed in a special set-up known as the Field-Studio for Meet Your Neighbours, a project that I co-founded in 2009 with Niall Benvie to help people connect with the wildlife in their own community. Currently, photographers in over 30 locations around the world have joined together to support this effort. By photographing our subjects against a brilliantly lit white background, common species that have often been taken for granted are revealed in a new way, encouraging a second glance or renewed interest from the viewer. (The technical details of this technique are described in great detail here.)

I like to call Meet Your Neighbours a “proactive” conservation project. Tremendous amounts of money, time and energy are spent each year in an effort to rescue species on the brink of extinction from slipping away forever. However, through simple actions such as creating shelter and growing native plants in your backyard, you offer hope to species like this beautiful Imperial Moth, which are often displaced by the pressures of development. We hope that the introductions that we facilitate with MYN will offer one way that this process can begin. And this is important, because conservation and a love of biodiversity must begin at home. As Robert Michael Pyle has stated perfectly, “What is the extinction of a condor to a child who has never seen a wren?”

Consider this: Many of the rare species that live in our world today were once quite common. These days, people often feel a sense of desperation at the state of our world and wonder if anything that they do will even matter. We are force-fed a flood of depressing news about the state of things, and yet here is a concrete opportunity to make a lasting impact for good in our world. If neighborhoods banded together to create green spaces for these wild neighbors, or if parents spent more time in the outdoors with their children, imagine the positive impact that could be made!

I hope that you’ll begin to take a closer look at the creatures that inhabit our lives and recognize how wonderful it is that the word “common” can still be applied to many of the most beautiful creatures that have ever existed. Can you imagine a more beautiful creature than this Imperial Moth? Yes, we are giants in this world, but by slowing down and changing our perspective we begin to realize the distance between all of us – from humanity to the creatures we share our lives with – was never that great to begin with.

This photo was made a with a Nikon D300, 55mm Nikkor macro lens and illuminated with Nikon SB900 and SB600 flashes. The white background is a plastic material called "Acrylite." Dimensions and sources for the material can be found here.

View more of Clay Bolt’s photography at


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