I have always been fascinated by arthropods, and much of my childhood was spent capturing, studying, and keeping insects. I remember when I was given my first cicada in 1988, which I believe ignited my interest in insects.
I was at Longtan Park with my grandfather, in Beijing, where we saw a man with a long pole catching cicadas. He would put a sticky substance on the tip of the pole, and then extend it high up into the trees and stick that tip to the wings of cicadas. The cicadas were then tossed into a cage, wings damaged by the resin glue, until they were finally sold as live bird feed. I approached the man with the cicadas fearlessly, just as he was lowering his pole with the cicada he had just caught. It was hissing and flapping when the man pulled cicada from the glue with his hands (which ripped a wing) and handed it to me. I could feel the vibration of the hissing, and the tickle from its clawing barbed feet. We brought it home, and let it loose on the mosquito screen. I remember appreciating how perfectly it was shaped, yet I agonized over the fact that that perfection was compromised by that torn wing. Two years later, I was given two cicadas still in the nymphal instar phase. That evening, I watched in awe as the remarkable creatures emerged from their shells in adult form (after spending seventeen years in the ground), and pumped open their wings with blood.
Around when we first moved to Rome, on a day trip to Viterbo, I spotted the leg of a frog sticking out of the spout of a fountain. When I touched the leg, it moved. A frog had been sucked into the fountain where it got stuck in the stream of water. My father plied open the spout of the fountain, and the frog fell out. I suppose it would have drowned if I hadn’t seen it. The frog would only eat live insects, so my father and I would catch insects for it every few days.
At my seventh birthday party I had a couple of friends over. As part of the birthday party entertainment we did a live feeding demonstration, where my father clipped off the head of a bee, and fed it to the frog that gulped it up, complete with the stinger.
At the time of the party, I also had a spider in a Beauty and the Beast cup that I’d picked up from the Paris Euro Disney. The spider had layed eggs, and the eggs had hatched. The cup crawled with miniscule microspiders that I didn’t know what I was going to do with. The cup was sealed with cling film (saran wrap) that I later discovered, someone at my party had punctured, letting out all these hundreds of tiny spiders. For years, random spiders would turn up in the most unexpected places in our apartment. The coolest thing was that with the progression of time, the spiders that turned up were bigger than those before.
That fascination with insects never left me, and so with my developing knowledge in photography, I discovered I could examine it with such detail that was never before possible. The pictures here are uncropped out of the camera, so at 100%, they’d be much larger. Click on them anyway to see them a bit larger.
In 2004, there was a cicada infestation in Virginia, and although it was much talked about, very few people that I’ve spoken to have actually seen one in real life. In fact, they are commonly mistaken as locusts, or grasshoppers. I know that at least in Italy and France, the terms for grasshopper and cicada are used interchangeably because people don’t actually know the difference. Growing up, I remember reading a fable by Jean de la Fontaine titled “La Cigale et la Fourmi.” “Cigale”, as you might have guessed, is the French word for cicada, yet the picture in that story book clearly illustrates a grasshopper.
I think it’s a shame that most people have a “don’t care” attitude towards insects. They play such an integral role in our ecosystem…and they’re just so remarkable. I hope that by sharing these pictures here, even if just for a few moments, these insects will be appreciated for much more than just pests.