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Transformers, the miracle of insect life.


I have long been fascinated with the ability of many insects to literally re-write themselves. This transformation not only creates a completely new body but it usually allows the insect to conquer and live in a new environment. We are all familiar with the term metamorphosis – to change but it often occurs in secret places or as often as not in the dark. It happens all around us all through the summer but it is seldom watched. I have photographed dragonflies transform from their water-world nymphs into stunning adults but until recently I have never had the opportunity to photograph the same miraculous process in a butterfly.

The actual photography was quite straightforward but knowing when it would happen took quite me a while before I could predict it with some accuracy. I worked on the first part of this project with small tortoiseshell pupae. The ground colour varies dramatically from one pupae to the next, stunning gold’s in some, dark and unpredictable in others.

The pupae didn’t change at all during the first 2 weeks after pupation but I noticed that on the day before emergence the basic wing colour could be seen in some of them, though definitely not in all cases. The next thing is to be up very early the next day. I limited my normal intake of tea to one cup only, I couldn’t afford a toilet break at all! Camera on tripod it then becomes a waiting game which may go on for 8 hours or so.

Every pupae that emerged did so before 3pm, none after that. Some emerged very early in the day, most in fact, a couple at a more obliging time. The actual pace of transformation is incredibly quick, a loo visit and you could miss the whole event!

The process is an amazing one to watch and I learned so much about butterfly natural history. Probably the most amazing fact is that the proboscis is actually formed as 2 halves and as the adult pulls away from its coffin-like pupae the 2 halves are clearly seen being pulled free. Immediately they then join and curl up. This is only the beginning of a much larger project and I can’t wait to move forward with it.