Bug populations are in steep decline the world over, and it shows locally. Twenty years ago, when I opened the kitchen window for a few seconds at night, a dense cloud of moths and beetles would pour in. Today, it’s down to two or three mosquitoes. I cannot remember when I last had to stop the car to scrub dead bugs off the windshield.
As the Covid lockdown lowered everybody’s sights, mine fell upon the bugs still milling about the house and yard. Overall numbers seem indeed very low, but the range of species I discovered did surprise me. Ninety percent of my subjects are from within a fifty-foot radius around our kitchen in “urban” Kentucky, the rest from nearby yards. They are very much alive. Dead specimen would be much easier to photograph, but I lack the patience to clean them up and pose them, and I could never hope to match their varied looks in life. Besides, watching live specimen and trying to outwit them is part of the fun. Killing or even just numbing them would be unsporting.
Roaming my modest backyard rather than more prolific biotopes has advantages beyond reducing the spread of Covid: I get more time to discover and observe; I can better seize the fleeting, unpredictable moments of favorable light and still air; I can retreat to the house to recover from a back-breaking session in oppressive heat; and I don’t burn fossil fuels in the process. Let Costa Rica wait.
In elementary school, at a time when lizards were still plentiful, I had a reputation for catching them with their tails intact. Some fifty-odd years later, I try to summon that facility when framing, for example, a skittish camel cricket, the basement-dwelling high jumper most familiar from foiling any attempt on its life. Happily, my best specimen let me squeeze off one perfectly focused shot before it bolted from the set.
I owe the title for the series to my friend Joel Feldman. When I showed him a photo about which I wasn't sure, he replied: “It is just a picture of a butterfly on a flower. In the other bug pictures, you are doing Myrtle the fly, Fred the beetle, and Alonzo the spider.”