OSU ecologist's book of butterfly and moth portraits published by Harvard Press

March 30, 2007
Morpho amathonte butterfly. One of the photos in "1OO Butterflies and Moths: Portraits from the Tropical Forests of Costa Rica".
Morpho amathonte butterfly. One of the photos in "1OO Butterflies and Moths: Portraits from the Tropical Forests of Costa Rica".

CORVALLIS, Ore. – From the iridescent blue morpho butterfly to the richly Persian carpet patterns of a silk moth, Oregon State University entomologist Jeffrey C. Miller's stunning large-format photographs of butterflies are featured in a new book published by the Harvard University Press.

The book, "100 Butterflies and Moths: Portraits from the Tropical Forests of Costa Rica," was developed by Miller, Daniel H. Janzen and Winifred Hallwachs.

Miller is a professor in OSU's Department of Rangeland Ecology and Management; Janzen and Hallwachs are tropical ecologists from the University of Pennsylvania. They previously collaborated on a book called "100 Caterpillars: Portraits from the Tropical Forests of Costa Rica," which was published by Harvard in 2006, and won the National Outdoor Book Award for Design and Artistic Merit that year.

"Butterflies and Moths" features 100 of Miller's large-format photographs, documenting the dizzying variety of shapes, vivid colors and cryptic markings of flamboyant Costa Rican butterflies and moths, from all colors of the spectrum – from white moths, green sphinx moths, red brush-footed butterflies and vivid yellow and orange sulfur butterflies, to violet-brown shaded undersides of the morpho butterflies.

"Tropical butterflies and moths are generally more wild-looking than those from temperate zones," said Miller. "They have an array of defense mechanisms to protect them from so many different types of predators – wasps, monkeys, birds, lizards, ants, sloths, bats and more – so the Lepidoptera are really a diverse group down there."

Some of the butterfly and moth images Miller captured with his digital camera resemble leaves. Others have wings with eyespots that look like a large predator's face. Others are so beautifully patterned and colored, they look like an Asian vase.

Miller and his co-authors had to choose carefully which 100 butterfly or moth species to include in the book. They based their decisions on several factors: aesthetic beauty and the quality of the photo. Only those species with compelling, interesting ecological or behavioral stories were included. These stories are in the book, and include examples of mimicry, migration, courtship and biodiversity. Plus there is a photo of the caterpillar stage of each adult butterfly or moth featured.

The book features the conservation success story of Costa Rica's Area de Conservation Guanacaste as well. There, the long-term work of Janzen and Hallwachs, their team of "gusaneros," local people trained as caterpillar collectors and the neighboring farming communities has deepened the understanding of Costa Rica's butterflies and moths. Their studies have brought advances to the fields of restoration ecology, biodiversity prospecting, biotechnology and ecotourism development as well, and serve as a model for ecologists around the world, said Miller.

The OSU Agricultural Experiment Station researcher is quick to credit Janzen and the Costa Rican gossamers for the success of his work photographing Costa Rican butterflies.

"It is testimony to the success of Janzen and his trained local 'para-taxonomists or gusaneros," said Miller. "They were successfully rearing caterpillars to adults for identification in several habitats—tropical dry forests, cloud forests and rain forests of northwestern region of Costa Rica. If it weren't for them, this never would have happened. I just traveled with my field studio – a digital camera, a table, a computer and a back drop – and photographed the adult and caterpillar specimens for this book. The rest is all their work."

Miller hopes the books will help people learn about and protect biodiversity.

"There is no doubt in my mind that when we have knowledge about something, we tend to take better care of it," he said. "You can't care for something if you don't know anything about it."

Miller's interest in photographing caterpillars began two decades ago as a way to record and to help identify species of larval moths and butterflies for his research in OSU's H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest and other sites around the Pacific Northwest.

As author of the 1995 U.S. Forest Service Report "Caterpillars of Pacific Northwest Forests and Woodlands," and other studies, Miller has had plenty of practice photographing Lepidopteran subjects. He has reared, identified and taken pictures of thousands of moths and butterflies in the Pacific Northwest.

"Some years I reared, photographed and identified more than 7,000 specimens in a single field season," he said.

Closer to home, Miller and his colleague, OSU lepidopterist Paul Hammond, are at work on a book about the conservation of sensitive species of butterflies and moths in the Pacific Northwest.

Author: Carol Savonen
Source: Jeffrey C. Miller