Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Eye of a Naturalist

Perhaps the most influential book I've ever read (I'm not exaggerating!) was the memoir published by E.O. Wilson.  I have to credit Mr. Parker, a high school biology teacher, for suggesting it to me as a senior at Stow-Munroe Falls High School.  A few years later, I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Wilson at Oberlin College at the invitation of Dr. Prudy Hall.  In his memoir, Wilson explained what it really means to have the "eye of a naturalist".  Scrutinize everything.  Be absolutely curious.  Scan nature and ask questions about everything you see.

Above all, this has been my driving mantra throughout my professional career as biological diversity professional. I think the eye that Wilson discusses comes to me somewhat naturally, but I absolutely have those dumbfounding moments when I tell myself "why did I miss that?"  It actually happens frequently- for example, when another botanist in the state recognizes a new and different species that all the other botanists just were lumping into something else.

That brings me back to the photo above.  Yes, I've seen the little grayish brown leps flitting about the bog mat for years at Little Pond, Maine.  I've been going there for a decade.  But did I ever give them a second thought?  Never.  WHY NOT!?!  Probably because I thought they moths?  I don't know. Finally, on this July trip, after a cloudy interlude, the butterflies of the bog mat took flight en masse one late afternoon after hunkering down for a while.  I had pretty much exhausted photographing the dragons and damsels in the area, and thought, let's give that ugly gray lep a shot?

And the results?  When I finally really saw them, in person, and on the camera screen, it hit me hard that I have been missing this incredibly beautiful animal.  I believe this is the bog copper, Lycaena epixanthe.  And it turns out that the host plant for this species is the native cranberries, which are plentiful in the acidic sphagnum bog at Little Pond. These butterflies were at the pond every summer I have visited; they just hadn't caught the my naturalists's eye.

Finally, I leave you with the following: Do you have the eye of a naturalist?  Did it come easily? Was it hard? What have you done to hone your vision?



  1. Gorgeous shot (it goes without saying). Developing a naturalist's eye is much the same as developing a photographer's eye. I almost always used to take landscapes (nothing wrong with those), but once I started to force myself to think about smaller details in closeup and macro photography, some of my images got much more interesting--and people commented that I had started to become a better photographer. It's the same with the natural world and developing a naturalist's eye.

    1. Thank you for sharing Scott! For us that look at the small details in nature, I totally agree. I had a naturalist's eye before a photographer's eye. I knew how to find my subjects, but it took a while to figure out how to best portray them with the digital camera.