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Bejewelled Bugs: Building Homes from Plastic and Gold

By December 10, 2020January 4th, 2021No Comments
©Hubert Duprat (left), Sonja et al. 2020 (right)

What can we learn from some of Earth’s tiniest creatures? We look at two amusing examples of art and science collaborating with caddisfly larvae. 

Caddisflies are a group of insects with aquatic larvae. The larvae live in a wide variety of water habitats such as ponds, streams and rivers. Though tiny in size, their unusual habit of building protective casings with materials from their immediate environment caught the attention of artist Hubert Duprat and PhD student Sonja Ehlers. Looking at both projects combined, they send a strong message about the value of plastic.  

House of Gold

Though normally working with sand, sticks or other organic materials, what if a caddisfly only had access to gold and jewels?  

Combining artwork with habitat­, experimental artist Hubert Duprat collaborates with caddisflies to create bejewelled, decorative casings, by giving them precious materials, such as gold flakes, pearls and precious gems to build with. 

Duprat describes his project as melancholic, given the declining insect populations, and their importance to our ecosphere. Yet his work can be viewed more positively as a lesson in survival and adaptability. Albeit the reality of the caddisfly’s natural environment is somewhat different.

Can plastic be the new gold?  

As adaptable creatures, caddisfly have been observed using other materials in their natural habitats, such as microplastics.  In the article ‘House of Plastic’ , we take a closer look at the work of PhD student Sonja Ehlers, who investigated how caddisfly larvae build their protective cocoons using small plastic particles. Though light and easily accessible, the plastic material made the casings more likely to break under pressure, leaving the caddisfly vulnerable. But what are microplastics doing in their natural environment in the first place? 

© Courtesy of Artur Lik Photography

As an interesting cross over between art and science, Duprat’s and Ehler’s work raise an important question around the value of plastic. If plastics were as valuable as gold, how likely would they be present in the natural environment? Would we have a problem with plastic waste scattered across our coastlines? Instead of waste, plastic should be seen as a valuable resource.  

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