Catherine Chalmers: Leafcutters


"I'm in Costa Rica working with the ants. And they're stars."
Catherine Chalmers' wonderful photographs of praying mantises have graced these pages. Keeping in touch, I was excited when I heard she'd be in Costa Rica working with leafcutter ants this year, and hence a series for the height of summer featuring my personal favourite bugs.

"Leafcutter ants are the principal herbivore in the tropical and semi-tropical regions where they live. They do not clear cut rainforests quite like we do, but they can strip a tree in a single night, and repeat this night after night. At a time in history when humans are causing deforestation at an alarming rate, this insect provides rich and relevant opportunities for illuminating man's impact on the environment.
Throughout history, dominance begets hubris, the language of which humans have used to heighten divisions and impress superiority across tribes, cultures and nations. The leafcutter ant project borrows that language and uses it as a metaphor for the relationship between humans and the natural world today."

It's easy to become enthralled with Catherine as she masterfully reflects humans' fascination  and relationships with creepy crawlies back on us and relates their behaviour to ours. It's hard to do this new ongoing project justice here, so I must encourage you to follow the links and learn more.

Ant Works preview: "Usually leafcutter ants cut green leaves high up in the forest canopy. In order to film the 'Ant Works' video, the heart of which is a stop-motion sequence of the colony completely denuding a tree, I need to find a plant the ants were willing to take that was also on my scale. I offered them more than a dozen plants they are known to like and they refused them all, except this one. The aesthetics of the video were framed by their choice of a plant that happened to resemble a Jackson Pollock painting. The final scene is an art show of the ants parading their works."

Excellent interview with Catherine about the Leafcutters project at Scientific American.

I highly recommend these radio interviews from Catherine's archives.

View the magazine full screen photo feature.

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