Humans are not the only species with a penchant for self-embellishment. In addition to animals such as the ever-fashionable decorator crab, caddisfly larvae fashion ornate cases for protection and camouflage. In the wild, the larvae make due with the everyday construction materials of their environments. However, a lucky few adopted by nature-loving jewelry makers get the opportunity to build their homes from emeralds, opals and gold.
Caddisflies are insects with small, tented wings, long hair-like antennae, and look similar to moths. Juveniles are mostly aquatic, and resemble hairless caterpillars. Larvae can be identified by claws on their thoracic legs and anal prolegs. They occupy the order Trichoptera, and there are hundreds of different species. Most adults do not live long, and spend most of their time in the act of passing on their genes. Females lay eggs near the water, and larvae develop over the course of several months to a year. Young caddisflies use silk to spin nets to catch food, and even more interestingly, to form cases in which to hide. Rocks and other small debris are attached to the silk to act as protection and as a disguise. Eating litter and detritus, larvae are keys to clean stream ecosystems and provide meals for birds, fish, bats and other predatory animals as adults.
Observing the caddisfly larvae’s habit of using its surroundings as adornment, creative jewelry makers such as French artist/naturalist Hubert Duprat and American Kathy Kyle Scout, president of Wildscape Inc., have taken to use the bug’s natural behavior as way to create beautiful ornaments. By catching larvae and adding them to an aquarium filled with precious gems, shells, and gold flakes, they allow the animal to generate gorgeous patterns that become fused as ready-made beads. Once the larvae is finished, it is gently removed and allowed to develop as an adult. From there, the glittering tubes are crafted into pendants, necklaces, earrings, bracelets and key chains.
Now, before you get too squeamish about wearing a necklace made by a bug, remember that pearls are basically oyster irritants, leather is animal hide, and seashells are just old mollusk homes. Why not accessorize with a cruelty-free, unique piece made by the noble caddisfly? When friends ask you why you have an insect’s home around your neck, you can argue that caddisfly makes a “good case for it”.
Jewelry on the fly
If you’re like me, and you’re able to find beauty in small things, you might enjoy some of these other articles about jewelry, insects and enzymes.
firstname.lastname@example.org does anyone have pics of the tiny larvae I should collect for this project. I know I see the ones that are tiny on rocks, move fast and brown ..are these the ones I should go for .
Love it! I had no idea that such a nexus between jewelry and tiny homes existed.
Do you kill the pupa inside the cocoon so as to not ruin the piece?
Does the pupa crawl out through a hole he makes, leaving the “jewelry” behing?
Do you extract the pupa before selling his home?
Do you cover up the extraction hole with something? Or just leave it as it is?
When pupating, most species will cover the ends of their tube or cone shaped case and then chew through the covering, and all species eventually crawl out and leave the case behind when they have matured. Also, some species of case making caddisflies will make multiple cases as they out-grow their former ones, and just crawl out. Neither sort should ruin the piece or require any bug murder.
Whether you choose to fill the case (maybe with resin?) or leave it empty (to string as beads, maybe) will depend what you want to do with the final jewelry. I could see it being hard to fill a tube-shaped case, though.
I have been a fan of caddis case jewelry for a long time. Some thing concerned me though. If this jewelry is to become popular people cannot be going to lakes and streams to collect any type of larvae they think are caddis flies. Caddis flies are an important to headwater lakes and streams. They provide a basis for the food chain and they also work to shred organic materials into smaller peices so other invertebrates can consume them. And of one were to catch some caddis flies there is no need to kill them once they have made your jewelry, they will usually disassociate from their case when stressed.
Do you coat the cases with anything to make sure they don’t fall apart?
Hi Aubrey, You’ll need to contact the manufacturer for specific questions and complete details: http://www.wildscape.com