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 sea-shells 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”.