When people want a different perspective on the world, they may go to the mountains, or the ocean, or admire the endlessness of the night sky. Landscapes so vast as to approach incomprehensibility let you feel small, temporarily lifting the weight of consequence from your shoulders.
You can get a similar effect rather closer to home by seeking out the opposite: worlds so small that you become incomprehensibly vast, and therefore as irrelevant as a distant snow-crested peak.
The German word umwelt means, in the study of animal behavior, an animal’s perception of the world around it. The umwelt of a bee would include the UV glow of a flower (which bees can see), the particular sweet flavor of its nectar, and the sensation of its petals on all of the sensory hairs on the bee’s body.
A leaf would be a large, ridged plane.
Other bees might be sisters or rivals, the relative size of lapdogs or elephants.
Considered from this perspective, the complex topologies of flowers put any Western rock formation to shame.
Navigating even a flat oak leaf can get tricky when it is your floor, shelter, and lunch all in one.
This leafhopper nymph is so small that the leaf it sits on is hardly recognizable to my eyes as part of a plant at all.
In these unrecognizable worlds, animals carry on with their lives—not “just like we do,” quite differently from how we conduct our lives—but presumably with the same sense of self-importance, of being the center of the universe, as we have. We wipe our glasses and they wipe compound eyes.
They mate inside flowers, and we… well.
And they do things we do not recognize—why is this tiny sun moth holding his spiky back legs like that?—and we are comforted to not be the only template, to be surrounded by so many umwelts different from our own, so many centers-of-the-universe besides ourselves.
Your photos are wonderful. I’ll never forget the astonishment I felt after purchasing a macro lens, and watching an entirely different world open up. You’ve described that experience beautifully.
Thanks! I’d love to get an even bigger (…smaller?) macro lens, but I think I’m approaching the point where you have to start stacking images due to tiny depth of field, and I don’t have the patience for that.
You’ve inspired me to get my macro lens out again.. and to take a little time to observe the “small” things of life. Beautiful photography!!
Umwelt not umvelt! very nice photography!
Ahh! How embarrassing. Good catch!
I love your blog!
Happy Holidays, Dr. LaBarbera, I hope you’re doing well.
I think it would be a great children’s museum exhibit (to experience plants from an insect’s POV) – to have a giant leaf and flower that children could climb, maybe even with lights showing intermittently the UV patterns of flowers once in a while. Lovely site. Glad I found it.