Caddisflies make bejeweled works of art

Written by: Lisa Stelzner

Primary Source: Daily Dose of Science Blog

I love it when I find something to share that combines science with art.  For those of you who don’t know what is special about caddisflies, their larvae, which are aquatic, build cocoons for protection using a silk produced by their salivary glands, and any pebbles, twigs, or other debris they can find on the river bottom.  They develop for a few weeks in this cocoon until they become flying adults.  I first learned about this two years ago, when I taught a river ecology lab at MSU and my students had to examine macroinvertebrates they collected from the river on campus.
“Caddisfly-larva” by Ashley Pond V – Taken by Ashley Pond V. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons –
“Caddisfly Larva” by MyForest – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – is also another type of cocoon that caddisflies can construct: a net that is made only from their silk, but often collects debris in the water.
“Trichoptera net” by Clinton & Charles Robertson – originally posted to Flickr as Tricoptera net. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – artist named Hubert Duprat wondered what would happen if he put caddisfly larvae in an aquarium with gold flakes and precious stones, and the results are pretty amazing.  The cases could even be used as jewelry (and in fact, a jewelrymaker is selling just that!).  There are lots more photos at the link below.

Photo credit: Fabrice Gousset.
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Lisa Stelzner
I'm a plant biology PhD student studying monarch butterflies in Michigan, but I'm interested in lots of other types of science, too. I am interested in how breeding monarch butterflies choose their habitat based on floral species richness and abundance. Few studies have been conducted on optimal foraging theory when it involves an organism searching for two different kinds of resources, and butterflies are an ideal study system to investigate this, since many species are ovipositing specialists and only lay eggs on one species of hostplant, but are feeding generalists and nectar from a broad variety of flowering forbs.