One person I am not is Sherlock Holmes. This fact comes painfully home to me every time I have photographed something that I don’t recognise. In the first instance I usually trawl though a large collection of field guides. If that fails I call on the very able assistance of my own Dr. Watson (my wife). As a professional environmental scientist with a broad range of knowledge and experience, she generally comes up with the answer in no time at all. But not always.
It was while shuffling around on my knees in a mass of wildflowers that I came eye to eye with this caterpiller. I wasn’t looking for caterpillars specifically, just a better composition for the subject I was lined up on. However, once I saw the colours I was hooked and had to photograph it. I had no idea what I was looking at, but I figured that wasn’t a problem that couldn’t be solved later.
Back home and this photo eventually comes to the top of my To Do pile. I scratch my head, check through a couple of guide books and then scratch my head again. I call in Dr. Watson, who scratches her head, checks through the same guide books and then she scratches her head again. We both drew a blank. And so it sat there, patiently waiting for me to come up with a description and some keywords.
Over a year later the puzzle was solved. Not by me or my wife, but by a complete stranger. I came up with a cunning plan to get some experts in on the case. While visiting the Birdfair I shuffled up to a Butterfly Conservation stand, pulled out a print of this photo and asked if anyone recognised it. It took all of one-and-a-half seconds before someone said ‘The Lackey’. This stunningly coloured little creature is a caterpillar of the rather dull looking lackey moth.
Back to my field guides. Now I can clearly see what it is and wonder how we both failed to recognise it. I put it down to how different it looks from the side (my photo) and from the top (our field guide illustrations). The lesson I learnt from this is that sometimes patience and perseverance are the best tools in the nature photographers’ toolbox. Plus a little bit of expert help of course.