Reading the Forest

February 29, 2008

"When I was 10 years old, I started rearing butterflies from caterpillars in Minnesota," says biologist Dan Janzen, "but my more adult interests came from realizing suddenly that I was standing in the middle of a huge unknown." Janzen is an expert on caterpillars of the Costa Rican forests and has spent more than 35 years at the frontiers of that unknown. He has "encountered" over 1000 previously unidentified species. Together with Jeffrey Miller, an insect ecologist and photographer at Oregon State, and research associate Winnie Hallwachs, he has published two books: 100 Caterpillars and 100 Butterflies and Moths (Harvard 2006 and 2007). The books, with full-page photos and lay-reader friendly text, are "an expression of art as well as a demonstration of science," the authors write. They help make people "bioliterate," adds Janzen, "because they make it easy for you to do exactly what you did when you were 10 years old" – stare in wonder at these creatures' strangeness and beauty.

Hear Professor Janzen narrate a slideshow.