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Uncommon Vision
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Uncommon Vision

By Lynne WarrenImages by Joseph Scheer



Captivated by the beauty of moths, an artist uses digital scans to transform backyard fliers into fine art.




Get a taste of what awaits you in print from this compelling excerpt.

The moth hunt began with Joseph Scheer using his Alfred University office as a lure, leaving lights on and windows open at day’s end, collecting whatever had wandered in overnight when he returned the next morning. Plenty of moths showed up, but janitors howled about the buggy mess. So Scheer moved the hunt to his colleague Mark Klingensmith’s yard. “Mark’s a gardener with lots of stuff growing on his property,” Scheer says. “Moths like it.” The two set up lights glowing over a five-gallon (18-liter) bucket and shining on a white sheet. Then they watched, astounded, as moths came looping, fluttering, zooming in. “We got a different species every night that first season,” Scheer says. “The patterns and colors were overwhelming.”

A technical specialist at the university’s Institute for Electronic Arts, Klingensmith coaxed a scanner designed for film and transparencies into capturing pictures of three-dimensional moths. The scanner records so much information—67 million data points per square inch—that a single specimen may take 20 minutes to scan. The data files generated are huge: Two small moths fill an entire compact disc.

With resolution that high, scans can be enlarged 2,700 percent and still be perfectly clear. Moths that in life rest comfortably on a fingertip splash across 34-by-46-inch (86 –by-116 centimeter) art papers. You’d need a microscope to see the tiny scales on body and wing as clearly as they’re revealed in Scheer’s prints. At every step from scanner to monitor to printer, the artist keeps the actual specimen in front of him, constantly comparing his digital representations to nature’s original. “Every moth requires hours of work,” he says. “Color correcting the scan, adjusting the printer so the final image truly matches the moth. It has to be perfect.”

Scheer and Klingensmith improve their self-taught bug-handling skills from season to season. The ultrasmall moths called microlepidoptera present special challenges. “One twitch of a finger and there goes a wing,” Scheer admits. “I try to drink less coffee when I’m working on micros.”

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More to Explore

In More to Explore the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

Did You Know?
Nobody sells seeds for a moth garden, or sniffs tearfully at the tragic end of Madame Moth. Whether it’s butterfly gardens or Madame Butterfly—the plant catalog or the opera house—butterflies always seem to get top billing. That’s just not fair. Moth wings can be every bit as beautiful, moth lives every bit as fascinating. And for sheer diversity moths beat out butterflies by a wide margin. Scientists have identified something like 130,000 species of Lepidoptera (the insect order that includes butterflies and moths) worldwide, and 87 percent of them—some 112,500 total species—are moths.

—Lynne Warren
Did You Know?

Related Links
Moths of North America
www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/distr/lepid/moths/mothsusa.htm
Which moths live in your neighborhood? On this site you’ll find checklists for every county in the United States and states in northern Mexico, distribution maps, species descriptions, and pictures of caterpillars and moths.

Creo Inc.
www.creo.com/
Creo, a manufacturer of graphic arts scanning and printing devices, created the EverSmart Pro II scanner used by Joseph Scheer to make his remarkable digital images of moths. Visit this site to learn more about this scanner and other Creo products.

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Bibliography

Conniff, Richard. Spineless Wonders: Strange Tales From the Invertebrate World. Henry Holt and Company, 1996.

Covell, Charles V., Jr. A Field Guide to the Moths of Eastern North America. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1984.

Tuskes, Paul M., and others. The Wild Silk Moths of North America. Cornell University Press, 1996.

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NGS Resources
Murawski, Darlyne A. “Moths Come to Light,” National Geographic (March 1997), 40-57.

Howell, Catherine Herbert. “Insects,” National Geographic Books, 1997.

Davidson, Treat. “Moths That Behave Like Hummingbirds,” National Geographic (June 1965), 770-775.

Showalter, William Joseph. “Strange Habits of Familiar Moths and Butterflies,” National Geographic (July 1927), 76-105.

“The Gypsy Moth,” National Geographic (August 1906), 461-464.

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