Photographer Captures the Diverse Beauty of New England Caterpillars

Black Spotted Prominent Caterpillar

Black-spotted Prominent on False Wild Indigo

With more than 120,000 known species around the world, the beauty and variety of caterpillars is astounding. New Englander Samuel Jaffe has taken his lifelong love of caterpillars to a new level, dedicating the last several years to researching, photographing, and educating the public about these intriguing creatures.

In 2008, Jaffe took up the rearing of caterpillars he'd enjoyed as a child, and documented his work with incredible photographs of the caterpillars of New England. Whether showing off their stunning coloration or their ability to mimic their surroundings, each caterpillar is shown munching on the plant of its choice, offset by a neutral black background.

Cecropia Giant Silk Moth Photo

Cecropia Giant Silk Moth on Buttonbush

“As a photographer, caterpillars intrigue me as subjects because of their unbelievable defensive adaptations,” Jaffe tells My Modern Met. “Many are unmatched mimics of the leaves and twigs of their host plants. Some mimic other creatures like snakes and spiders that may be threatening to their predators. Others might look like bird poop, galls, or detritus. Many caterpillars also perform bizarre defensive dances, have inflatable horns, bright warning colors, or other surprises. Caterpillars are unmatched tricksters and I love capturing and describing these survival strategies in a single photograph.”

After much success exhibiting his photographs, he began organizing exhibitions and workshops in order to educate the public about caterpillars. This passion transformed into The Caterpillar Lab, a non-profit dedicated to raising awareness about the diversity of New England caterpillars. Too often caterpillars are seen as pests, but thanks to Jaffe and the work of The Caterpillar Lab, people are realizing how vital they are to the environment.

Interestingly, according to Jaffe, one of the biggest misconceptions people have is that only butterfly caterpillars are interesting. Jaffe's work certainly proves that not to be the case. “Butterflies are just a small group that fits within the much larger, and much more diverse group, of the moths. Moth caterpillars are often more dramatic, colorful, and strange than butterfly caterpillars and certainly, there are many many many more of them out there to explore.”

Through in-school programs, teacher training, and collaborations with organizations like the Boston Children's Museum and Vermont Institute of Natural Science, Jaffe and the rest of the staff is helping the rest of the world fall in love with caterpillars, one species at a time.

Samuel Jaffe, the founder of The Caterpillar Lab, transformed his passion for photographing caterpillars into an organization to raise public awareness about these diverse insects.

Caterpillar Species from New England

Left: “Red Boots” – Apatelodes torrifacta on Cherry | Right: Eight-spotted Forester on Grapevine

Great Ash Sphinx Caterpillar Photograph

Great Ash Sphinx, red coloration

Samuel Jaffe, The Caterpillar Lab

Left: Tobacco Hornworm eating Tomato plant flower | Right: Darapsa myron on Grapevine

“Caterpillars are unmatched tricksters and I love capturing and describing these survival strategies in a single photograph.”

Photos of New England Caterpillars

Left: “Orange Red Green” – Eumorpha achemon on Grapevine | Right: Final Instar Speared Dagger on Black Cherry

Photograph of Father of Monsters Eumorpha Typhon

“Father of Monsters” – Eumorpha typhon on Arizona Grape

Caterpillar Species from New England

Left: “Three Swallowtails” – Papilio glaucus, polyxenes, and troilus | Right: Catocala innubens pupa

“Caterpillars tend to surprise people. Few realize just how diverse they are and how many species likely live just outside their doors…wherever they live.”

Photos of New England Caterpillars

Left: Big Poplar Sphinx hanging on Poplar leaves | Right: Little Wife Underwing on Bayberry

Puss Moth Caterpillar Photo

Black-etched Puss Moth Caterpillar on Willow Leaf

Samuel Jaffe, The Caterpillar Lab

Left: Tobacco Hornworm eating Tomato plant flower | Right: Darapsa myron on Grapevine

The Caterpillar Lab: Website | Facebook | YouTube | Patreon

My Modern Met granted permission to use photos by Samuel Jaffe of The Caterpillar Lab.

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Staff Editor and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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