Biologist Pens Essay on Insect Eggs for National Geographic

August 26, 2010
By Cherry Crayton

Insect Eggs

The above photo is of an insect egg from a gallery produced by National Geographic Magazine that accompanies an essay written by Rob Dunn, an assistant professor of biology at NC State. In the Autumn 2009 issue of NC State magazine, Dunn wrote about the thousands of tiny species at work around us that we often don’t notice, even when those species are living on our own bodies and right under our noses. In this new essay for National Geographic Magazine,The Beauty of Insects,” Dunn focuses in on insect eggs (and both the essay and the photos are fascinating):

They began simply, smooth and round, but over 300 million years, insect eggs have become as varied as the places where insects reign. Some eggs resemble dirt. Others resemble plants. When you find them, you might not know what you are seeing at first. The forms are unusual and embellished with ornaments and apparatuses. Some eggs breathe through long tubes that they extend up through water. Others dangle from silky stalks. Still others drift in the wind or ride on the backs of flies. They are as colorful as stones, shaded in turquoises, slates, and ambers. Spines are common, as are spots, helices, and stripes. More than biology, their designs suggest the work of an artist left to obsess among tiny forms. They are natural selection’s trillion masterpieces; inside each is an animal waiting for some cue to break free.

What you see in the accompanying photo gallery, Dunn writes,

are the eggs of a few small branches of the insect tree of life. Among them are those of some butterflies that face extraordinary travails to defend themselves against predators and, sometimes, against plants on which they are laid. Some passionflowers transform parts of their leaves into shapes that resemble butterfly eggs; mother butterflies, seeing the “eggs,” move on to other plants to deposit their babies. Such mimics are imperfect, but fortunately so is butterfly vision.

View the photo gallery and read all of Dunn’s essay here and here. Be sure to also check out this video in which the photographer explains how he got his shots of the insect eggs. And, you can read the essay that Dunn wrote for NC State magazine in Autumn 2009 here.

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