Janklow & Nesbit UK

The Jewel Box: How Moths Illuminate Nature’s Hidden Rules

published by W&N (2023)

Every morning, ecologist Tim Blackburn is inspired by the diversity contained within the moth trap he runs on the roof of his London flat. Beautiful, ineffably mysterious organisms, these moths offer a glimpse into a larger order, one that extends beyond individual species, beyond lepidoptera or insects, and into a hidden landscape.

Footmen, whose populations are on the march as their lichen food recovers from decades of industrial pollution. The Goat Moth, a thumb-sized broken stick mimic, that takes several years to mature deep in the wood of tree trunks. The Oak Eggar, with the look of a bemused Honey Monster, host to a large wasp that eats its caterpillars alive from the inside. The Uncertain, whose similarity to other species has motivated its English name. The Silver Y, with a weight measured in milligrams, but capable of migrating across a continent. A moth trap is a magical contraption, conjuring these and hundreds of other insect jewels out of the darkness.

Just as iron filings arrange themselves to articulate a magnetic field that would otherwise be invisible, Blackburn shows us that when we pay proper attention to these tiny animals, their relationships with one another and their connections to the wider web of life, a greater truth about the world gradually emerges. In THE JEWEL BOX, he reflects on what he has learned in thirty years of work as a scientist studying ecosystems, and demonstrates how the contents of one small box can illuminate the workings of all nature.