Victorian Alan Henderson has had a fascination with minibeasts since he was a small boy in his aunt’s Castlemaine garden.
On one such visit he noticed a Preying Mantis tackling a Honeybee.
“I was enthralled by the epic battle unfolding before me,” he recalls.
“This small green creature with such engaging eyes was taking on a Bee, an animal I had been taught was dangerous.
“I’d been stung and knew the pain, yet this creature was eating it. Alive!
“Once-dull visits to my aunt became exciting opportunities to delve into the untapped zoological wonders of the back yard.”
Hooked from that moment, he’s now one of the world’s most respected authorities on invertebrates, and one of its most accomplished macro photographers.
His expertise in working with live invertebrates has taken him around the world to many exotic locales, where he has studied and captured images of some of the most fascinating and spectacular small creatures on the planet.
Now Alan has combined his two loves in Minibeasts (Exisle Publishing), a wonderfully colourful and informative photographic book about the the world of invertebrates.
(Starfish readers can win a copy of this very special book. See details at the end.)
The book not only shows the astonishing beauty and extraordinary anatomical complexity of minibeasts, but also explains their intelligence, mimicry, adaptions, life cycles, camouflage, survival and predatory tactics, where they are found and a whole lot more.
Alan’s vast library of over 50,000 close-up images of bizarre and wonderful bugs is a treasure trove of scientific information. Some of the best of these shots can be found in the book.
So, why are these little creepy crawlies (many scary, many cute) called Minibeasts?
“’Minibeast’’ isn’t a scientific term, but a commonly used name referring generally to invertebrates,” he explains. “This group of animals includes insects, arachnids, myriapods, crustaceans, mollusks and many others.
“They are animals that do not have a backbone, but rigid out skeletons (exoskeletons) that support their bodies. Others have soft bodies with nothing but muscle to support them.
“The minibeasts make up about 95 per cent of animal life on Earth and are found everywhere across the world. The live in almost every habitat and have been around for hundreds of millions of years.”
Alan’s passion for wildlife photography started in high school when he snapped a picture of a blue tongue lizard that “was pretty bad”, but kicked off his passion for macro photography.
After completing a BAppSc in Science Photography, he began a career in zoo keeping. He then created the Australian Natural Education Centre in 1995 for which he received the Young Australian of the Year Regional Development Award.
He then moved on to Melbourne Museum, creating the Live Exhibits Unit, where he staged the popular Bugs Alive! exhibition. He also found time to author the award-winning book Bugs Alive – A Guide to Keeping Australian Invertebrates.
Today he operates his own company, Minibeast Wildlife, at Kuranda in north Queensland, one of Australia’s most biologically diverse regions, particularly when it comes to invertebrates.
He days are spent between running the Centre and venturing off into the surrounding jungle studying, collecting and photographing minibeasts
He has even discovered a few new species himself. One of which he is particularly proud is the large and magnificent, golden Tiger Huntsman. These of course are related to the more common grey-brown ones we’ve all see lurking on the ceiling or in the back shed (the terror of arachnophobes!)
“I was fortunate enough to discover this amazing species in the Cairns rainforest in 2006,” he says. “It is now known as the Tiger Huntsman, but is yet to be given a scientific name.
“It is surprising that such a large and colourful spider had not been named before, as I am sure people must have seen them, but just thought it was another large spider.”
Alan says he never ceases to be amazed by the intelligence and adaptability of invertebrates, and one of his favourite super-brain minibeasts is the otherworldly Portia Jumping Spider.
“It is a specialist spider assassin and can solve any array of problems it may encounter while stalking its prey,” he writes in Minibeasts. “It can modify its tactics if they are not working, and uses different techniques to attack different species of spiders.”
While Alan maintains a great love of the mantid family invertebrates (going back to days in his aunt’s yard), he is a real fan of spiders. This year his work with Minibeast Wildlife included the development of Australia’s first interactive spider identification app, Spidentify.
Like many of us, Alan is deeply concerned about human impact on the environment, and says the destruction of essential habitat impacts the invertebrates just like it does larger animals.
“As small as these animals are, they are critically important,” he writes in Minibeasts. “Without them, the world as we know it would come to a grinding halt. The roles they play are linked to all other living things.
“As the threat and consequences of climate change are finally being recognised, another less publicized crisis is looming on our planet. It is the rapid decline of invertebrate numbers – and it is occurring throughout the world.
“One study by Stanford University has shown a 45 per cent decline in vertebrate numbers over a 35-year period. During this same 35 years, the human population has doubled.
“Scientists believe the decrease in invertebrates is due to two main factors: habitat loss and climate disruption on a global scale,” he said.
Alan Henderson’s Minibeasts shows, and tells us, of the breathtaking beauty and importance of even the tiniest creatures that share our world.
On the Minibeasts cover is says they are the “True rulers of our world and the key to our survival.”
Hence the onus is on humankind to stop our rampant destruction of habitat, our chemical destruction of invertebrates and other creatures, and to get very serious about preventing further global warming.
Photographs: Alan Henderson
Starfish subscribers, want to win a copy of this wonderful book?
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