Creature, smaller than grain of rice, that changed my life

Plant-Hopper-Papua-New-Guinea-WPY2009.jpg

Ten years ago, during my master’s studies I traveled for 2 expeditions. First one took me for one month to Papua New Guinea, the trip I later called “Month in Paradise”. And afterwards I said goodbye to my fellows, changed planes in Philippines and headed back “down” to Borneo for another 6 weeks.

By then I already had the photo, which changed everything, on my external HDD. I took it during first two weeks in lowland rainforest of Papua New Guinea. I led small photography course teaching students how to capture nature photos for research and conservation. During one of the field trips I found banana leaf lying on the ground. And on the leaf, there was very peculiar creature, with body roughly of a fruit fly size and unbelievably long tail. For cases like this I had Macro lens which enabled 1-5x magnification of life size. The tiny creature was fascinating as never before I had seen anything like that. About half an hour later I put down my camera and was about to leave. But ten steps away from the leaf I felt something was not right. Following the gut feeling I returned to the leaf and again searched for the barely visible animal. One of the slang expressions for tropical rainforest is “green mess” and looking for pin in grown grass could be easier. With a little (a lot of) luck second chance to photograph mysterious insect presented itself.

Focus manually, hold breath for steady hands, snap, wait for the buzzing sound of recharging flashes to fade away… recompose and repeat. How many mosquitoes bit me during that time in the moist jungle I stopped counting.

Two months passed before the expeditions were over and I returned to comfort of city life with tens of thousands of photographs. It took weeks and months of processing until one day, close to deadline I submitted my photographs to Wildlife Photographer of the Year (WPY), the Worlds’ most prestigious contest of a kind. With help of entomologists, leaders in their field, we found out the enigmatic insect is plant hopper larva of an unknown species. Somewhat close relative to more known cicadas. Months, when I was finishing my master’s thesis were passing with communication with Natural History Museum, providing original RAW file, descriptions and permissions for usage of the image.

In the final Little hopper gained me the “Highly commended” position in the 19th year of WPY contest among dozens of thousands of other images. For the first time in WPY there was success of Czech photographer. Little hopper was used by the Museum on VIP invitation for gala dinner. It was my first travel to London and dinner under Diplodocus dinosaur with NatGeo photographers could have been dream of many.

The diploma I received, signed by Mark Carwardine, said:

Awarded in recognition of the high standard achieved, and to encourage further excellence in wildlife photography”.

It was enough motivation to take my leap of faith. I left primary research and everything I was taught at school and started my own business. The journey this little creature helped me to start included many uncertain moments. It’s been more tough that I could imagine but also an incredible adventure. I’m grateful for that major decision every day. What was your “Little hopper”?


© 2018 Alexandr Pospěch