Hubert Duprat is a French artist known for making bejeweled art pieces with rather unusual assistants. He rears caddisfly larvae which make glittery tubes from precious metals and gemstones! No training required!

Photo by Jean-Luc Fournier.
The caddisfly is a moth like insect which lives near water.  Like its relations, the moths and butterflies, the caddisfly undergoes metamorphosis. The larvae live at the bottom of streams and are considered underwater architects. Some types build cases where they can hide and avoid being eaten by hungry fish. They use anything they find in their environment - sand, bits of wood, plant debris, shell fragments from snails and gravel.  The small stones helps weigh down the cases - very useful in fast flowing water.

Caddisfly tube made with pebbles
When they are ready to pupate, they attach the tubes somewhere, seal both ends while still allowing water flow and continue with their development.  Adult caddisflies eventually emerge and swim up to the surface.

What Duprat does is recreate their normal environment in his studio aquarium with circulating, oxygenated water at 40 degrees C.   He cleverly replaces their natural building materials with real gold flakes and tiny rods of 18K gold, pearls, turquoise, opal, lapis lazuli, oral, rubies, sapphires and diamonds!

This video shows a caddisfly larvae working on its expensive tube. It's hard to see but it uses silk to construct the inside of the tube and to attach its little treasures.

In the wild, caddisfly larvae are adept at fixing their tubes because they often get damaged.  So Duprat deliberately damages the cases and places a gemstone at that site and the larvae obligingly incorporates it during repair!

Duprat is not the first person to substitute building materials - entomologists did that back in the 19th century.  People also used glass beads in the 20th century with pretty results.  But Duprat is the first to use precious metals and gemstones.

What a delightful collaboration of man and insect!

If you have time, watch this well produced 8 minute video about the remarkable caddisfly.

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