Some critics within the world of insect photography are up in arms over the morality of drugging bugs.
An award-winning macro insect photographer has become the subject of a social media-based maelstrom after explaining his new technique for getting close-up shots of insects: medicating them.
“My new technique in anesthetizing insects rather than killing them seems to work on those creatures upon them as well so I may uncover more info in time,” the Northampton, UK-based photographer, Steve James, commented on a photo of an ant with mites he shared on the platform Photocrowd.
James, who last Thursday won the Buglife Bug Photography Awards’ Bug Photographer of the Year award, quickly came under fire from various bug photographers who called the technique immoral, and compared it to drugging mammals, PetaPixel reported.
“Please stop giving credit and awards to photographers who are using highly unethical practices to obtain their images,” one amateur wildlife photographer from Scotland demanded on an Instagram post by the Bug Awards.
“Can we imagine someone submitting a photo of a drugged tiger,” another photographer commented on the post. “Obviously not, so why’s it ok here?”
The ethical question over whether or not it’s acceptable to drug bugs has drawn a great deal of online discussion, although James says the current discourse and critique of his method are drawn more by the web’s mob mentality and virtue signaling than a good-faith conversation about insect rights.
“The whole point of my work in ultra-macro is to show these creatures up close and have more sympathy for them. So I suppose I have achieved that. Most of my many failed shots are the result of the bug waking up too soon not because it died,” James told PetaPixel in a statement. “The criticism is mainly due to an ignorance and trial by social media. I would like to see how these people deal with lice or complain that a commercial kitchen uses a bug zapper.”
The Buglife Awards have also responded to the controversy with a statement noting that the “welfare of the invertebrates that are being photographed is of great importance to the Bug Awards,” and James’ method does not harm the critters, and is thus within the ethical guidelines. His use of ethyl acetate to drug bugs is considered a “safe anesthetic approach for invertebrates” from which they can make a full recovery.
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