Hungry eyes

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Walking on an unfamiliar city street, do you ever feel as though someone is looking at you, with eyes that are curious, desirous, suspicious, or otherwise? The feeling can be unsettling, but is a pale comparison to walking in a forest. The natural world is also full of eyes, but these eyes are hungry.

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Tennyson once rightly called nature ‘red in tooth and claw’. Life in the natural world is a nasty business, filled with bright eyes keen on eating by whatever means possible. Walking an unfamiliar forest one feels the gazes of countless creatures, great and small, peering out at each other. Eyes looking for prey, and eyes looking for predators. In this photograph I am sure the kite was looking at me as much as I was looking at it.

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I often feel myself to be an unwelcome interloper in these complex natural food webs, imagining how my presence changes the rules of the game played by these countless organisms. I feel looked at.

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But not every organism walks so carefully, fearful of the eyes of others. Some protect themselves with bright warning colors and toxic chemicals, like these hairy stinging caterpillars.

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This caterpillar I found on my trouser leg halfway through a lunch break, with no recollection of when it crawled on to me. But with its bright colors and fine long hairs, I was easily convinced to leave it alone.

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These three caterpillars we found on the forest floor, eating their way through some leaves with no concern for our presence. I made the mistake of touching one and felt a soft burning in my finger for the rest of the afternoon. After that experience, I found that twig chopsticks were a better way to examine these insects.

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The hunt is a game I am unaccustomed to play, since my food comes from agriculture, and I can readily exchange money for sustenance. I have never had to rely on my ability to find food, or had to worry about starvation. In this I am lucky, but looking at these animals’ hungry eyes makes me feel somehow lessened.

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