A plastic box with a lightbulb attached may seem like an odd birthday present. But for ecologist Tim Blackburn, a moth trap is a captivating window into the world beyond the roof terrace of his London flat. Whether gaudy or drab, rare or common, each moth ensnared by the trap is a treasure with a story to tell. In The Jewel Box, Blackburn introduces these mysterious visitors, revealing how the moths he catches reflect hidden patterns governing the world around us.
With names like the Dingy Footman, Jersey Tiger, Pale Mottled Willow, and Uncertain, and at least 140,000 identified species, moths are fascinating in their own right. But no moth is an island—they are vital links in the web of life. Through the lives of these overlooked insects, Blackburn introduces a landscape of unseen ecological connections. The flapping of a moth’s wing may not cause a hurricane, but it is closely tied to the wider world, from the park down the street to climatic shifts across the globe.
Through his luminous prose and infectious sense of curiosity, Blackburn teaches us to see—and respect—the intricate web of nature in which we’re all caught. The Jewel Box shows us how the contents of one small box can illuminate the workings of all nature.
About the Author
Tim Blackburn is Professor of Invasion Biology at University College London. Previously, he was the Director of the Institute of Zoology, the research arm of the Zoological Society of London, where he still has a research affiliation. He has been awarded Honorary Professorships at the Universities of Adelaide, Birmingham and Oxford, been named an Honorary Research Associate at the Centre of Excellence in Invasion Biology, Stellenbosch, and been an invited plenary speaker at numerous international conferences. His work in the 1990s with Kevin Gaston helped to define the newly emerging field of macroecology – the study of large-scale patterns in the distribution and abundance of species – and he has since gone on to make substantial contributions to the science of biological invasions. His own writing has appeared in The Biologist and The Conversation, and his findings have been covered by (amongst others) PBS, the BBC’s Inside Science and Countryfile, The Guardian, Telegraph, and Evening Standard, Metro, The National (UAE), India Times, Republic (India), Süddeutsche Zeitung (Germany), Publimetro (Mexico), Irish Times, and ABC (Australia).
"Meditative take...Blackburn succeeds in drawing broad ecological lessons from the world of moths... Lepidopterists will want to take note." — Publishers Weekly
"Darwin spoke of life as a 'tangled bank' of interacting species, and William Blake, a century before Darwin, wrote of seeing 'the world in a grain of sand, and Heaven in a Wild Flower.' The moths in Blackburn’s jewel box are like Blake’s grain of sand: gems to be treasured not only for their beauty, but for the way their brilliance, captured during the dark of night, casts light on the complex whole of living nature." — Natural History
“We are creatures of the daylight, spending most of the night asleep, oblivious to life’s continuing struggles that take place in the hours of darkness…. This is a book that will appeal to those who have a fascination for moths and want to understand the world in which they live.”
— The Biologist
"Tim Blackburn shows us that moths are more than bugs that invade outdoor lights and bathroom drains. Through Blackburn’s scientific passion and insight, these relatives of butterflies teach us a lot about evolution, nature, and the ecological consequences of our species, the real pests in the woolen chest of Earth." — Jack Davis, author of "The Bald Eagle" and "The Gulf"
"Not only is this a wonderful hands-on introduction to a diverse and enigmatic group of insects (moths), it is also an excellent primer on the basic principles of ecology, and crucially, the urgent need for humankind to live more gently on Earth." — Jonathan Balcombe, author of "Super Fly" and "What a Fish Knows"