BY EMILY JENNINGS Culpeper Star-Exhibitor
CULPEPER — When you see a bug, what do you do?
As many people screamed and ran away, Culpeper resident Lee Alloway not only stopped to examine the tiny creatures, but also looked for the creepy crawlies.
Over the past two years, the 74-year-old has found and photographed more than 1,000 different species of insects in Culpeper County, as well as a few in Orange and Fairfax counties.
“Normally I would have traveled all over the world to capture images of birds and insects,” Alloway said. “But since I couldn’t travel during the pandemic, I started looking for bugs around my house.”
At first, he said he was surprised to find 250 species. He was about to stop counting when a friend challenged him to find 500.
“By the end of September 2021, I had reached around 1,000,” he said.
Alloway’s property sits on Lake Pelham, making it a mecca for insect photography subjects.
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“We have the lake behind us, woods to the right, an open field ahead, fruit trees and a garden,” he said. “Each area attracts different types of insects, and you can find them all year round.”
Using a collection of around 100 field guides, Alloway identified each bug after taking its picture, then sought additional help online.
“The entomological community is very helpful,” he said. “They will give their opinion – and I try to narrow it down to two different sources who agree.”
Alloway has self-published three new books of his findings in the Culpeper area: “Wazzat Beetle?”, with 135 species of beetles; “Wazzat Lep?”, with 375 species of Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths); and “Wazzat Bug?”, which includes the 975 species he was able to identify with certainty. Found on Amazon, the books can also be purchased at Spelled Ink Bookstore in Orange.
More than a million arthropods have been classified worldwide and many more are discovered every year, he said. But a disproportionate number of species are found only in the tropics, and many more are restricted in range.
“Finding 1,000 species locally in one season, without a comprehensive collection plan, says a lot about our biodiversity,” Alloway said.
Alloway and his wife, Janice Hawn, lived in Culpeper for about four years, after moving here to be closer to their children and grandchildren, who live in Madison County. After a 26-year career in the Air Force, Alloway worked at the Pentagon for 14 years, retiring in 2014.
“I’ve always loved taking pictures,” he said. At his home in Falls Church, where his wife grew orchids, he naturally took pictures of flowers, which led to taking pictures of insects on flowers.
“My wife has a degree in agriculture and she helped me get started with macro photography,” Alloway said of taking close-up photos of really small things. “I started by photographing the jungle in Belize, I spent two weeks in the Amazon. I was in Mozambique two years ago.”
He said he liked finding insects in his own garden. Many of them can be “processed”, he said, in 30 minutes or less.
If you buy second-hand photography gear, that cuts the cost down considerably, he said.
Alloway’s insect photos have been published in National Wildlife Magazine and selected for inclusion in the Entomological Society of America’s insect shows for several years.
In addition to his Culpeper insect books, Alloway has published a dozen other books, with pictures of insects and birds, but also books of poetry, an overview of his career in the army of l air and his views on humanity and our place in the world. .
Alloway plans to continue tracking Culpeper insects to note population changes, and he expects to find more species.
“Taking these photos is something that I find very interesting,” he said. “Most people don’t look for bugs. I see them everywhere.”