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Stéphane de Greef’s selfie of him zeroing in on a giant moth in the Royal Gardens.​​ STÉPHANE DE GREEF
Stéphane de Greef’s selfie of him zeroing in on a giant moth in the Royal Gardens.​​ STÉPHANE DE GREEF

Shutterbug captures insects for show

Local identity Stéphane de Greef will hold an exhibition of photos of insects living and lurking in Temple Town’s famous Royal Gardens. Miranda Glasser reports.

Awalk around Siem Reap’s Royal Gardens is always a delight with the manicured lawns and colourful flower-beds, but beneath the pristine parkland lurks a whole world that most of us ordinary folk don’t know about. Most of us, that is, apart from Stéphane de Greef, who is planning an exhibition of his insect life photography taken in the gardens.

Belgian bio-engineer and photographer De Greef says he wanted to document all the different varieties of insects, of which he has already found 150.

“The idea is to realise a photographic survey of all the different species,” he says. “Ninety per cent of the diversity of animals on this planet and in these gardens is invertebrates, so my work is about showing that there are a lot of things to see on your doorstep, in your backyard.”

De Greef, who admits he was the kid who was always out “digging in the garden, looking for insects, looking for fossils – and I’m still at it.

“There are so many different insects that nobody can actually put a name on each of them, and nobody has really started doing research on insects of Cambodia yet. I’d like to try and put all this information together.”

De Greef says some insects are easier to photograph than others. Moths and butterflies, for example, are typically shy subjects, although he did manage to stumble upon a giant moth.

“It’s incredible, sometimes you spend twenty minutes on a single tree, sometimes you just cross the grass and a lot of things jump out, sometimes you come across a giant moth hidden behind some leaves.”

De Greef was able to snap a quick selfie posing alongside said moth, which looks to be nearly the same size as his head.

“I would never have suspected the moths were there,” he says, “But until you start looking, you don’t see them. It was so huge I could see the edges of the wing sticking out of the leaves, so I just slid my Smartphone behind it, took a couple of shots, then it flew away.”

One of the more unusual insects De Greef photographed was the ‘bat fly’, so called because of its penchant for bats’ blood.

“It is the most unexpected fly you could think of,” he says. “We call it the bat fly because it has no wings, but has long legs like a spider, it’s very freaky. It walks like a spider, looks like a spider and specialises in living in the fur of bats and drinking their blood.”

“There’s no way you would find them elsewhere than in the company of bats, so they’re quite rare.”

The gardens are home to a colony of bats, and De Greef managed to get close enough to get a shot of a bat fly because he spotted one on the ground being pulled apart by ants.

“Weaver ants are the dominant species of that garden,” he says, “They’re all over the place, and they eat pretty much all the other insects they come across. The first time I saw this bat fly was because ants were eating it so I took a shot, thinking it was a spider.”

On closer inspection De Greef realised it wasn’t a spider and consulted his entomologist colleagues, who were extremely surprised to confirm its identity.

All these weird and wonderful creatures and more will be available to view at De Greef’s exhibition in the coming weeks.

He says the exhibition will probably be in one of the hotels around the Royal Gardens. “The idea would be that people look at the exhibition and say, ‘Wow that’s good, where is that?” And it’s just there. So they can go by themselves, or they can have me guide.”

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