For the Development project I document the growth and development of different animal species. But does that mean that all animals of a certain species grow the same way? There is only one clear answer to that question; ‘no’. I’m documenting the development of a certain individual of an animal species under a specific set of circumstances, because just as us humans, animals don’t all grow at the same pace.
There are different factors that influence the growth rate. An important aspect is temperature. For example, fish and amphibians of the same species grow faster at high temperatures. Another factor is how much food is available and the quality of the food. When competition for food is high, weaker individuals could be less developed than their stronger brothers and sisters and high protein food can speed up the growth rate. Animals that grow faster are not always healthier; if they grow too fast, it could harm them. It’s known that fish that are being kept on too high temperatures, have a shorter lifespan. The same goes for extreme large dog breeds. Chickens and chicks that are being kept on large farms and have to grow very fast for meat production, have all kinds of health issues, because their bodies can’t cope with such a rapid growth.
Same environment, but still a different growth rate
There can still be individual growth rates, even if the circumstances under which the animals grow are the same. The series I was able to finish of the Campell ducks this week, made that very clear. When there are multiple animals that are born on the same day, I usually take pictures of all of them, so I can select the best series. This was also the case with the ducklings. At the second photo shoot, we started to notice that one duck was visibly smaller than the others. As they got older, this noticeable difference was still there. There wasn’t only a variation in size, but also in their development. Ducklings are born with a kind of fluffy down and get their first feathers when they are a few weeks old. The biggest duck already had most of its feathers at four weeks old. The other two had no visible feathers whatsoever. A week later, duck number 2 clearly started to grow feathers and the slowest growing duck got them a week after that. Even at seven weeks old, the little one still had some fluff on his head and in other places, while his or her older (almost certainly) brother already had a finished plumage for nearly two weeks. With the other series, where I photographed a number of different individuals, the differences were not worth mentioning, so I published only one. With the ducklings, the differences were so significant, that I decided to add all three series to the project.
But if the growth rate can differ so much between individual animals of the same species, does it make sense to create a project like Development? In my opinion, the answer to this question is a definite ‘yes’. First of all, it’s photography and not science. The main goal is to document growth and not to draw any conclusions based on my observations. That’s not my job as a photographer and I’m more than happy to leave that to the scientists. I only record the facts as I see them. The images are truthful and not manipulated. Therefore, they still give the viewer a good idea of the development of a certain species. By comparing the development of more than one animal of the same species, like I did with the Campell ducks, I can show that the growth rate can vary between individuals and that this is also an important aspect of animal growth and development.