Question Sheet: Nature’s Alphabet


Before reading:

  1. In what ways are photographs important for understanding nature?
  2. Can scientific photographs or images be considered art? For examples, see (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) or (Visions of Science).

During reading:

  1. What inspired Sandved to begin looking for the alphabet in nature?
  2. What are the easiest shapes and symbols to find in nature? Why?
  3. Why might animals have intricate patterns?
  4. Why does Sandved love the quote “All finite things reveal infinitude.”?
  5. How and where are Sandved’s butterfly and nature alphabets used?

After reading:

  1. How are science and art similar? In what ways are they different?
  2. Why do you think that people might notice familiar symbols and letters in


  3. What animals (besides butterflies) do you think offer a lot of different

    shapes and letters? Why?

  4. Why might an artist be interested in the Smithsonian Institution’s

    scientific collections? See Institution).

  5. Do you think that Sandved’s butterfly and nature alphabets help kids learn

    the letters of the alphabet? Why or why not?

  6. Which of the photographs in this article do you like the best? Why?


Sandved has traveled to a lot of places to take pictures of nature, including Panama, Brazil, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Malaysia, and many states of the United States. To which country or state would you go to photograph plants and animals that show letters of the alphabet, numbers, or other symbols and patterns? How would you get there? Create a plan for your visit, listing where you would go and what you would look for.


  1. Write a letter to Sandved describing what you think of his photographs. Include a sentence or two about something that you might like to see him photograph for you.
  2. Who was Theodore Roethke? When and where did he live? See (The Academy of American Poets) or

    (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign). Find a poem written by Roethke. See, for example, (Amanda Erickson). How important is nature in this poem?


Arnold is at the zoo. He takes a picture of a 1-meter-long snake stretched out right in front of a brick wall. When he prints his picture, the 1-meter snake is 2 centimeters long and the wall is 4.5 centimeters high in the image. What’s the actual height of the brick wall in centimeters?