For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


Cornelia Hesse-Honegger’s hyperrealistic renderings of marine life and cute ladybugs made her known through upmarket art magazines. Her watercolors were shown in Europe and New York.

Now, her work disturbs. Hesse-Honegger, 49, paints insects that she believes have been deformed by radioactivity. As an illustrator at Zurich University’s Zoological Institute, she grew increasingly concerned about the mutations she observed in routine genetic studies in the lab. Then, in April 1986, came Chernobyl.

“I worried about the effect on insects,” says Hesse-Honegger. “The scientists pooh-poohed any danger. I decided to see for myself.” Near Chernobyl’s restricted zone, and in high-fallout areas in Sweden and Switzerland, she found bugs with deformities on their bodies, wings, feelers, limbs, and eyes.

She has since gathered misshapen insects from around England’s Sellafield nuclear plant and Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania. “Normally,” says Hesse-Honegger, “about 1 percent [of insects] may be born damaged.” But at Three Mile Island, for instance, she found that the number was as high as 15 percent to 20 percent.

Scientists, meanwhile, remain skeptical–with some exceptions. Says Joan Davis, a water protection specialist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, “Maybe low-level radiation is playing havoc with life. Numbers alone don’t seem to move us, [but] pictures leave behind a loud and clear signal that something is desperately wrong.”

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate