Insects in Peril
Pay attention to insects. Many pollinate plants. Some recycle plant and animal matter into the soil. They are food for countless other living things—and for one another, often keeping pest populations in check. Whether beetles, bees or butterflies, insects help natural ecosystems stay healthy.
But the evidence is clear: many insect species are in decline. The ones featured here are vulnerable, imperilled—or have already disappeared—and human changes to the land and climate are primary reasons.
Extraordinary images are at once our most familiar and our most mysterious fellow creatures. They seem indestructible, but on a global scale, insect species are quietly disappearing in today’s sixth mass extinction of life.
This joint project by photographer Levon Biss and the American Museum of Natural History contains indelible images of 40 extinct or endangered species in the museum’s collection, selected from its vast holdings by a team of scientists. Photographer Levon Biss invites us to look closely at these insects and reflect on their importance to our shared planet.
They range from endangered old friends such as the monarch butterfly and the nine-spotted ladybug to the distant Lord Howe Island phasma of Australia, thought to be extinct for most of the 20th century until a small population was discovered and bred in captivity in 2001.
All were sent to Biss’s studio, where he created imposing portraits that can be enlarged 300 times life-size to reveal vivid detail on a full page of form and colour – a world invisible to our naked eyes. The result is a book that insists on the momentous significance of these small, mostly unknown creatures.
Biss, L. and American Museum of Natural History (2022) Extinct & Endangered: Insects in Peril. New York: Harry Abrams