Extraordinary Close-Up Images Show Insects Like You’ve Never Seen Them Before


The petrol blue wings of a swallowtail butterfly, the soft fur of a giant Patagonian bumblebee and the oil painted spots of a ladybug are some of the details captured by British photographer Levon Biss in a new book that documents the decline of insects.

Released November 22, « Extinct & Endangered: Insects in Peril » is a collaboration between Biss and the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). It features photographs of 40 insect species that are vulnerable, threatened or already extinct.

Biss spent two years photographing the insects, capturing every extraordinary detail, from the wisps of hair to the reflection in a wing. Each individual image was created from over 10,000 photographs taken using a bespoke platform and microscope objectives. They were then overlaid, producing a single shot that was fully focused and contained fine detail normally invisible to the human eye.

Using a special macro photography technique, Biss is able to capture the texture and exquisite beauty of the endangered Luzon Peacock Swallowtail. Credit: Levon Biss/American Museum of Natural History

He hopes the clarity of the photographs will allow the viewer to see the insects in a new light, inspiring respect for the tiny creatures that are too often seen as an irritation – waved with a shrug or squashed with the back of a book.

« I hope people can look at one of my images and marvel at the beauty of this thing, look at the engineering that nature has created within these insects – they are beautifully functional, » he said. -he declares.

Insects in crisis

Insects, whether beetles, bees or butterflies, are essential to the survival of the planet. Some are pollinators, helping to produce fruits and vegetables, others are decomposers, recycling plant and animal matter back into the soil, and many form the basis of the food chains that underpin natural ecosystems.

But globally, more than 40% of insect species are in decline and a third are endangered, with their rate of extinction eight times faster than mammals, birds and reptiles, according to a 2019 scientific review published in the journal Biological Conservation.
"Extinct and Endangered: Insects at Risk" is now available in hardcover.

« Extinct & Endangered: Insects in Peril » is now available in hardcover. Credit: Abraham

The majority are threatened by human actions, the report says, such as intensive agricultural practices and urbanization, which have led to severe habitat loss and pollution from pesticides and fertilizers. Biological factors such as pathogens and introduced species, as well as climate change are also key drivers.

Biss hopes the book « Extinct & Endangered » will raise awareness of the crisis of insect decline and the effect it will have on humans.

« Even though insects are small, they are the most populated animal or creature – and if we lose them there is a significant impact on the way we live, » he said.

« Unsung Heroes »

All the insects photographed in the book come from the archives of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, which contains more than 34 million artifacts and specimens in total. Almost 20 million of them are arthropods – insects, arachnids and crustaceans from all over the world.

The people photographed for the book were selected based on the condition of the specimen, its geographic range, its conservation status, and the extent of threats. “We really wanted stories attached to each of the specimens,” Biss said. « So that when someone reads the text of the image, they can understand, why did this thing disappear? Why is it disappearing? »

Biss says the book is written for all ages and he insisted that the global common name be used before the Latin name, breaking with the tradition of museum publishing.

The insect specimens were couriered to the UK, where Levon Biss photographed them in his studio.

The insect specimens were couriered to the UK, where Levon Biss photographed them in his studio. Credit: Elli Biss

« I want the text in these images to be understood by an eight-year-old boy or girl, and also by an 80-year-old man or woman, » he said. « It needs to be able to engage all walks of life, otherwise you limit the number of people you can affect. »

The release of the book, published by Abrams, coincides with an ongoing exhibit at the AMNH that opened in June, where the 40 images are enlarged in huge prints, some spanning eight feet wide.

Lauri Halderman, vice president of exposure at the AMNH, said she was thrilled the book shared its message with a global audience. « Insects are the unsung heroes of so many ecosystems, and our project draws attention to both their importance and the threats posed by their decline, » she said.

Biss specializes in macro photography that gets close to the subject. He photographed seeds and fruits in extraordinary detail, insect eggs, the human eye, and even mold growing on tea bags. But he thinks ‘Extinct & Endangered’ is one of the most meaningful projects of his career.

« If you hold on a pin an insect that will never fly on this planet again, mainly because of human influence, that’s humbling, » he said. « I want people to appreciate these creatures more, to understand the work they do for us and the value they have. »

cnn en2fr2en

Back to top button