Despite existing on separate continents thousands of miles apart, the Madeira brimstone and giant Patagonian bumblebee are experiencing similar hardships. The former, which inhabits the islands it inherits its name from, is dealing with an invasive species decimating the trees its caterpillars require pre-metamorphosis, while the latter has been struggling to survive in its native Chile after farmers introduced domesticated European bees to aid in crop pollination. Both species are in danger and are part of an ongoing exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History conveying what’s at stake if their species are lost entirely.
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Extinct and Endangered is comprised of massive, macro shots by Levon Biss, a British photographer who’s amassed a stunningly diverse collection of images with a variety of natural subject matter from dried seeds to iridescent insects. Biss often collaborates with institutions like the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and the Oxford Museum of Natural History, gaining access to their archives and selecting specimens. He then takes about 10,000 individual images using various lenses that are then stitched together to create extraordinarily detailed shots of beetles, moths, and butterflies.
From the American Museum of Natural History’s collection of more than 20 million, Biss chose just 40 creatures, some of which have already vanished. “To know an insect will never exist on this planet again, primarily because of human influence, is upsetting and emotional. And it’s humbling,” he told The New York Times. “As an artist, it’s the thing that drives me on to make that picture as good as it can be.”
Spanning up to eight feet, the photos are immense in scale and focused on each specimen’s striking forms, whether the undulating wings of the 17-year cicada or the intimidating tusk-like appendages of the lesser wasp moth. Biss hopes that Extinct and Endangered, which is on view through September 4, will raise awareness about the rapid decline in insect populations around the world. “I want people to be in awe of their beauty but to also be damn sad about why they’re being put in front of them,” he says.