insects

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Photography Science

In ‘Extinct and Endangered,’ Photographer Levon Biss Magnifies the Potential Loss of Insects Around the Globe

June 28, 2022

Grace Ebert

Madeira brimstone. All images © Levon Biss, courtesy of the American Museum of Natural History, shared with permission

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.

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.

 

Raspa silkmoth

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.

Prints of the collection are available on Biss’s site, and you can explore an extensive archive of his works on Instagram.

 

Ninespotted lady beetle

Giant Patagonian bumblebee

Sabertooth longhorn beetle

17-year cicada

Blue calamintha bee

Lesser wasp moth

 

 



Photography

2022 BigPicture Competition Highlights the Resilient and Striking Biodiversity Around the World

June 14, 2022

Grace Ebert

“The Stoat’s Game” by Jose Grandío, Terrestrial Life Finalist. All images courtesy of BigPicture Natural World Photography Competition, originally published in bioGraphic, shared with permission

Stoats, a type of short-tailed weasel, are known for their mesmerizing dances, a distraction tactic that involves twists and leaps like the one captured by photographer Jose Grandío. Jumping above the snowy landscape, the ermine bends its tiny body and opens its mouth in an extravagant gesture. Grandío’s shot is one of a dozen winners in the 2022 BigPicture Natural World Photography competition, which showcases the stunning diversity of life around the world. Similar to the 2021 contest, this year’s iteration focuses on the risk the climate crisis poses to the ecosystem and creatures so deftly captured by an international group of photographers. See some of our favorite images below, and find all of the winning shots on the competition’s site.

 

“Bee Balling,” by Karine Aigner, Grand Prize Winner

“Tunnel Vision” by Tom Shlesinger, Aquatic Life Finalist

“After the Fall” by David Slater, Aquatic Life Winner

“Frame Within a Frame” by Sitaram May, Winged Life Winner

“Hidden Beauty” by Tom St George, Landscapes, Waterscapes, and Flora Winner

“Spider Web” by Bence Máté, Terrestrial Life Winne

“Face to Face” by Fernando Constantino Martínez Belmar, Human/Nature Finalist

 

 



Art

Massive Butterflies Alight on Architecture in Larger-Than-Life Trompe L’oeil Murals by Mantra

June 1, 2022

Kate Mothes

All images © Mantra, shared with permission

In October 2020, a remarkable scene unfolded on the side of a building in the neighborhood of Jussieu in Versailles, France. Larger-than-life ladybug legs scurry along a stem, violet flowers blossom, and ornate butterflies perch on delicate petals. During the course of six days, the French street artist Mantra completed the painting “Là où fleurit l’émerveillement,” which translates to “where wonder flourishes,” using rollers and brushes to apply acrylic painting to the multistory residential building. In the neighborhood named for French botanist Bernard de Jussieu (1699-1777), the artist pays tribute to nature and local wildlife.

Known for his trompe l’oeil murals of butterflies encased in enormous specimen display boxes, his recent paintings, including “Three Butterflies for Lana” completed last month in Lana, Italy, take a wilder approach to the insects. Drawing on childhood memories of exploring wildlife near his family’s home, the new murals are composed from photographs the artist took in his mother’s garden in Lessy. Referencing the shallow depth of field captured with his camera, Mantra pays special attention to bokeh—faithfully recreating the blurry background that blends the work with the surrounding environment, highlighting the vibrant colors and varied patterns of petals, wings, and leaves.

You can find more of Mantra’s work on Instagram.

 

Image © Andrea Karoline Eder

 

 



Documentary Food

An Ethereal Documentary Illuminates the Booming Grasshopper Harvest in Uganda

May 24, 2022

Grace Ebert

In the Luganda language, the word nsenene describes the long-horned grasshoppers that are the backbone of a robust industry in Uganda. The nocturnal insects are a crunchy delicacy, often served boiled or fried, and are harvested in incredible quantities during the rainy seasons in May and November. A poetic documentary directed and produced by Michelle Coomber follows locals as they set up precarious traps and gather hordes of the crickets under the nighttime sky.

Narrated by a grasshopper hunter named Ibrah, “Nsenene” peers through the darkness and smoke from a nearby fire to illuminate the collection process. The insects are attracted to bright bulbs strung up around tall iron panels, which stun the crickets and drop them into the open drums at the base. “We add smoke so the light makes a lens in the sky, and the grasshoppers get drunk on the smoke. They fall into the barrels like fat raindrops on a tin roof,” the narrator says.

The noisy crickets, though, are also imbued in lore. “There are so many beliefs, like, if a pregnant woman ate them, her child would have a grasshopper head,” says Ibrah, whose family has participated in the industry for generations. “Some people believe they come from water in the lakes. Others say they emerge from the soil like ants. I believe they’re not from this world.”

Coomber has garnered multiple awards for “Nsenene” from Raindance, Sydney Short Film Festival, and Fargo Film Festival, to name a few, and you can watch more of her works on her site and Vimeo. (via Short of the Week)

 

 

 



Photography Science

Billions of Fireflies Light Up an Indian Wildlife Reserve in Rare Footage Captured by Sriram Murali

May 23, 2022

Kate Mothes

In many parts of the world, a warm summer evening sets the stage for a familiar sight: the lightning bug. Through a phenomenon called bioluminescence, these winged beetles generate chemical reactions in a part of their abdomen known as the lantern to produce flickers of light. Of more than 2,000 species found throughout the world, only a handful coordinate their flashes into patterns and are known as synchronous fireflies. Filmmaker Sriram Murali captured a rare gathering of billions of these insects at the Anamalai Tiger Reserve in western Tamil Nadu, India.

Through a combination of moving image and time-lapse photography, Murali recorded countless specimens amidst the trees as they produce glowing pulses, which relay across the forest in expansive, wave-like signals. The color, brightness, and length of the light emitted is specific to each species, and as a part of the insects’ mating display, it helps males and females to recognize one another. Darkness is a necessary ingredient in the success of this ritual.

For the past ten years, Murali has been working to raise awareness of light pollution through a series of documentaries. Focusing on the reserve and its nighttime fauna, he hopes to highlight the significant role that darkness plays in the natural world. He has been collaborating with scientists and forest officials at the wildlife reserve as part of a project spearheaded by Deputy Director M.G. Ganesan to study the ecology of the park and identify the different species of firefly present there.

You can find more of Murali’s films on Vimeo and on his website and also follow his updates on Instagram. (via Petapixel)

 

 

 



Animation

Abstract Forms Evolve into Insects and Animals in a Hypnotic Animation by kanahebi

April 27, 2022

Grace Ebert

Chaotic masses of rounded shapes morph into insects, animals, and other organic lifeforms in a new animation by Hideki Inaba, aka kanahebi (previously). Drawing on the inevitability of change, “FLOW” opens with a small cluster of matter that swirls into a diatom-like disk. The digital renderings expand in size, form, and density throughout the short film as they contort into increasingly complex creatures from beetles and butterflies to birds and sweeping, radial motifs containing multiple species. For more of kanahebi’s mesmerizing animations, visit Vimeo and Instagram.