The giant Patagonian bumblebee, Bombus dahlbomii, is one of the world’s largest bumblebee species. It’s also endangered, with numbers dwindling since Chilean farmers introduced domesticated European bumblebees to help pollinate crops. The imported bees likely brought diseases or are outcompeting the native bees for favored flowers. © Levon Biss

New Exhibition Sounds The Alarm On Insect Decline Through 40 Large-format
Photographs Of Incredible But Imperiled Insect Species
From The Museum’s Research Collection

Opens to The Public on June 22, 2022

From bees to butterflies, insects help keep natural ecosystems healthy. But the evidence is clear: many insect species are in decline. A new exhibition opening at the American Museum of Natural History on June 22, 2022, Extinct and Endangered: Insects in Peril will introduce visitors to these tiny animals’ outsized impact on our planet through the uniquely powerful macrophotography of Levon Biss. The exhibition highlights 40 incredible but imperiled species, selected from specimens in the Museum’s world-class research collection, in large-format photographs as large as 4.5 by 8 feet, and will be on view in the Akeley Gallery and the adjacent East Galleria.

“We are delighted to showcase Levon Biss’s breathtaking photographs to engage, inspire, and educate our visitors about the critical need to conserve these glorious and diverse animals which, though small, are essential to Earth’s complex ecosystems,” said Ellen V. Futter, President of the American Museum of Natural History.  “We look forward to further educating about insects when we open the spectacular Solomon Family Insectarium next year as part of the Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation, which will also feature Biss’s stunning photography.” 

The exhibition highlights the incredible importance of insects to ecosystems around the world, the risks they face as a result of human activities—including human-induced climate change—as well as ongoing work around the globe to protect insect populations. The photographs feature extinct and endangered specimens—some more than 100 years old—selected from the Museum’s vast scientific collection, highlighting the magnificence of insects in extreme detail, making intricate features visible and aiming to shift visitors’ perspective of the value and importance of the insect world. The featured species range from the well-known monarch butterfly and the nine-spotted ladybug to the remote Lord Howe Island stick insect of Australia, thought to be extinct for most of the 20th century until a tiny population was discovered and bred in captivity starting in 2003. 

Each photograph in Extinct and Endangered takes about three weeks to create from up to 10,000 individual images shot using special lenses.

“There are two sides to this exhibition,” said Levon Biss. “There’s the beauty and the celebration of these creatures. But there’s also a somberness, when you marvel at these insects and start to understand that they are already extinct, or close to being gone, and the reason for that is us, primarily. I hope people will walk away from this exhibition with a realization that these animals are too beautiful to be lost. They are too important to be lost.”

Insects are the most diverse group of animals on the planet, accounting for 80 percent of animal life on Earth. More than one million species have been named by scientists, and many more have yet to be discovered. Extinct and Endangered will sound an alarm and call attention to the critical issue of insect decline on a global level.

 “Vertebrates are far better monitored and protected than most insects, a consequence of the fact that for most people insects are not just simply unknown but seriously misunderstood,” said David Grimaldi, the curator of Extinct and Endangered and a curator in the Museum’s Division of Invertebrate Zoology. “To a scientist concerned for all of nature, this focus on large animals is myopic. Take away the world’s mammals and the planet would not look much different; take away just the bees and other insect pollinators, the ants and termites, and life on land could collapse.”

The exhibition was developed along with a suite of companion products: a short video, digital interactive that will be on display in the gallery, and a lavish book, Extinct and Endangered, published by Abrams in Fall 2022 and featuring photography by Biss with a forward by Grimaldi. 

A different selection of insect photographs by Biss also will be on view in the forthcoming Susan and Peter J. Solomon Family Insectarium, which will open as part of the Museum’s Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation in winter 2022-23 The 5,000-square-foot Solomon Family Insectarium will introduce visitors to the extraordinary diversity and importance of the insect world through live and pinned specimens as well as graphic and digital displays, oversized models of honeybees, a monumental model bee hive, one of the world’s largest displays of live leafcutter ants, and displays about the insects of New York City.

Extinct and Endangered: Insects in Peril is curated by David Grimaldi, curator in the Museum’s Division of Invertebrate Zoology and photographed by Levon Biss.

The exhibition is designed and produced by the American Museum of Natural History’s award-winning Exhibition Department under the direction of Lauri Halderman, vice president for exhibition.

The Museum gratefully acknowledges Robert & Ipek Gibbins and Autonomy Capital for their leadership support of Extinct and Endangered.

Generous support has been provided by the Arthur Ross Foundation.

The American Museum of Natural History gratefully acknowledges Richard Gilder and the Gilder Foundation, Inc., whose leadership support has made the construction of the Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation possible.

The Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation is also made possible thanks to the generous support of the City of New York, the Council of the City of New York, the Manhattan Borough President, the State of New York, the New York State Assembly, and the New York State Senate.

Critical founding support has been provided by David S. and Ruth L. Gottesman; Kenneth C. Griffin; the Davis Family; the Bezos Family Foundation; Louis V. Gerstner, Jr.; the Susan and Peter J. Solomon Family; Judy and Josh Weston; the Macaulay Family Foundation; Katheryn C. Patterson and Thomas L. Kempner, Jr.; New York Life Foundation; the Seedlings Foundation in honor of Michael Vlock; the Susan S. and Kenneth L. Wallach Foundation; Valerie and Jeffrey Peltier; Morgan Stanley; The Marc Haas Foundation in honor of Robert H. Haines; the Hearst Foundations; David Yurman; the Charina Endowment Fund; Nancy B. and Hart Fessenden; Keryn and Ted Mathas; the Estate of Margaret D. Bishop; the Henry Peterson Foundation; and an anonymous donor.

ABOUT THE AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY (AMNH)
The American Museum of Natural History, founded in 1869, is one of the world’s preeminent scientific, educational, and cultural institutions. The Museum encompasses more than 40 permanent exhibition halls, including the Allison and Roberto Mignone Halls of Gems and Minerals which opened in 2021 and those in the Rose Center for Earth and Space plus the Hayden Planetarium, as well as galleries for temporary exhibitions. The Museum’s scientists draw on a world-class research collection of more than 34 million artifacts and specimens, some of which are billions of years old, and on one of the largest natural history libraries in the world. Through its Richard Gilder Graduate School, the Museum grants the Ph.D. degree in Comparative Biology and the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) degree, the only such free-standing, degree-granting programs at any museum in the United States. The Museum’s website, digital videos, and apps for mobile devices bring its collections, exhibitions, and educational programs to millions more around the world. Visit amnh.org for more information.

ABOUT LEVON BISS
Throughout his 25-year career, British photographer Levon Biss has covered a wide range of photographic genres, including portraiture, documentary, and sport. But he is renowned for his extreme closeup work, known as macrophotography. His work has been shown in numerous museums, on the covers of international magazines and he is the author of four books of macrophotography. Biss’s photographic process captures the finest of details and provides viewers with a unique visual experience. Each image takes approximately four weeks to create and is produced from 10,000 individual photographs using a bespoke camera system with microscopic lenses. The clarity in these photographs reveals intricate details normally hidden from the human eye and encourages a new level of respect for the insect world.