Extraordinary close-up pictures present bugs as you have by no means seen them earlier than


The teal blue wings of a swallowtail butterfly, the soft fur of a giant Patagonian bumblebee and the oil stains of a ladybug are some of the details British photographer Levon Biss has captured in a new book documenting insect decline.

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

Biss spent two years photographing the insects, capturing every extraordinary detail, from strands of hair to the reflection in a wing. Each individual image was created from over 10,000 photographs taken with a custom rig and microscope lenses. They were then layered on top of each other, creating a single shot that is fully focused and contains tiny details 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. Recognition: Levon Biss/American Museum of Natural History

He hopes the clarity of the photographs will allow viewers to see insects in a new light and inspire respect for the tiny creatures that are all too often seen as a nuisance – shrugged off or with their backs crushed a book.

“Hopefully people can look at one of my pictures and just marvel at how beautiful this thing is, look at the engineering that nature has created in these insects – they’re wonderfully functional,” he said.

Insects in Crisis

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

But globally, more than 40% of insect species are in decline and a third are endangered, with their extinction rate eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles, according to a 2019 scientific report published in the journal Biological Conservation.

Extinct & Endangered: Insects in Peril is now available in hardcover. Recognition: abrams

The majority are threatened by human activity, the report said, including intensive farming 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 important drivers.

Biss hopes the book Extinct & Endangered will raise awareness of the insect extinction crisis and the impact it will have on humans.

“Even though insects are small, they’re the most populous animal or creature out there — and when we lose them, it has a significant impact on the way we live,” he said.

“Unsung Heroes”

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

The people photographed for the book were chosen based on the condition of the specimen, its geographic range, state of conservation, and extent of threats. “We really wanted each of the specimens to have stories attached to them,” Biss said. “So someone reading the text of the picture can understand why this thing is gone? Why is it disappearing?”

Biss says the book was written for all ages, and he insisted that the world’s common name be used before the Latin name, in a departure from the tradition of museum publication.

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

The insect samples were couriered to the UK where Levon Biss photographed them in his studio. Recognition: Just Elly

“I want the text for these images to be understandable by an eight-year-old boy or girl and also by an 80-year-old man or woman,” he said. “It has to be able to involve all walks of life, otherwise you limit the number of people you can influence.”

The release of the Abrams-edited book coincides with an ongoing exhibition at AMNH, which opened in June, where the 40 images are enlarged in giant prints, some stretching eight feet.

Lauri Halderman, Vice President of Exhibitions at AMNH, said she looks forward to the book getting its message across to a global audience. “Insects are the unsung heroes in so many ecosystems, and our project draws attention to both their importance and the threats of their demise,” she said.

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

“When you hold an insect by a needle that will never fly on this planet again, largely due to human influence, it’s a humbling experience,” he said. “I want people to appreciate these creatures more, understand the work they do for us and the value they have.”