Pay attention to insects.
Many pollinate plants. Some recycle plant and animal matter into the soil. They are food for countless other living things—and for one another, often keeping pest populations in check. Whether beetles, bees or butterflies, insects help natural ecosystems stay healthy.
But the evidence is clear: many insect species are in decline. The ones featured here are vulnerable, imperiled—or have already disappeared—and human changes to the land and climate are primary reasons. Working with specimens from the collections of the American Museum of Natural History, photographer Levon Biss invites us to look closely at these insects—and to reflect on their importance to the planet we share.
WHAT’S HARMING INSECTS?
It’s all about our footprint on the planet.
Humans use about 40 percent of Earth’s land surface to raise crops and livestock. Many farming practices—cutting down forests, vast fields of just one type of plant—lead to extensive habitat loss for insects. As cities grow, construction and suburban sprawl often mean paving over natural areas, leaving many insects without a home.
Climate change is affecting insects in ways we are only beginning to understand. Rising temperatures and changing precipitation patterns throw plant and insect interactions out of sync, reducing pollination and available food for insects. Heat waves can kill insects and impede their ability to reproduce, while milder winters enable insect outbreaks that harm ecosystems. And these are just a few of numerous, complex examples.
Pesticides and Fertilizers
Each year, we use millions of tons of pesticides and herbicides on farm crops, lawns and more. But these chemicals don’t just kill plants or pests—other insects are put at risk, too. Yield-enhancing fertilizers also pose a threat. They seep into soil and water, polluting ecosystems and endangering aquatic and land insects.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP INSECTS
Pay attention to them!
Vote for insects.
After a single town in Canada successfully banned pesticides, more than 180 others did the same. Vote for the world you want – support candidates that prioritize habitat protection and scientific research.
Whether you have a tiny balcony or a big garden, you can give insects spaces to find native flowers or spots to nest. Even a simple pot of flowers will help.
Create an insect-friendly yard.
If possible, replace grass with nectar-rich flowers and shrubs. Avoid herbicides and don’t mow as frequently: from dandelions to clover, weedy plants help bees and other insects.
Turn down the lights.
Lights at night can disorient insects and help predators find them more easily. Turn off unnecessary outdoor lights at night.
Participate in community science.
Nature centers and entomologists often need help tracking local insect migrations, abundance and more. To find a community science project near you, try iNaturalist.org.
Support organizations that protect insects.
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation in the U.S. and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust in the U.K. are good places to start.
Value open-space preservation.
Preserving interconnected natural areas is of real value for insects and other wildlife. Within cities, research shows urban parks and wild lands can support healthy insect populations.