Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Insects in art during an age of environmental turmoil.

Abstract

Humans are reshaping the planet in impressive, and impressively self-destructive, ways. Evidence and awareness of our environmental impact has failed to elicit meaningful change in reversing our behavior. A multifaceted approach to communicating human-induced environmental destruction is critical, and art can affect our behavior by its power to evoke emotions. Artists often use insects in their works because of our intimate and varied relationship with this diverse, abundant lineage of animals. We surveyed work by 73 artists featuring insects or insect bodily products to gauge how extensively artists are addressing anthropogenic environmental distress, and what insects they are choosing as subjects in the process. Categories often cited as contributing to species extinction are (1) habitat destruction, (2) invasive species, (3) pollution, (4) human population, and (5) overharvesting. After adding insect-specific categories of (6) decline of insect pollinators and (7) the intentional modification or extermination of insects, we categorized our surveyed works, confirming categorizations with 53 of the living artists. Forty-seven percent of the artists addressed habitat destruction or climate change, but some other categories were severely underrepresented, with almost no work explicitly addressing overpopulation or overharvesting. Artists favored Hymenoptera (62%) over potentially more species-rich orders. Recognizing these biases could alert scientists, artists, and others to more effectively communicate messages of universal importance.