Insects decreasing: electromagnetic radiation a prime suspect





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Insect exhibition at Brenthurst




Written by Lucille Davie   

Monday, 17 March 2008

Beautifully drawn scientific drawings of beetles

Creepy crawlies of all shapes and sizes are on show at a fascinating art exhibition at Little Brenthurst, including representations in paintings, drawings, wirework and beadwork.

Ceramic creation, covered in insectsCeramic creation, covered in insects

IF you see ants simply as nuisance insects that invade your sandwiches on picnics, while bees hover over your Coke can, stop a moment and reconsider.

The South African Invertebrate Art Exhibition at Little Brenthurst is hoping to get everyone to think again about insects. The exhibition is an effort to draw attention to the decreasing numbers of insects, the earth's barometer of how the environment is faring.

"The exhibition hopes to engage the average person and hopefully create an interest in and appreciation of these wonderful creatures and it highlights the beauty and uniqueness of invertebrates," says Strilli Oppenheimer, in whose home the exhibition is being held.

Butterflies, caterpillars, beetles, ants, grasshoppers and lots of other creepy crawlies abound in a variety of media: precise scientific drawings, beautifully detailed Ardmore-like ceramics, large wire insects, intricate beaded insects, carved wooden insects and colourful embroidered insects.

There are artworks from 100 artists, ranging from scientists to artists like Walter Oltmann and Beezy Bailey. They come from the Everard Read Gallery, the Goodman Gallery, the African Art Centre, the National Insect Collection and a number of South African invertebrate artists.

Naturalist EO Wilson, a Harvard professor emeritus and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, puts the number of animal and plant species on earth at 1,8 million, the large majority of which are insects. Wilson says that if insects are destroyed, life on earth will also be destroyed.

"This exhibition aims to promote interest in invertebrate science, conservation and awareness through art," says Duncan MacFadyen, the manager of research and conservation for E Oppenheimer & Son.

It has been found that insect populations are declining, and the likely causes are multiple - loss of habitat, use of insecticides, pollution, light and possibly electromagnetic devices in the form of cellphones and their masks, radar, alarm systems, wireless internet, cordless phones, TV and microwaves.

Insects are essential for several reasons: they are very much a part of the Earth's food webs; they contribute to seed dispersal and pollination; they recycle nutrients; and they are scavengers and therefore cleansers of the earth.

Dwindling numbers
Oppenheimer commissioned a study of insects in the Gauteng area, conducted by doctors Matt Clark and Peter Hawkes; she had noticed that in her 45-acre Brenthurst garden, the number of insects had declined.

Walter Oltmann's wire caterpillarWalter Oltmann's wire caterpillar

"I started asking these questions 10 years ago when a 95 percent decrease in the sparrow population occurred in London, which appeared parallel with the massive growth in the usage of cellphones. It is possible this decrease could be a result of a decrease in insects and therefore there not being enough insects to feed their young," she said.

She has slowly converted pretty flowering beds to natural grasslands in her large garden.

The researchers chose 24 sites, including a section of the Brenthurst garden, the undisturbed Melville Koppies, and a pristine area of the Pretoria Botanical Gardens, as well as the planted beds around the offices of the gardens. They focused on studying ants and beetles, and among their findings were three new species - a jewel beetle, a large-eyed bug and an ant.

They found 16 species of ants and 30 species of ants in Brenthurst and Melville Koppies, respectively, and five species of beetles at each site. "Melville Koppies is really effective in maintaining biodiversity," Clark said at the exhibition opening on Tuesday, 11 March.

Habitat loss
Clark and Hawkes concluded that there was a significant local loss of insects because of habitat loss and degradation. This habitat takes decades to return to previous levels of biodiversity once disturbed, meaning that undisturbed grasslands have significant conservation value. They suggested that urban planning should allow for conservation areas. They found, too, that electromagnetic factors were significant in the decline of insect populations.

The exhibition is a precursor to the XXII International Congress of Entomology, to be held in Africa for the first time. It takes place at the International Conference Centre in Durban from 6 to 12 July this year. Entomologists from more than 45 countries will be presenting their research at the gathering.

"This meeting will present a wonderful opportunity for South African and African entomologists to display their excellent research and to meet and mix with world-class entomologists," MacFadyen said.

The art exhibition will move to the congress venue in Durban, where a live interactive exhibition of arthropods will be held for children.

The South African Invertebrate Art Exhibition is at Little Brenthurst until the end of April; however, booking is essential, and includes a tour of the exhibition. Phone Dora on 011 646 1529 - the limited tour days are filling up fast. Tours of the gardens of Brenthurst are also available.