When it comes to artistic representation, whether high (Kafka’s Metamorphosis) or low (Men in Black), insects tend to inspire fear and revulsion. But it doesn’t have to be that way, says Petra Sierwald, an associate curator at the Field Museum. The German-born scientist consulted on its exhibit Fantastic Bug Encounters! (opening June 28), which features a bug zoo and lifelike displays from Weta Workshop, the New Zealand special effects studio that animated the creatures from Lord of the Rings. Here, Sierwald gives the lowdown.
Why are insects so misunderstood?
Spiders have eight legs and eight eyes all around the head, and they move sideways and very fast. They look alien to us, and frightening, which makes them hard to understand.
How does studying insects differ from studying other animals?
There are about 5,000 species of mammals on the planet. But there are 47,000 species of spiders alone and 400,000 species of beetles. If there is any nutrient to be gained on earth, presumably there is an insect there eating it.
What is the value of people learning more about these small creatures?
The more you know about an organism, you know how to deal with it. You know that it’s not a threat. There is no reason to step on a spider, really — there are no spiders in Chicago that can hurt you. Insects won’t inherit the earth. They own it now. We’d better make peace with the landlord.