'Repurposing' natural beauty: how do we respond?

In the past, I’ve come across stories of people using taxidermist techniques to create sculpture ‘art’ out of (usually) smaller animals dressed and posed in typically human scenarios. These craftspeople usually mention that they get their animal bodies from (certainly renewable) sources like roadkills, pest control, etc. Not cultivated or pet stores.

And of course, in virtually every tourist souvenir shop the world over you will find countless examples of ‘repurposed’ animal corpses and parts used in crafted items.

Today I came across this story of someone doing similar stuff with insect parts to create miniature warrior models.

As a lover of insects in the wild, I have to admit this story made me nervous and a little worried, and in particular this bit about sourcing:

“… harvests the bug body parts from insects he finds on walks or purchases them from wholesalers.”

But I’m thinking what’s most upsetting is that this story is being positioned to the public as a ‘Good News’ story.

It makes me think that as amateur naturalists, we have a lot of work to do in reshaping public opinion about insects.

And for stories like this, how do we respond to get more people to appreciate and protect NATURAL beauty without coming across as too ‘trigger-happy’? I suspect that there is no intentional disregard for insect life going on here, and that the craftsperson is really just reflecting the public’s central disregard and uninformed opinion about these important and often threatened lifeforms.

Is it time to speak out? What should we say against the ‘repurposing’ of wild insect stock for fun and/or profit?

And just how serious a conservation problem is the world of insect wholesaling?


What I know about this is limited and it’s all based on what I’ve seen my family do. I have a lot of hunters in my family and they hunt to eat, but will also use pieces they don’t eat for other stuff, like fishing bait, utilizing hides and sometimes stuffing, which is similar to what you mentioned here. They definitely do not purchase anything to do this so that makes me feel more accepting of their decisions. It still make me very uncomfortable and it’s extremely not for me, but it’s done with a moral compass, I guess.

It seems unfortunate to do stuff like this (in general, but more so) without consideration or morals behind it and really concerning that somebody wouldn’t highlight why it’s ethical, assuming they’d want people to think they’re being ethical. And it seems like the article you read didn’t even attempt to show it from that angle. So that’s real scary to me.


Is it mentioned there if those parts are from alive insects or not?


Here’s what they said in the piece about the process:

Joos Habraken creates these insectoid sculptures, measuring from 8 to 15 centimeters tall, out of between 30 and 100 pieces of dead insects.

Each sculpture can contain parts from up to 30 individual insect species including beetles, grasshoppers, mantises, and butterflies.

Joos harvests the bug body parts from insects he finds on walks or purchases them from wholesalers.

Here a link they provided to a YouTube video about the work (IDers should have fun with these):



Well, if those are from dead insects, I don’t see it as disregard for natural beauty, it’s an artist seeing more in what is already there, maybe they could look deeper into it, but maybe they already are doing that or were before starting this project.


And you’re probably right. Except it isn’t that clear. I mean, wouldn’t almost any part, by necessity, come from a (now) dead specimen?


You know how children play but getting legs and wings off a fly? Fly stays alive. I hope if insects were killed it would be mentioned.


Oh - lost me - Belgian artist uses the bones of insects.
Here is a less clickbaity version, with my bolding.

A young biology graduate and former taxidermist. He only uses body parts from already dead bugs and would never even consider killing insects simply to fuel his hobby.


When I was a little girl, I had friends who would pull the “lights” off lightning bugs and use them as jewelry. I hated it. I loved lightning bugs and thought it was cruel. So, my initial reaction is that this just seems a more complex and aesthetically pleasing version of that. It’s not for me–at all. That said, as long as he’s not out killing insects (especially endangered insects), I guess it’s OK. (It’s unclear if he’s collecting and killing insects or just finding dead ones.) I assume the ones from the supplier are raised and euthanized for the purpose (which does not make me happy, but . . .) I just think it still looks like a bunch of different insects mashed together. I’m not sure it’s a huge environmental issue–my personal preference is against it, but then I hated all the dead body sculptures when they were popular too.


Ah, just saw this–dead insects–seems like less and environmental issue and more about what appeals to individuals as art. I’m not a fan but OK.


A niche market for a very limited supply.
His customers would share his passionate interest in - whose wing, leg, head, and what is that bit of who??


But it mentions purchasing insects from wholesalers, those most definitely have been raised and killed solely for the trade. Unless its something like bees that have died naturally that are purchased from apiarists. I can’t imagine “wholesalers” dealing in insects dying of natural causes.


For me, there’s a difference between hunting an animal for food/clothing and putting a trophy head on the wall. I don’t care for art made from dead animals, even if they were all scavenged (but clearly if he’s buying insects they’re not all scavenged). There is a lack of respect inherent in treating dead animal parts just like any other inanimate material for art, like clay or paper or paint. After millennia of slashing and slaying, what we humans need is more respect for the natural world, not to find new ways to use it for our purposes.


Those wholesalers may be getting them from insect farms where they are raised for slaughter.

If we think about it, though – how long have fur-bearing mammals been trapped and killed for their natural beauty? A mink or sable coat, a top hat made of beaver felt… the historical prominence of the Hudson’s Bay Company, the trade with China in sea otter pelts. And let’s not forget the reason for the National Wildlife Refuge System – the wholesale killing of wild birds for ladies’ hats.

We look back on those times as less enlightened; but maybe the switch to insects is merely pragmatic, in that they are what is left now that birds and mammals are regulated or protected.


I’m sure any taxidermist would say a complete opposite thong, saving dead animal is the biggest respect possible, it’s beautiful, it’s often practical, we shouldn’t try to make our species to be an ethereal entity and not just part of animal lineage that liked collecting things even before H. sapiens evolved.


To me this is the problematic portion.

The word harvest in particular extremely so, because I suspect specism. If someone referred to “harvesting canine body parts” or harvesting feline body parts" for an artistic endeavor, even from the most peacefully of deceased animals, the world would rightfully feel repulsed. But somehow these insects are being treated as free for the taking without so much as a thought, even as we know how fragile some species’ existence and how much our existence relies on insects.

I actually am of the mindset that drawing attention in fact inflames interest in art of this type rather than educates those who make or purchase it, so my inclination is to continue to avoid clicking any link that might benefit such or any website deriving traffic from writing about such.

That’s the part I’m having trouble with too. Maybe it’s commercial exotic insect breeders’ stock that for whatever reason (and I’m sure there could be many!) met their demise before shipping and were normally disposed of.

This also made me wonder about a list of industries besides pet breeders, that depend on insect harvesting, whether farmed or from nature.

Obviously in farm, we do have a growing number of cricket ranches and mealworm factories. Protein factories would probably be more accurate. And more and more they are being worked into food for humans. That’s probably a very good thing in the overall equation.

I know about Mexican chocineal production, but are there other goods that are directly linked to insect consumption?

1 Like

No. I am wrong. I have sat with this for a bit, and it is the “body parts” aspect.

Still specism, but it is the body parts. If anyone did the same thing with canines or felines, cut bodies apart then stuck various pieces of different bodies together and called it art, the reaction would be… different.

(And I am reminded deep in my soul of terrible epochs leading to body parts of persons who did not die naturally being collected and/or amassed and/or displayed.)

It took me a bit to figure out the why of why it felt wrong (I just knew it was, felt like Potter Stewart), but now I know: for me, it is the body parts.

1 Like

Read the second link? I imagine it would be insects that died before they could be sold alive. This would be treating the remains with respect, instead of chucked in landfill.


Honey? How many bees die while honey is farmed across the world. As grim as battery chickens and their eggs.

There is a much older history of using beetle wings for fashion. These tiny sculptures are a trivial amount by comparison.

I hunted for a ‘fashion’ story. But someone can probably find an entomological history link about which species, and the volume ‘harvested’. Perhaps species driven into extinction because I must have THAT colour on my ballgown. Or THAT bird on my hat.

Oh - and even in 2012!!

Beetle-wing dress for Charlize Theron’s Queen Ravenna , 2012

1 Like