A gallery at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History is crawling with beetles: snout beetles, also called weevils; ground beetles, which live in dirt; scarab beetles, as shiny as metal; stag beetles with long, pointy mandibles; longhorn beetles whose antennae go on forever.
A new exhibit, "Beauty and Beetle: Coleoptera in Art and Science'' in the New Haven museum, opened in time for summer vacation, celebrates bugs in three ways. Real specimens of colorful, unusual beetles are shown in cases. Enormous photographs hang nearby of five of the most spectacular bugs. Enormous silver found-metal sculptures of beetles are scattered around the floor, lording over the tiny real specimens.
"You can look at a beetle, but you can never imagine what they really look like," said photographer William Guth. "It's not what you look at that matters. What matters is what you see."
Guth took the showiest specimens among the five beetle groups, set them against a dark background and photographed them at about 15 times magnification. Printed on aluminum to enhance their glow, the photos show intricate details of the very bugs that are on display next to them.
A little brown-and-gray Malaysian stag beetle, which looks creepy in its display case, is transformed by macro photography into a shiny fighting machine, with serrated tips at the end of its long jawbone. Guth's photography turns a blue-and-black New Guinea clown weevil into a goofy, awkward monster, every hair on its antennae visible. An African spotted scarab, seen in a case with other metallic-shelled bugs, looks like a piece of jewelry in Guth's photo.
"In oversizing these gorgeous creatures, you can appreciate their details," said Leonard Munstermann, Peabody's entomology curator.
Munstermann said there are 400,000 described species of beetle in the world — and more than 10 million undescribed species — and the species are divided into 125 families.
New Haven sculptor Gar Waterman enhanced the exhibit with his sculptures, made from pieces of metal he salvages from a scrap yard. Waterman's sculptures are not intended to faithfully replicate real beetles, but are "paeans to the real creature."
"The beetles are examples of biodiversity we're losing," Waterman said. "Species are disappearing all the time."
BEAUTY AND THE BEETLE: COLEOPTERA IN ART AND SCIENCE is at Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, 170 Whitney Ave. in New Haven, until Aug. 6. Admission is $13, $9 seniors, $6 children ages 3 to 18 and college students with ID, free to ages 3 and younger. peabody.yale.edu.