South Florida Museum puts spotlight on moths

The lowly moth. It is most recognizable as that pesky little insect that somehow finds a way to get trapped in our homes, annoying us by fluttering around anything that gives off light. But the South Florida Museum's newest exhibit, "Night Flyers and Day Trippers: Florida Moth Images by Joseph Scheer" pays more respect to the moth. Presenting the insect as a beautiful masterpiece of nature, bursting with color and design. Call it art meets nature. "This is a real visual exhibit," said Suzanne White, director of exhibits and collections at the museum. "It's art, biology and technology." The exhibit, which will be displayed at the museum through Jan. 11, features 29 enlarged images of Florida moths along with specimens of the insect group. They include the Baned Tussock Moth, the Spanish Moth, the Tulip-tree Silkmoth, the Salt Marsh Moth and the Luna Moth. The magnified images are developed through a process of digital scanning technology, allowing for high resolution views that are similar to viewing the moths under a microscope. "When this is enlarged, they just take your breath away," said White. The result are wings that look like colorful tapestries of feathers and moth bodies that resemble coats of thick speckled fur. The images, presented on heavy watercolor paper, are produced with large format ink jet printers. Scheer, who is a professor of print media and the co-director/founder of the Institute for Electronic Arts at the School of Art and Design at Alfred University in New York, said he's tried to keep the moths in their natural state by not digitally manipulating the images. What you see is what you get in nature.

THE MOTH FASCINATION Like many great ideas, the moth exhibit began as an accident. Several years ago, when a new high resolution scanner was being installed at Scheer's institute, the installer wanted to test it out. Scheer grabbed the closest thing at his finger tips, which just happened to be a gnat flying nearby, and gave it to the installer. What they saw from the scan blew Scheer's mind. "This little creature that I had always dismissed had pearlescent wings, faceted eyes and hairs all over its body," he said. That test scan turned into Scheer's newest project. He scanned about 500 specimens of butterflies, dragonflies, moths, wasps, bees and damselflies. But it was the moths that kept catching his eye. He decided to concentrate on a long-term project that explored their beauty. "I think (moths) mostly are taken for granted," he said. There are 150,000 species of moths, according to the museum. Some are day creatures, some thrive at night and others are active during both day and night hours. Moths are much more plentiful than butterflies by a ratio of 12 to 1. Plus, the insects have existed 100 million years longer than their butterfly cousins. It is estimated that another 70,000-90,000 species have yet to be discovered and named by scientists, according to exhibit facts. The exhibit at the South Florida Museum was designed specifically with emphasis on Florida moths, but Scheer has documented dozens more from around the globe. "It's become my life's work," he said. "To get images." So far, Scheer has collected more than 1,000 species of moths through travels to Australia, China, Costa Rica and other parts of the world. Those discoveries are highlighted in his books, "Night Visions, the Secret Design of Moths" and "Night Flyers." His goal is to capture as many as he can. White is excited about hosting the exhibit in Bradenton. She hopes it will give attendants an appreciation for beauty that is often hidden to the naked eye. "I want to give the visitors a new way to see things," said White.

IF YOU GOWhat: "Night Flyers and Day Trippers: Florida Moth Images by Joseph Scheer"When: Through Jan. 11Where: South Florida Museum, 201 10th St. W., BradentonHours: The museum is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and noon-5 p.m. SundayAdmission: $15.95 adults, $13.95 seniors and $11.95 children ages 4-12Information: 746-4131 or visit www.southflorida