Beetle Mania

The intense joy of mounting a worthy bug in proper fashion

Everyone grabs up beetles with glee and begins the slow, careful process of stretching the insects' muscles. Bickert and I hesitate, wary of the tiny popping noises emanating from the stiff joints.

"They're stronger than you think," heartens Donald, a fact made painfully clear as we then try to uncross the sharp pincers jutting out of the beetles' jaws. "Those are tremendously strong. Used for boring into wood."

At last, I am ready to pin. Emanuel Feld, Sergio's 10-year-old son, is already finished, having replicated a lifelike gait with his specimen and achieved the artful question-mark sweep of antennae that is to become his trademark. Drennan and I are last, compulsively pinning and repinning, angling and reangling, counting squares, inspecting symmetry, accepting failure.

"You could get a little obsessive with this," chuckles Drennan.

"I went for a natural look, a little tilt of the head, a little off center," says 26-year-old Shannon Amidon, who comes up from San Jose at least once a month to purchase bug parts, railroad spikes, eggs, and the like for her assemblage art.

Twenty-seven-year-old Cheri Wongalso hopes to incorporate her new skill into her art: jewelry making. Her rings, which feature tiny clusters of ladybugs trapped in resin, have already earned a place at Paxton Gate, but with bigger bugs, there are bigger possibilities. "I broke the antennae on this one," says Wong, indicating a tiny pile of forlorn body parts, "so it'll go in a terrarium like this one." She points to a small citadel made of lead-framed glass and filled with succulents.

Next come the butterflies, yellow-, gold-, and russet-hued Speyeria cyble, captured at Weeley's Landing in Missouri. The scales on their wings are so delicate they may be handled only between pieces of smooth paper. There are a few wing tears here and there throughout the class, but overall, with these bugs, there is less to obsess on; the bodies are largely hidden by the pearly wings.

Bickert recalls taking a butterfly-netting class as a child, where she was taught to stun the insects by pinching their thoraxes before dropping them in the killing jar.

"It was painless that way," says Bickert. The Harris boys seem to appreciate the kindness.

"They've been all through South America," explains their father, Daniel Harris, "and they've collected bugs, but only dead ones. They'd never kill them. They have to find them dead."

"We couldn't figure out if we should pin down [the butterfly] or eat it," says Melbourne native Simon Daywith a smirk.

"This class was his birthday present," says Day's companion, a local zookeeper named Lori Komejan.

"Last year, we ate bugs," continues Day, "loads of bugs. Lori made me a birthday dinner of bugs."

"Mealworms and crickets," clarifies Komejan. "With wine sauce and avocado. You have to freeze them first or they jump out of the pan. They don't tell you that in the cookbooks. We had to learn the hard way. ... Mealworms are a bit nutty tasting."

"Roasted Emperor moths burst when you bite into them," says Day, recalling his Scout days in Australia. "Live crickets just taste wiggly. After a couple bottles of beer, you know, you start challenging each other."

"Next year, we're going to eat scorpions," says Komejan.

In the meantime, insects on foamboard will have to suffice. And they do, quite nicely, if you ask me.

Errata: Below is a list of names or awards that were not available last week, as the blood and dust settled at the first annual Power Tool Drag Races: Golden Flywheels were awarded to Argyre Patras for "Most Impressive Crash," Ryon Marc Gesink for "Most Pathetic Machine," and Woodster No. 1134 for "Most Dangerous Machine." Ropesy the Rodeo Clown was named "Most Likely to Get Laid," and Johnny Pontiac re-emerged as Chicken John. A runoff for the "Super Stock" title will be held in secret among Ariel Spear, Scott Anderson, and Don Hurter. Good luck, and don't forget the iodine.

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