I was thrilled to learn this summer that my seven-year-old nephew, Sean, is into bugs. You see, I have two daughters who did not inherit my “creepy crawlie things ‘r’ fun” gene. While we’ve shared a few adventures, my girls generally wince at earwigs, shudder at spiders, and, well, they just don’t get me.
Sean recently brought over his latest acquisition, a pet slug. “I found it under a rock yesterday.”
I was relieved the mollusk was small, alarmed to see it resided in a tin, on a bed of grass. “Let’s get it some lettuce. And mist it,” I said. “They like it cool and wet.”
The slug still looked overly sluggish after our efforts and I made an unfortunate remark, “Sean, I’m afraid he might be visiting slug heaven really soon.”
Sean didn’t take my comment well.
To make amends, I proposed an adventure, “Want to go to a bug museum?”
Within the hour we turned off Hwy. 115 at a 10-foot-tall Hercules beetle. We headed down the dirt road to the May Museum of Natural History, a place I’d been longing to visit for years. Now, finally, I’d found someone to join me!
I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d studied museum and art gallery work in college, even interned at a local history museum, twice, and I knew museums could vary from roadside trailer to Guggenheim. What we found was a charming 1940’s adobe building. Past the gift shop was a large exhibit room filled with display cases holding approximately 8,000 invertebrates, about 1/10th of what is considered to be one of the world’s most outstanding collections. Nothing high tech, no slick design, no interactive games for the kiddies, just glass cases, much like you’d imagine in a Victorian library or a curiosity shop, filled with treasures collected mostly from the tropics. The odd combination of science and antiquities quickened my pulse and made me fantasize about my perfect home library/natural history room. (The fantasy includes a replica of a human skeleton, glass cases with insect specimens, a mineral case, red leather furniture, and twelve-foot walls filled with books, floor to ceiling.)
I didn’t even attempt to stay with Sean. He fluttered randomly about the room, much like one of the tropical insects, saying things like, “Wow, this tarantula eats birds!” “There’s a HUGE fruit bat!” Though excited, I moved in an orderly line, much like an aunt (pun intended) trying to absorb the contents of each case. We saw: Columbian beetles so large that, in flight, they can break street lights and knock down men; giant locusts with rainbow-hued wings; huge Brazilian butterflies in metallic greens and blues; a stick insect 17 inches long; and leaf insects of Borneo and Madagascar that are replicas of the leaves of the trees they rest on. I found myself not in a museum so much as an unusual temple devoted to evolution and beauty! The art before my eyes mocked anything man could ever hope to create—transparent butterflies lovelier than stained glass; gold and silver beetles that would make a Tiffany silversmith weep.
I wanted to hug each and every case.
In the gift shop I asked about the fall closing date (October 1st), and said, “I’ve really got to come back one more time before then.”
“Can I come too?” asked Sean.
I smiled. Boys could be so fun!
Back at the house, we found that the slug had succumbed, another reminder of how man’s efforts at species domination can fail so easily. We gave the slug a burial in the flower garden, saddened, but also solaced by our very own glimpse of Bug Heaven.