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  • Katie Calautti

Building a Bug Collection

On my first night in the cottage, I was visited by a what looked like a cricket on steroids—something the heroes of Starship Troopers would fight off with a rocket launcher. He made himself quite at home, stretching his enlarged legs and freakishly long antennae across my bathroom, through my living room, and into my kitchen. I closed the door and attempted a self-willed case of amnesia.

I later learned he was a cave cricket. I'll spare you the visual—Google away if you're feeling bold. I've seen him a few times since—this spring I even caught him in an old Tupperware container and relocated him to the garden. He found his way back, of course. Unlike my wolf spider Wolfie, I refuse to name him. He's not staying here. We're not friends.

So you could say I've been forced to confront my more-than-mild distaste for bugs since I moved to the country. I've adopted a "live and let live" attitude with everything from the bees burrowing in a hive outside my bedroom door to the spiders crafting webs in the corners of my cottage. "They're pollinators! They eat mosquitos!" I reason.

As this past summer yawned on, more interesting and conventionally beautiful bugs—swallowtails! cicadas!—landed DOA at my doorstep, and it didn't seem right to let them disintegrate in the garden. So I saved them in glass jars and pondered what to do next. After much Googling of "bug art," I opted to go the scientific route with a simple display case. I bought some pins and forceps and a short booklet on insect arrangement and got to work.

The first step was to rehydrate them so their joints loosened and I could arrange them in agreeable shapes before pinning. This was a somewhat involved process, made a bit easier by photographer and insect aficionado Jamie Beck's very helpful "bug styling" Instagram story archive. First, I made little parchment paper envelopes for each bug. Then I grabbed a large jar, put some paper towels at the bottom, poured in a bit of hot water to soak them, and topped that layer with an antibacterial wipe. I added each bug package in, topped with another paper towel, sealed, and voila! A humid little Clorox-scented universe!

I left the wee crawlies in the jar for three days, then unwrapped them and got to pinning. You can buy special butterfly spreaders and bug pinning boards, but I just carved a ridge out of an old styrofoam block and used foam board.

I arranged one cicada with its wings out and left the other with its wings in—that way, side-by-side, they'd represent the states of flight and rest. The swallowtail had a broken wing, which I folded and pinned back in place. It lost an antenna in the rehydrating process, so I used good ol' school glue to refasten it. Then I left them to dry for three days and transferred them to the display case. Et voila!

Here's a Reel I made about the process on my Instagram page:

So far, these three are chillin' alone in the big display case—as evidenced by my mercy for crawling, stinging things, I refuse to kill a bug. Especially not for a vanity project! In the meantime, I'll be walking with my head craned towards the ground in search of more dearly departed roommates from my little trio.


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