When I decided to major in horticulture, I noticed one of the required classes was entomology. Entomology is the study of insects, and it sounded like a cool class. During my first quarter at Cal Poly, I met people enrolled in the class who showed me their insect collections. I was a bit shocked that we had to kill bugs and either pin or pickle them. (i was a bit naive I suppose!)
Interestingly enough, students who finished the class made a few dollars selling off their bugs. I was not the kind of student who cheated on tests or assignments, but I did buy a honey bee and a ladybug from a friend. I just couldn’t bring myself to catch and kill them. My friend told me she had bought them the quarter before!
After my roommates got over the initial irritation of frozen bugs in our freezer (the most humane way to kill a bug), they decided I would become the chief exterminator for any critters in the house. Never mind a spider wasn’t an insect and I already had one for my collection! This went on for years, and instead of freezing many of the insects, I would catch them and set them loose outside.
Years later, I opened my collection and found it was in bad shape. Legs and antennae littered the bottom of the box, and some bugs had been eaten by other critters (I hadn’t added moth balls to prevent this). My bugs in vials looked pretty good, especially a large potato bug (aka Jerusalem cricket).
In 2008, I decided to revive my collection for the purpose of using it to educate children and adults. The idea came about when someone asked me about some “pesky bugs” they had in the garden, and how much work it was to squish them. When they brought some in we realized they had been squishing ladybug larva! I then justified to myself the need for my own personal collection. I went to Nasco, a local store that sells great scientific items, and purchased a large glass case, vials and pins.
After accumulating numerous bugs in the freezer at work, I decided to take an afternoon to pin them. A coworker happened to walk by and see my mini laboratory of entomology and pronounced “You are sick.” As she watched me rearrange the legs and antenna of a beetle that had died in an awkward position. It jogged my memory about an incident that happened back when I was about 18 years old.
When I started junior college I felt clueless about my future. I had many interests, but none that really stood out. As you may imagine, I was excited to hear about a test that could narrow down my interests to a few job possibilities. I filled in the bubbles and anxiously awaited the results (pretty much hinging my entire life focus on this document). When the test results arrived, I tore open the envelope in anticipation. As I scanned the document, I was dumbfounded to see the number one job choice listed in bold letters as: MORTICIAN. Needless to say, I cried for weeks and moped for months. I didn’t remember filling out bubbles asking if I liked death, blood, or dead bodies and oh, overwhelmingly bad odors? (Not long after this event I decided to major in drama, where I’m sure my tragic musings worked to my advantage.)
Flash forward to the future, and I quite possible resemble a mad scientist, with my spread of thawing bugs, Styrofoam blocks, pins, vials and rubbing alcohol. Her comment made me realize, maybe that test wasn’t so wrong after all. It just didn’t have the capability of articulating the idea of a bug mortician.