About Christopher Marley...

Hello Everyone,
In case you stumbled upon this site in an attempt to search for Christopher Marley's insect work, you should know that I am not him. Apparently, he was on CBS this morning, and lots of people have been e-mailing me thinking that I am him. I make similar artwork with real insects, but I am not affiliated with Marley. If you are trying to contact him, you'll have to contact his "people" at Pomagranate Publishing.
Perhaps you, like me, are enamored with Marley's work but cannot afford to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a piece of your own. If so, you should check out my online store, as my pieces are similar, but are smaller and much more affordable. My framed artwork starts at $40. http://www.aquakej.etsy.com/ is my online store.
Thank you!
Katie VanBlaricum

Monarchs in Space!

Here in Lawrence, KS, we're lucky to have Monarch Watch, a premier international organization that researches and works to conserve the Monarch Butterfly. Recently, they have taken things to a whole new level by launching Monarch caterpillars into space! Check out this article from our local paper, the Lawrence Journal World, then you can go to the Monarch Watch website for everything you ever wanted to know about Monarch butterflies (including how to raise your own!) http://www.monarchwatch.org/

The International Space Station is getting some unusual new temporary residents — monarch butterflies from Kansas University’s Monarch Watch program.

Chip Taylor, director of Monarch Watch, said that three butterfly larvae will be sent into space, and would be observed throughout their development.

Students in more than 425 schools across the eastern part of the country will follow along with the experiment, using kits from Monarch Watch to observe their own monarchs, comparing their results with the space experiment.

Cameras will be set up, and results will be shown on a Web site, www.monarchwatch.org/space.

“It’s going to be fun,” Taylor said. “The kids are going to be able to see the full process in their classrooms.”

Taylor said he doesn’t know how the monarchs will fare in the near-weightless environment, but whatever happens, scientists will learn more about the capabilities of the species.

KU’s Monarch Watch program, which tracks the migration patterns of the butterflies on an annual basis, got involved with the space program after developing an artificial diet that can sustain the animals in space.

Response from schools has been much higher than anticipated, Taylor said. He sent out an e-mail asking for 20 interested participants and received more than 1,000 replies.

The artificial diet — something it took Taylor more than 20 months and more than 90 failed attempts to create — may also have other applications for the program. Already, he said, he’s received offers to participate in projects such as mapping the monarch’s genome.

Ladybugs in Your House?

This time of year, I always notice ladybugs trying to get into my house and other buildings. In fact, there is one flying around in here right now! Why are they doing this? Read the following Q&As from "The Ladybug Lady" to find out:

Q. Why do ladybugs come into my house in the winter time?

A. Ladybugs are attracted to the light colored houses. Especially, homes that have a clear southwestern sun exposure. Older homes tend to experience more problem with aggregations due to lack of adequate insulation. The ladybugs come in through small cracks around windows, door ways and under clap boards. They want to hibernate in a warm, comfortable spot over the cold months of winter. Ladybugs gather in groups when they hibernate, so if you see one, you can be sure more will follow. The best way to keep them out is to repair damaged clap boards, window and door trim and to caulk small cracks.

Q. Once the ladybugs are in my house, will they eat anything?

A. No. Ladybugs don't eat fabric, plants, paper or any other household items. They like to eat APHIDS. Aphids are very small, but very destructive pest that feed on plants. (If you have rose bushes, you have probably seen aphids.) Ladybugs, while trying to hibernate in your house, live off of their own body fats. They also prefer a little humidity, but our homes are usually not very humid during the winter. In fact, they are rather dry causing most of your ladybug guests to die from dehydration. Occasionally, you might witness a ladybug in your bathroom getting a drink of water. Now, that's a smart lady!

Q. How can I get them out of my house?

A. If you don't have a lot, just leave them. They will leave when spring arrives. Disturbing them will only cause them to stress out leaving yellow markings on your walls. The yellow stuff is not waste matter, but rather, their blood. Ladybugs release a small amount of their blood which is yellow and smells, when they sense danger. Some people have said that it does stain on light colored surfaces.

Q. But, I really want the ladybugs out of my house!

A. Use a "shop vacuum". This type of vacuum is easy to use for collect ladybugs. When using this to vacuum up ladybugs, use a clean bag or pad the bottom with a cloth. After all is clean, release the unwelcome guests outside.

Q. Is there anything else I can use to get the ladybugs out of my house?

A. Yes. There is a product called a Ladybug Black Light Trap. It uses radiating black light to attract and contain the ladybugs.

Where Do My Bugs Come From? Part One

Probably the #1 question I get asked is: "Where do your bugs come from? Do you catch them yourself?" To answer this question, I recently did some research and put together a little pamphlet that tells a little about where my insects come from. I'd like to share that with you here, but first I'd like to also say that no, I do not catch the insects myself. I would never have the patience for that, and besides, almost none of the insects I use are even from the United States! The vast majority of my insects come from international insect farms. Some are farmed for food (yes, look for another blog post on that topic soon!) but most are farmed for the "scientific and artistic dried insect trade". The good news is that insect farming is usually a sustainable practice. I make every attempt to purchase my insects from responsible sources, so when you purchase an insect display from me, you are also helping to promote insect and native forest conservation. I am required to carry a U.S. Fish & Wildlife "Wildlife Import Permit" in order to import my specimans, so they are also regulated in that way. It is illegal for me to import insects that are endangered, and it is also illegal for me to import live insects. So, without further introduction, here is some material on insect farming from my pamphlet:

Why is butterfly farming a type of agriculture that promotes conservation as a whole?

Unlike most other types of agriculture in tropical countries which are dependent upon cleared forest for planting crops or grazing cattle, butterfly farming is very different because it requires intact forest. Because host plants are collected by the farmer for his/her use in rearing the larvae, the butterfly farm is dependent upon a parcel of land which is forested. In addition, butterfly farmers rear butterflies in captivity within the confines of an enclosure, thus putting no strain on the wild populations of butterflies.

Fact: The farming of butterflies actually increases native habitats and populations. It is even being used today to save some species from extinction.

Butterfly farming and ranching have demonstrated that butterflies can provide economic incentives to villagers and farmers who may have to decide where to harvest firewood or clear forest for agriculture. By offering supplemental income in exchange for preserving and enhancing butterfly habitats, many plant and animal species native to tropical rain forests will indirectly benefit. Today, successful commercial butterfly farming and ranching projects are operating in North, Central and South America, Uganda, Madagascar, China, Southeast Asia, New Guinea, and Australia.
Organizations like the World Wildlife Fund have included such projects in their conservation programs for countries with rich rainforest biodiversity, such as Indonesia. If carefully managed farming and ranching programs are introduced to areas with dwindling rain forests, economic incentives for conservation can play an important role in a transition to sustainable use of the earth's most diverse ecosystems.

Birdwing Butterflies in PNG: A Positive Example

Birdwings inhabit the sunny rainforest canopy, feeding on nectar-filled flowers growing many metres above ground level. The butterfly only comes to earth when the canopy dips into river channels or natural openings. The typical butterfly farm in PNG (Papua New Guinea) is a half-acre of land that was once a productive vegetable garden site previously cleared from the prime forest. The soil may be too depleted to grow corn or sweet potato but is fertile enough to sustain the vines needed for a butterfly garden.
The process is simple. First, plant a border of Poinsettia and Hibiscus. Within the flowering border transplant rows of aristolochia and other vines. The border acts to attract and feed the adult specimens who breed and lay eggs on the vines which provide ample food for the offspring. The larvae feed on the vines for four weeks, spin their chrysalis and spend four more weeks in metamorphosis. The farmer observes the food supply, notes the location of his/her caterpillars, and determines the maturation of the chrysalises. About 70 percent of the butterfly chrysalis crop can be harvested and brought into a protected hatching cage. The remaining 30 percent is left on the vine to regenerate and complete their natural life cycle (in the wild).
With the cultivated garden providing an over-abundance of food, and because human presence discourages natural predation, the population of free flight butterflies is greatly enhanced. The newly emerged caged butterflies are carefully killed, placed in paper envelopes and dried in the sun. When sufficient butterflies have been collected they are packaged and mailed to the Insect Farming and Trading Agency (IFTA) in Bulolo, Morobe Province. The IFTA inspects, sorts, labels and markets the specimens to buyers around the world. These orders generate US$400,000 for PNG annually. Dr. Peter Clark, Director of IFTA, believes the project re-inforces in villagers that "the environment can be used but not abused, and the forest can serve a good purpose for a longer period than it takes to chop it down. With the right tools [villagers] can make some money yet pass onto their children the same natural treasures they received from their parents."
Wild specimens of common butterflies are sometimes included in the scheme, but most are rejected due to damage sustained in the wild or during capture. Participants are encouraged to farm rather than hunt the butterflies. All Birdwing species are protected from capture in the wild; only individuals with inspected gardens are licensed to sell the rare Ornithoptera Paradisea,
Alexandrae, Goliath, Priamus Poseidon or Priamus Urvillanus butterflies.

First Vegetarian Spider Found!

Salticids (Jumping spiders) are my personal favorite spider, and how lovely to see them make the news for having a vegetarian species! Check out this link to Science Daily to read the full article: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091012121331.htm

In summary, the spider lives in Central America among ant colonies. The ants are doing a sort of "farming" with Acacia trees, guarding them against predators whilst feeding on the plant's nectar. The jumping spiders sneak around the ant colony, stealing their food. The spiders are able to get around the ants because they are so much smarter than the ants. (Jumping spiders are quite advanced little guys; they are the only spider to see in color and they have excellent depth perception!)

I just love this cute picture of the new spider, Bagheera kiplingi.

Bugs and Winter

Have you ever wondered what happens to bugs in the winter? If most of them die off in cold temperatures, how does the next generation survive until spring? Also, do any adult insects survive the winter, and if so, how? Here are some answers from the Smithsonian Institution:

Where Do Insects Go in the Winter?
Insects have a variety of methods for surviving the coldness of winter.

Migration is one strategy for escaping the killing temperatures. The Monarch Butterfly is the foremost example of this maneuver, but other insects migrate into northern areas from the southern states in the Spring. Crop pests are the most obvious of these migrants.

Overwintering as Larvae. Many insects successfully pass the winter as immature larvae. The protection of heavy covers of leaf litter or similar shelters protect the woolly bear caterpillar, while other insects replace the water in their bodies with glycerol, a type of antifreeze! Some grubs simply burrow deeper into the soil to escape the cold.

Overwintering as Nymphs. Not many insects are active in the winter, but the nymphs of dragonflies, mayflies and stoneflies live in waters of ponds and streams, often beneath ice. They feed actively and grow all winter to emerge as adults in early spring.

Overwintering as Eggs. Lesser numbers of insects lay eggs which survive the winter. The most prominent insects in this category are Praying Mantids, and the destructive Corn Rootworms also engage in this strategy.

Overwintering as Pupae. Some insects overwinter in the pupal stage, then emerge as adults in the spring. Moths in the Silkworm Family, Saturniidae, may be found attached to food plant branches as pupae in the winter.

Hibernation as Adults. Many insects hibernate as adults. Lady bird beetles are a well-known example, and are sometimes seen in great numbers in the fall as they congregate at high elevations. Many large wasps seek shelter in the eaves and attics of houses or barns. Tree holes, leaf litter, and under logs and rocks are common shelters for overwintering adult insects. The Mourning Cloak Butterfly is usually the first butterfly that is noticed in the Spring, and this is because it hibernates in tree holes or other shelters during the winter. As in some insect larvae, it reduces the water content of its body, and builds up glycerol which acts as an antifreeze. Honey bees stay in hives during the winter, and form clusters when temperatures fall. They also are able to raise the temperature by vibrating wing muscles.

In general, insects are able to survive cold temperatures easiest when the temperatures are stable, not fluctuating through alternate thaws and freezes. Many insects can gain shelter and nourishment through the winter in a variety of micro-habitats. Among these niches are under the soil, inside the wood of logs and trees, and even in plant galls. One kind of fly is known by fishermen to be present in certain galls in winter, and the fly larvae are consequently used as fish-bait. Blankets of snow benefit insects by insulating the ground and keeping the temperature surprisingly constant. Honeybees have been studied during the winter and are found to remain semi-active in hollow trees through the generation of body heat. The consumption of up to 30 pounds of stored honey during the winter months makes this possible. Heat energy is produced by the oxidation of the honey, and circulated throughout the hive by the wing-fanning of worker bees. Insects that are inactive during the winter months undergo a state in which their growth, development, and activities are suspended temporarily, with a metabolic rate that is high enough to keep them alive. This dormant condition is termed diapause. In comparison, vertebrates undergo hibernation, during which they have minor activity and add tissues to their bodies.

Ceiling made of Beetles!

This ceiling truly is delightful! Entitled "Heaven of Delight", Belgian artist Jan Fabre has created "murals" out of Jewel Beetle elytra (the hard part of a beetle wing)! Over 1.5 million beetle wings have been used to cover the ceiling panels and chandelier in the Belgian Royal Palace. Although he had several full-time helpers, this work still took months to install!
I love what he has to say about the durability of beetle wings:
''The wing cases of the jewel beetles are made of chitin, one of the hardest, most imperishable materials we know. They consist of wafer-thin platelets that capture, reflect and transform light. Oil paint fades; the carapace will keep its original colors.''
This gives me a lot of hope that my own personal creations made with beetles will last for many years to come!
Apparently these beetle elytra come as a by-product of the Thai food industry. The rather large beetles are used as food, and the wings are thrown away!
I just love the originality and the beauty of this work! Enchanting!
To read more, here's an article from a few years back in the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/04/arts/bits-of-bugs-glow-to-delight-a-queen.html?pagewanted=1

Fabric from Spider Silk!

I found this very interesting article in the New York Times and thought you all would enjoy it. For possibly the first time in documented history, someone has managed to make a fabric out of pure spider silk. Have a look!

September 23, 2009
Gossamer Silk, From Spiders Spun

For anyone considering going into the business of manufacturing traditional textiles using the filaments extracted from the spinnerets of the golden orb spider of Madagascar, here are a few guidelines to keep in mind:
The largest spiders, the females, can grow to about the size of a small adult human hand, with hairy stiletto legs and the ability to eat large, flying insects.
Only the females produce the silk, which is renowned for both its striking saffron color and its tensile strength (five to six times stronger than steel by weight). But these females are notoriously cannibalistic and if left to their own devices will quickly reduce the entire silk assembly line to arachnid carnage.
They don’t seem to want to work in the winter, and when it rains too much, their silk becomes viscous and cannot be used.
And if the spiders in the factory begin to disappear mysteriously, it might be because, in Madagascar, one of the poorest countries in the world, it is believed by some that eating these spiders, fried, is good for the throat or just good eating.
“There was, shall we say, a fairly steep learning curve,” said Simon Peers, a British art historian and textile expert who has lived in Madagascar for two decades. Five years ago Mr. Peers and Nicholas Godley, an American fashion designer also living on the island, began a partnership to do what no one there, or anywhere, had tried for more than 100 years: to harness spiders to make silk in the same way that silkworm cocoons have been used for thousands of years.
The other day in a fourth-floor storage area deep within the American Museum of Natural History, two women wearing blue rubber gloves carefully pulled back a plastic covering to show what Mr. Peers and Mr. Godley — along with more than a million spiders and a dexterous team of intrepid Malagasy spider handlers — had accomplished. It is an 11-foot-long, brilliantly golden-hued cloth, the first recorded example of a hand-woven brocaded textile made entirely from the silk of spiders, according to experts at the Museum of Natural History, where beginning on Thursday it will go on display for six months in the Grand Gallery.
Mr. Peers has worked for years to revive the weaving traditions for which Madagascar was once famous, and pieces made under his direction have found their way into the collections of the British Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, among others. In his research into textiles, he had long been intrigued by the alchemical, almost occult tales of attempts over several centuries to harvest spider silk for weaving, an endeavor that, as he has written, always seemed to be “imbued with metaphor and poetry, with nightmare and phobia.”
The first well-documented effort was made by a wealthy Frenchman, Fran├žois Xavier Bon de Saint Hilaire, who wrote a treatise on his work in 1710 and made enough silk from spider cocoons to produce stockings, gloves and, by some unreliable accounts, an entire suit of clothes for Louis XIV.
In the late 1890s in Madagascar, where fishermen had long used spider silk for rudimentary nets and line, a French technical-school official mounted another spider project, this time extracting the silk directly from living spiders to be twisted into threads. He was said to have harvested enough to fashion the hangings for a bed that was exhibited in 1900 in Paris, though the hangings no longer exist, and historical accounts differ as to how much fabric was actually created.
“And that,” Mr. Peers said in a recent interview, “was more or less the summit of everyone’s effort to that point — until we took it up again, like mad men.”
Mr. Godley, 40, ran a business in Madagascar making high-end raffia handbags, and while visiting Mr. Peers, 51, several years ago in Antananarivo, the capital, he noticed an odd-looking metal spool in Mr. Peers’s office. The spool was a re-creation of a piece of equipment that had been used in the silk harvesting effort a century earlier. It fired Mr. Godley’s imagination, and he began trying to talk Mr. Peers into reviving the effort.
After many fits and starts, the two men put together an almost Victorian spider-silk harvesting operation that hired local people to comb the countryside with long bamboo poles, carefully collecting live female spiders — about 3,000 a day — in boxes. The spiders were taken to Mr. Godley, who set up a system in which workers, all women, would handle each spider, gently pulling out the thread that dangled from its spinnerets. (The spiders bite if provoked, but their bites are not dangerous.)
The spider would then be placed in a harness, with 23 others, and sit more or less patiently as a spool tugged the rest of its web out in continuous threads that could sometimes stretch as long as 400 yards before the spider had given its all.
These 24 threads were then hand-twisted into one and joined into 96-thread strands that served as the foundation of the textile, which is brocaded with traditional Malagasy motifs.
“Not one thread ever broke on the loom — it’s that strong,” Mr. Godley said. (He asked a reporter looking at the cloth recently at the museum to grab a strand in one of the tassels at the end of the textile and try to break it. The thread had about as much give as a chain used to lock up a New York City messenger’s bike.)
And what became of the spiders, without whose very personal contributions the textile would not have been possible? While some died in its production, Mr. Godley and Mr. Peers said they set up a system in which the spiders being used were released daily, and detailed spreadsheets were kept to chart the number of spiders used, their yield and the casualty rate.
“We have become sort of the defenders of these spiders, something we never thought we’d be,” said Mr. Godley, who calls himself a committed arachnophobe, but added, “They really are very regal-looking creatures.”
The two men say they hope that the textile, which cost more than half a million dollars to make, ends up being acquired by a public institution and displayed. (It is on loan to the American Museum of Natural History.)
“I hate sounding pretentious, but what we wanted to do here was produce something that was a work of art,” said Mr. Godley, mentioning the cloth in the company of costly, dazzling (and highly publicized) contemporary works by artists like Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons. “I feel like what we’ve produced in some ways is more exceptional because of the extraordinary amount of effort that went into it.”
As soon as the warm season in Madagascar begins next month, and the golden orbs begin productively spinning their webs again, the two men will begin making more cloth, which might find a market in the reviving fashion industry. But Mr. Godley said that he and Mr. Peers harbored few illusions, at least so far, about making a business of their strange gossamer obsession.
“If we were doing all of this to make money,” he said, “I could think of much, much easier ways to do it.”

Beetle Eye Candy

I just wanted to share with everyone the excitement of my latest shipment of bugs! I ordered lots of beetles to make jewelry with, and they are gorgeous! Have a look!
Here's what it looks like when I first opened the box. This particular shipment was sent from Thailand, although it contains beetles from all over Asia.

Taken out of the box, you can see how many there are!!

After softening and re-positioning all the parts for use in my jewelry, here is the ready-to-use result! Eye candy, indeed!

Visit www.aquakej.etsy.com to see what I've made with them so far!

What's That Bug?

Around this time of year, people are always asking me "I saw this super weird alien-like bug the other day....what was it?". They don't have to say anything more than that before I can answer them correctly 95% of the time. The answer? It's an Assassin Bug!

That's right, it's a bug that goes around assassinating other bugs. It's a Hemipterid, technically (meaning a "true bug", related to things like stink bugs), and it can grow to nearly 2 inches long. The "super alien-like" feature is like a big scary spike sticking out from their face. This is, scientifically speaking, known as a "prosternum". It is used for assassinating. The assassin bug uses it to inject a poisonous saliva into their victims, which liquifies their insides (yum!).

On the upside, they do eat cockroaches and other nasty pests, so some people, especially gardners, regard them as beneficial. Other people even keep them as pets!

There are several different types of Assassin Bugs, but most of these pictured are the one we see most commonly in my area of the Midwest. It's called a "Wheel Bug" because of the spiky wheel shape that comes out of its head.

Cool! Now you know what that bug is!

Jewelry Prototypes: Comments Wanted!

I have been asked recently to design a line of jewelry incorporating my bugs. At first, I was reluctant to try this, since the bugs are so fragile. Bugs are used to make jewelry, but other "bug-jewelry" makers get around this by using resin to completely encase the bug, creating a sort of "bug in amber" look. In this way, bugs are entombed in everything from glow-in-the-dark keychains to plastic bracelets to earrings. This protects the insects very well, but I think it looks cheap, personally. It hasn't been done in a way that is respectful to the beauty of the insect, in my humble opinion.

So, if I were going to make any jewelry, it would have to be very different. I would have to like it. I laid awake for much of the night pondering how to get around having to encase bugs in resin. I'm not interested in making plastic jewelry.

Also, I would also need a clear purpose or theme for my pieces. A reason for the art, so to speak. My main theme thus far has been to show off the natural beauty and diversity of insects to educate the public and encourage them to appreciate and conserve "un-cuddly" species, like insects. I would like to continue this theme in another media with the jewelry. There is a family of beetles which I frequenly use called "Jewel Beetles". Why not take their common name to the exteme and use them as literal jewels, the same as diamonds or emeralds. Why not buy ring settings and other metal bases and mount insects onto them instead of gems? Nice settings...silver and gold pieces instead of plastic. Yes, this was an exciting idea! Imagine, a Tiffany ring setting with a shining beetle instead of a diamond! This stuff was going to be classy!

However, there was still the fragility issue. Could you just set a beetle onto a silver ring and expect it to last? I got to thinking about the centerpieces that were used at my wedding last August, just over a year ago. They were potted live orchids with real, dried beetles tucked in here and there. Just some of my extras and rejects....ones missing a leg or an antenna. Since they weren't worth anything, I just left them in the planters, on top of the potting bark. For the past year, I've been watering my orchids heavily, pouring water right over the beetles each time. The beetles look as good today, one year later, as they did on our wedding day. I have also seen other instances in the past couple of years where dried beetles were tougher than I expected. After all, they are made to live outdoors. They are pretty well waterproofed, and their shells (elytra) are quite scratch-resistant. Add to that the fact that Native Americans (South and Central American peoples) have historically used real beetles in their textiles and jewelry for thousands of years without encasing them in resin. Some of these textiles and jewelry survive today in museums, so it's apparent to me that these beetles are pretty tough.
So, I decided that I would skip the resin and try mounting the insects directly in various types of metal jewelry mounts that are made to hold stones. I'd run "field tests" on my pieces, by wearing them around and exposing them to all kinds of normal wear and tear, noting what worked and what didn't.

I got to scouring the internet, looking for pieces and parts the next day. The past couple of days, my materials have started arriving in the mail, and I've started to play around with putting some things together. Finding the correct beetles to use is the hardest part; they have to be the exact right size, and I want them to look as "jewel-like" as possible. I don't want my pieces to scream "I'm made with a real bug!". I want them to be beautiful because of their color and form, and they will reveal what they are made of when one looks closely. I want people to say "Wow, that's beautiful! What kind of stone is that?" and then be amazed when they find out that insects can be that beautiful and worthy of a nice jewelry setting. I don't want to scare people away from the jewelry; I want it to be sophisticated and not at all "creepy" because it is "made with a real bug". Rutelid ("Shining") Beetles are the obvious choice for me to use, but because of their shiny, jewel-like qualities, many of them command a hefty price. Way too much for my purposes, some of them costing $500 a piece. (!) I happened to have a few that I got as part of a mixed bag, so I'll use those for now and I'll work on finding a source for some more affordable species.
I have finished up a few prototypes this morning, and would like to post them here to get your opinions and ideas. Keep in mind that they are my very first "sketches", if you will, and that I intend to refine them with more ideal parts and insects as I come across better materials. There are two rings here, one broach (pin), and two necklace pendants.

I will let everyone know how the tests go, but I fully expect everything to wear very well, with the possible exception of the rings. Rings can get wet, but not excessively. You definitely wouldn't wear one of these while doing the dishes, but I think it would stand up okay to careful hand washing.
If anyone is interested in testing out any of this jewelry, please drop me a line and let me know. I will sell you the pieces at very minimal cost in return for your reviews over the course of a couple months.
I would love to hear your comments and ideas! Thanks for reading!

Making Of...

Lots of people have been interested in how Insect Art is made. Here's a little glimpse into what I do.

Here's how the bugs start out; I order them from various worldwide suppliers, and they are dead, dried out, and carefully packaged like this: (stay tuned for a report on my research into how the bugs get to this point)

When I'm ready to begin preparing the insects, they are placed into my "hydration chamber", which is actually a tupperware container full of moist paper towels and an anti-fungal agent. Here's a picture of some butterflies in the chamber:

After 24-48 hours in there, they are usually moist enough to handle without breaking. At this point, I am able to move their wings and legs easily. Here's a picture of a butterfly being unwrapped:

Now, I have to carefully unfold the wings and position them in place so they can dry out again. I also position the legs and antennae so they can dry in place. I do this on a styrofoam board that I made myself for this purpose. Most people use little strips of paper and pins to hold the wings in place, but I have come up with the idea of using glass plates instead. I find that this produces a nicer, flatter, result and it allows me to easily see what I'm doing. I do use pins to hold the rest of the body and antennae in place, but I don't put the pins through the bugs; I don't want to make holes in them! This is definitely the hardest part of the whole process; even through they are re-hydrated, the insects are still very fragile! I also have to watch the wings of the butterflies; if I touch them too much, scales will come off and they will look bad. I have special tweezers to help touch the wings for me.

Here's a picture of what a butterfly looks like after it has been spread out to dry:

Beetles usually take a lot more work than butterflies, because they have more parts to set. They are also shaped such that I cannot use glass plates on their wings; having to use pins on the wings is a challenge! See how many pins I used on this Jewel Beetle? (Image courtesy Lawrence Journal World)

Once the insects are all dry again (24 hours later), I remove the pins and move the bugs to storage containers until I'm ready to put them in frames. It's kind of neat to see all the different insects in my storage containers, so here's a few pictures of insects that are all ready to use:

Finally, when I'm ready to use the insects, I choose a frame and a background for them and glue them into place with a special glue. I really love the paper selection from a company called Basic Grey; they make the most beautiful backgrounds. I'm always on the lookout for more papers and frames that I can use, though. Sometimes I even make my own backgrounds, but I'm not very good at drawing, so the ones I do make are abstract. I've also used various fabrics and handmade papers. Here's a look at some of my paper and frame selections:

Here's the end result! My "gallery wall" of Insect Art allows me to enjoy some of my work before the pieces are sent to their new homes! I always work by the philosophy "If I wouldn't hang it in my house, it's not worth making". I continue to strive to search for the beauty in all insects, and it's my goal to be able to display them in a way that maximizes their beauty and impresses people who normally wouldn't be impressed by "a bug". I hope you enjoyed this "Making Of..." entry!