As ninth grade drew to a close, the tenth-grade biology teacher paid my science class a visit to deliver news of a special assignment for our summer vacation. We had to collect 20 specimens – insect specimens, that is – and pin them to a board. What’s more, they had to be a variety; you couldn’t just hang up a fly strip.
I cringed upon hearing the instructions, but as an aspiring straight-A student, I was determined not to fail in this mission. To say I was just a little grossed out by the prospect would be a gross understatement!
After I designed a fashionable exhibition board with 20 multi-coloured squares of construction paper, I began my woeful hunt. Among my prey were a June bug, several other types of beetles, a few butterflies and moths, a bumble bee and a cicada.
The prescribed method of kill – and forgive me entomologists – involved putting them in a glass jar with cotton pads soaked in nail polish remover and closing the lid. Nail polish remover smells bad; add the stress of dying insects, and, well, ick. The cicada freaked me out. I’d never heard such an ungodly ruckus as when that poor thing buzzed itself into oblivion.
Then the affixing stage. This caused me no end of anxiety. I positioned the little corpses carefully into place with tweezers, but the pinning! Oh, how terrified I was that my finger or thumb would slip and I’d end up squishing the guts out of them. I didn’t want to touch the little beasties, alive or dead! (Sorry Indiana Jones, but if it had been me reaching through the mass of writhing insects to pull that lever in the Temple of Doom movie, you’d not have survived.)
The sweat ran down the sides of my face as I held my breath and hoped I was skewering the right spots and wouldn’t dismember them accidentally. The cicada was the worst and the pin slid a bit sideways. As soon as my thumb touched its scaly exterior, I leapt up and danced around the room emoting like the teenage girl I was.
Eventually this ghoulish project that was meant to teach us about sorting by phylum, etc. was done. It was almost pretty, in a way, in terms of aesthetics. The remaining great hazards included keeping the family cat from snacking on the collection and transporting it to school. Yes, I got an ‘A’.
But the bugs got their karmic revenge.
First with an invasion of cockroaches in the compartment (too small for apartment) where I lived when attending grad school, though I developed superhero-level peripheral vision that year and learned how to effectively use a caulking gun.
And then when an exotic and very large bee crawled out of the broccoli I was washing one late November night. I caught it rather deftly, thinking it might actually be a ‘killer bee’ and then I gave it a new home in a jar with holes, fed it well, and engaged the museum community in helping to identify its origin. The little stowaway even stumped the Toronto experts for a time and had to be sent to Ottawa for verification.
As it turned out, my innocuous honey bee travelled all the way from southern California to teach me a new science lesson.