It was the spring of 1978 and any country kid worth his salt had begun the arduous process of planning his 4-H project for the county fair in the fall. Some kids had fancy chickens, others groomed their favorite piglet for hog pageantry, and some harvested sand plums for the great jelly showdown. I myself made plans to improve my insect collection. I lost two years running to Timmy Bruner. His Luna Moth was more colorful, his Tiger Swallowtail better mounted and his display case of better quality, but none of that mattered. This was my year.
Mom yelled up the stairs, “Get up boys, it’s time to feed the fancy chickens and teach your pigs to dance.” I tromped down the stairs, butterfly net in hand with my insect murdering kit under my arm. “I can’t, I gotta go bug collecting.” She argued that I should give up and just take a fancy chicken to the fair. I responded, chickens were for sissy boys. In reality, I simply didn’t want the responsibility. Livestock were a lot of work. They expected to be fed and watered almost daily. I would much rather spend my time lounging about under a shade tree, passively daydreaming until an unfortunate insect crossed my path.
At the end of the day, I had collected a dozen or so unremarkable specimens. I settled into my laboratory to begin the mounting process. It was meticulous work that required spreading the wings, arranging the legs just so and displaying all the intricate details of the Arthropoda Phylum. As I performed what amounted to brain surgery for an eight year old boy, I decided to revisit my previous years’ collection to see if there were any insects worth salvaging, but nothing stood out as a showstopper. As I was examining a rather nasty looking wood wasp, the head fell off. I cursed quietly so as not to arouse my mother’s foul language radar and pondered my next step. Maybe I could glue the head back on with a dab of model glue? I borrowed some of my mom’s tweezers and set about the task of reacquainting the wood wasp’s body with its head. I was surprised with the quality of my work, even with a magnifying glass the restoration was indiscernible.
That night I dreamt of butterflies with scorpion tails, hornets with feathery antennae and inch worms with praying mantis pinchers. When I awoke, my unconscious mind had formulated a plan that would not only win a blue ribbon, but might possibly earn me a Nobel Prize in entomology. I ran excitedly into the woods not to collect insects, but more so to collect body parts.
Altogether I needed forty-nine insect. I had thus far collected forty-six specimens that I felt were county fair quality. I decided to fill the gap by inventing a few custom creations that I believed Mother Nature had gotten wrong the first time. My additions must be subtle, my alterations flawless, so I carefully glued the head of a silk moth onto the body of a giant black wasp. The coloring was perfect, my fabrication extraordinary. I spread the wings but something was missing, so I carefully glued the hard shell wings of a beetle over the soft pliable wings of the wasp and what a spectacle it was. I labeled the creation (Waspus Featherus Tankus) because it reminded me of a flying tank with feathers on its head.
For my second creation I replaced the thorax of a brown spider with that of a Thread-Waisted Wasp giving the spider the evil appearance of a James Bond villain. I named this one the Corseted Spider or (Corseted Brownus Spiderus). Finally, for something a little more cute and cuddly I implanted the wings of a lady bug onto a Cartoon Bug and called it a (Cartoonus Womanus Bugus). I sat back and admired my handy-work. Over the course of the summer I spent considerable time making minor changes to many of the insects in my collection. Tommy Bruner didn’t stand a chance.
When fall rolled around I had enhanced the appearance of every single bug in my collection. I even used some candle wax to carve new bodies for my finer specimens. I proudly set up my display for the judges. I had already cleared out a spot for my blue ribbon amongst my meager collection of sports trophies and built a display case where I would exhibit my Nobel Prize. I prepared my speech for the newspaper and refined the story I would tell regarding my discoveries.
On “judgement” day, I stood eagerly by my collection and answered questions from the judges. One judge, an elderly woman in her thirties, pointed to the Corseted Spider and said, tell me about this one. “Oh that one put up a real fight. It was late at night, I had been collecting for hours. Hungry and tired, I had all but given up. As I was leaving the hunting grounds I stumbled onto this monster eating a small frog. Throwing caution to the wind I leapt on the beast. I had no idea if it was deadly poisonous, and I didn’t care. I was so focused on the discovery.” She nodded her head and genuinely seemed impressed as she made marks on her notepad. I went on to explain that it took a great deal of determination and dedication to search out new species. She nodded again and moved onto the next display.
I did not win a blue ribbon that year, but there was an article in the newspaper. I won’t go into the particulars, but the headline read something like. “County Fair Hoax - Local 4-H Kid Banned From Competing in Future Activities”.