That oversized roadside giant is Herkimer, a West Indian Hercules beetle who has signaled the May Family’s Natural History museum for over 50 years. It’s been to Florida and back in a pickup bed. It’s weathered decades of seasons and selfies, and yet it stands: Americana atop a Colorado Springs hill.
From Carny to Curator
The Bug Museum (everybody calls it that), has displayed James May’s private collection of 100,000 insects – the largest in the world – for almost 70 years. Rachel and I visited it for the first time yesterday.
The Museum’s founder and grand patriarch James May, born in England, spent most of his life traveling the world, collecting and trading exotic bugs. He began in the early 1900s after being rescued by a Zulu tribe, who found him left for dead following a WWI battle. Later, after his family was displaced during the Great Depression his 15-year-old son, John, developed elaborate plans and built durable displays to help promote his Father’s collection. They eventually crisscrossed America through the 1940s to exhibit it in tents and pavilions across the country, flirting with notoriety at large expos and fairs. In 1947, John May settled in Colorado Springs to raise his family and build a permanent museum for the May collection. The May Museum opened in 1952.
Rachel and I have lived in Colorado for most of our lives, yet even with this museum so close neither of us had ever ventured inside.
To us, it wouldn’t have been proper to bug out of Colorado Springs without first, well, bugging out.
Surprising / Not Surprising
- Beetles have fancy feet.
- There’s something creepier than a scorpion – A scorpion with dozens of scorpion babies on its back.
- Some stick bugs are so skinny it’s impossible to imagine where they could put any internal organs.
- Iridescent butterflies are impossibly pretty, like beyond-human-color-spectra pretty.
- Tarantulas large enough to eat hummingbirds are scary af.
Creepy Crawly Favorites
The fist-sized Goliath beetle, (Goliathus giganteus) a bug so huge they needed two massive Latin adjectives just to name it.
The Tropidoderus childreni locust, an ephemeral creature of such prismatic beauty and dimension it couldn’t help but inspire those who saw it flitting in the wild to believe in faeries.
Tomorrow we move out of Mountaindale RV Park, where we spent seven weeks in our soft launch. As a transition to our life on the road, Mountaindale has become a comfortable way station for us to prepare for the unmoored adventure that’s to come. But its “neighborly” atmosphere and proximity to everyone’s business remind us why the RV-park life is not for us.
Our first stop from here is five days at Bear Creek Lake near Denver, after which we have no fixed destination.
We don’t know what we’ll find as we crisscross America, but based on the grand inspiration we both gained from our visit to the Bug Museum, appreciating its countless specimens of natural beauty and wonder, of grandeur and awe, of adaptation and camouflage and defense and predation fitting every possible climate and crevice and cubbyhole we might visit, there’s one thing we know for sure.
We’re going to need a bigger flyswatter.