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A bug's life


  • Sean Cayton

The giant beetle along Highway 115 just south of this semi-arid city is not the leader of an invading force of giant super insects. The Herculean re-creation of the Hercules beetle is just there to mark the turnoff to the May Natural History Museum of the Tropics, the only museum of its kind in the country.

John May built the museum here in 1947 in order to have a permanent place to display his diverse collection of invertebrates, which includes some of the most rare and beautiful insects from around the world.

The museum's collection contains more than 100,000 individual specimens, with about 8,000 on display. Included are unusual species of butterflies whose iridescent colors reflect light over half a mile and are visible from nearby airplanes, flying beetles that can knock a man off his feet, and locusts nearly the size of your arm.

"I started taking an active interest in collecting bugs in 1924. I was about 8 or 9 years old at the time," May said. "That was when I got the idea that we should show it to the public, because people kept coming to our house to see my father's collection."

May's father, James May, grew up in Brazil and spent much of his life collecting specimens in South America and the South Pacific. He is responsible for a substantial portion of the collection. John May took over the collection after his father's death and has recently transferred control of the museum to a nonprofit group in order to ensure that the collection remains intact for future generations.

"Anything that you're going to keep for the future has got to be supported, and the nonprofit seemed to be the best way to do that."

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