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Photo by Liz Langley

Exploring the Big Bug Invasion at Harry P. Leu Gardens 

I like big bugs and I cannot lie

Since the straight-up brag is always better than the humble brag, I don't mind telling you that no matter what you were doing over Valentine's Day weekend, I was doing something better. Maybe you were second honeymooning on one of those PBS-advertised Viking River Cruises that even the Downton denizens couldn't afford, or gazing into your true love's eyes so ardently you could see right through to the temporal lobe, or having more sex than all the bonobos. Pish.

You'll be grasshopper-green with envy to know that while you were wasting time steeped in hearts and flowers, I was finding out how the presence of corpse-eating insects can help determine how long it's been since a body gave up the ghost and, if it's relevant, maybe even point to a cause of death.

That's critical information if you're a forensic entomologist and since I was assigned to play one of those bug-ogling gumshoes at a murder-mystery party, I wanted to do it right. I learned, for example, that a squashed mosquito scraped off a wall provided DNA evidence that a murder victim had indeed been in the home of a suspected killer. I learned that since blowflies like things fresh, and they are the first to show up at a death scene, their presence can indicate how long a body has been dead; beetles, however, will turn up their wee noses at your remains until you're as dry as a Dorito.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY LIZ LANGLEY
  • Photo by Liz Langley

Cleanup is just one of many jobs insects do that make the world a richer, more habitable place for us. They make silk and honey, pollinate plants, are eaten by birds and fish that might then be eaten by us, and some are just beautiful or cool. True: I'm the first to jump up on a chair when a cockroach comes into a room, but most other insects I can live with. I don't even mind if they're 25 feet long.

Well, as long as they're bugs sculpted by New York artist David Rogers, whose Big Bug Invasion! has taken over Harry P. Leu Gardens through April 15.

Rogers started making these types of sculptures in 1990, when a maple sapling, bent from an ice storm, suggested "a backbone to a large beast" in his artistic mind. Twelve days later, a dinosaur sculpture and a new artistic path had come to light.

Leu Gardens, with its varied landscapes and winding paths, is the perfect neighborhood for Rogers' behemoth bugs. Among his beguiling creations: a couch-sized dragonfly that hovers over a pond, a monster mantis that looms from within the brush, and an assassin bug on covert ops. There are even classes scheduled to accompany the exhibit, including honey tasting (which is presumably different than the kind you were doing on Valentine's Day).

Speaking of, Leu Gardens' date-night movie on March 4 will feature Them!, the 1954 sci-fi classic about atomic tests that created giant mutated ants – probably about the same size as Rogers' ant sculptures – that threaten to take over Earth.

Them! is an inspired choice to go with this exhibit, and Leu Gardens has a massive inflatable screen that can make watching movies there an experience almost as immersive as a ride. Bring chairs, food and wine, and make an evening of it. But do leave the plutonium at home. It is a garden, after all, and there probably will be ants.

It's certainly something I'd like to check out. I spent Valentine's Day among the insects ... why not continue a winning streak?


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