A couple of years back while living in London I would take the number 11 bus past an old shop called 'Artiques' every morning. Noisily sliding my squished face along the top deck window I would try to catch a glimpse of the wall covered in framed insect taxidermy. After months of smudging my makeup I finally went in and emerged an hour later laden with an iridescently blue butterfly, two shiny green jewel bugs, a pistachio walking leaf insect and a rather pompous pink lobster (it wasn't cooked). It made me feel like a million love bugs. I was going to crush Christmas that year and could not believe they were in their original state; no colour or gloss had been added whatsoever with the exception of the leaf insect, which loses its natural camouflage after death and was tinted by hand. The brilliant colour of the jewel beetles tickled me and I wanted to find out more about their uses and discovery.
Darwin the Plagiarist
They were named 'Wallace jewel beetles' after their quasi dad Alfred Russel Wallace. If you don't know of him you're a philistine, but Wikipedia will tell you he was a big dog naturalist, explorer, geographer, anthropologist, and biologist, and would have been a huge fan of our love bugs. Wallace had the first hunch about the theory of evolution on his eight year voyage in the 1850's to South East Asia. He actually sent his ideas to Charles Darwin, who cheekily published them in the scientific equivalent of a page turner ' The Creation of Mankind'.
Wallace had the idea, but tough titties, his name is not the one mankind remembers. Luckily Wallace was a cool guy and harboured no hard feelings for Darwin, as his 14.000mile trip also resulted in the collection of around 100.000 specimens of insects ALONE. What a popular guy he must have been on his return. I am practically hearing people's chins hitting the floors of their Victorian mansions when Wallace whipped out his Fungus Weevil or the apparently very tasty Giant toe biting Waterbug. The Victorian society ladies would have been frothing at the mouth at the sight of the many varieties of greeny sheeny jewel bugs.
Lady Macbeth the Love Bugs Trendsetter
In a time before baby pink crocodile Birkin Bags or Kanye West's mocca creme Yeezy's these gleaming shards of beetle wings were the perfect status symbol for the latest fashion fads in clothing and jewellery. One of the most famous faces of her time actor Ellen Terry played Lady Macbeth at the London Lyceum Theatre in 1888 draped in a shimmering emerald green robe covered in Wallace jewel beetle wings, alas not our fave Love Bugs but not a bad substitute. She looked like some sort of sparkly disco lizard and I know what you're thinking: But how did she sit down?
Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth 1889 John Singer Sargent[/caption]
I don't know, but the dress with its floor length trumpet sleeves became a source of amazement with audiences and was captured by the most expensive portrait artist of the century John Singer Sargent. He saw Ellen on stage in her gown and mouthed: "I HAVE TO PAINT YOU." No, he didn't really, but he did paint her and she herself wrote of the masterpiece in 1888: “The picture of me is nearly finished, and I think it is magnificent. The green and blue of the dress is splendid, and the expression as Lady Macbeth holds the crown over her head is quite wonderful.” Later she noted: “The picture is the sensation of the year. Of course opinions differ about it, but there are dense crowds round it day after day. There is talk of putting it on exhibition by itself.” Alright, calm down Ellen. The beautiful, but let's face it, quite witchy full length portrait is on permanent show at the Tate Britain in London and well worth a visit. The original dress was only recently in 2011 restored at big expense by conservation specialist Zenzie Tinker, click here to read more about the restoration. Over 1300 hours Zenzie and her team of tinkers reattached 1000 wings that had fallen off or needed replacing. It continues to inspire fashion and media trends to this day. Charlize Theron wore a dress made of beetle wings as the evil queen in 'Snow White and the Huntsman' and the character Queen Elinor's robe in the Disney animation 'Brave' bears a striking resemblance to Ellen Terry's gown. The dress is on display at Smallhythe Place in Kent.
Our Love Bugs note card and writing paper collection is an homage to the balls on Wallace for sailing to the ends of the earth in pursuit of these animals while enduring ship wrecks, poisoning, malaria and Darwin’s plagiarism. Every one of our own five love bugs was painted in watercolour and is based on an actual specimen found in places from the jungles of New Guinea to Mount Snowdon in Britain. We hope you love them just as much as we do and that you send them back to all corners of the earth.
If you are interested in trying your hand at framed insect taxidermy as the perfect Christmas gift check jewellery designer extraordinaire and taxidermy aficionado, Tessa Packard London's website and Instagram for news on her popular workshops.
To order very your own framed jewel beetle and pretty much everything else that once crawled head to Wholesaleinsects.
Just to keep you bugging over, here are some trivial facts that we thought were great dinner party slumberers....although none of them are about Love Bugs!
1.) One out of every four animals is a type of beetle, making them the most common creature on earth. If you’re not a beetle, you’re totally off-trend.
2.) The phrase “an army of ants” is very apt as they are one of only three species on earth that fight battles in formations. The other two are crows and humans.
3.) Out of the estimated 30 Million species of insects populating Earth only 10% of them have been discovered.
4.) According to the book of Leviticus it is acceptable to engage with insects in the following manner: “Among the winged insects that go on all fours you may eat those that have jointed legs above their feet.” Ummm, we’ll take your word for it.
5.) According to tests carried out in 2008, butterflies can remember things they learnt as caterpillars
6.) Cockroaches can supposedly live for 9 days without their heads, the reason they cannot live longer deprived of their heads is because they have no means of ingesting food.
7.) The Hercules Beetle is said to be the strongest creature in the world for it’s size as it can carry up to 850 times it’s own body weight.
8.) In order to feed the world, it is necessary to control insects or ‘pests’. Because of this necessity, huge sums of money are invested in developing methods to keep so called pests at bay and hundreds of thousands of people are employed to implement those methods. So there you have it, Insects are officially good for the economy…Just ask any gardener.
9.) Army ants are known for their huge Jaws which can leave very painful punctures in the skin if you happen to be bitten by one but they also have another use. Local populations of the Amazon and east Africa us the Army Ants to bite both sides of the cut, holding the skin together. This effectively stops the bleeding, much like stitches do and can hold for up to a few days, allowing the wound to heal. This practice is so effective it has been around since 1000 BC.
10.) The Twisted Wing Parasite larvae hatch by eating their mother from the inside out…..nuff said..we would definitely not use the name Love Bug for this one.....
Just to be clear: At no point to we claim to have discovered the above weird and wonderful facts, we aren’t botanists nor naturalists (if that is even a thing)…..we just print things.