Bug Picassos

By Lauren Woodard

Trails of purple. Pink antenna patterns on a stark white background. Limber legs darting across the canvas, leaving splotches and droplets of swirling paint in their wake. These Madagascar hissing cockroaches are gearing up for their moment in the spotlight at Bug Fest, Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 9 and 10.

Situated on a clean sheet of watercolor paper, one hisser meanders across the white surface, oblivious to the cameras surrounding her. Coated in a water-soluble, non-toxic, tempera paint (kid-friendly and insect-approved!), another roach wraps its legs around the purple-and-pink-stained index finger and thumb of its handler, Academy insect specialist Karen Verderame.

She gingerly places the 3-inch-long roach upon the paper. Now there are two. And then there are three. What pattern will their tiny feelers make? With the roaches moving at their own pace, the video and digital cameras capture their drawings in purple and pink. Academy staff close in around the table to watch the progress.

After a short time, these three insects get bored with their 15 minutes of fame and  are swiftly replaced with three fresh hissers. A show-stealer, one cockroach climbs up the very front of the camera and poses on top of it, perhaps pausing to admire the artfully abstract masterpiece beneath her. Now the paint is drying, and, with their waxy outer layers, rinsing the hissers off in a nearby sink is as easy as saying “insect art.”

These cockroaches are surely designers, creating a maze of color simply by walking. You can see these artistic cockroaches, along with maggots and waxworms, creating art at Bug Fest, whose theme this year is “Beauty and the Bug.” Which description do you think fits the artists in this video?

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