How playing with bugs could save the world

Amber Partridge places two tarantulas together — one male, one female — and uses the end of a paintbrush to get them to copulate.

“What you’re going to do,” she says, “is take the brush and rub the palps.” A spider’s pedipalps are the front tentacles, hairy straws that store semen.

The two arachnids in front of her are reluctant, so Partridge selects a randier pair, and they immediately go to town.

“Oh my God, this is amazing!” says Partridge. “We’ve all seen these guys at the club. Just sayin’.”

Partridge is a professional spider pimp or — to be more official — the head entomologist for the Butterfly Pavilion in Westminster, Colo. One of her main duties is to ensure, for research purposes, the continued mating of the tarantulas in her keep.

While working with bugs requires a strong tolerance for what others might consider creepy or gross, the new book “Bugged: The Insects Who Rule The World and the People Obsessed with Them” (St. Martins Press) by David MacNeal shows that fascinating careers await those brave enough to take the plunge. (If you’re squeamish, stop reading now.)

Michelle Sanford, for example, is “the world’s first and only full-time forensic entomologist.” In other words, she examines bugs left behind in human corpses to help determine how and when people died.

One case she worked on involved a woman who died of “morbid obesity.” Based on the size of fly larvae, “Sanford estimated 72 hours had passed since the body’s discovery and the woman’s unfortunate demise,” MacNeal writes.

Forensic entomology even played a role in the acquittal of Casey Anthony. Examining the question of whether two-year-old Caylee Anthony drowned in a pool or was asphyxiated in the trunk of her mother’s car, prosecution entomologist Neal Haskell “found that the larval stage of the discovered maggots matched the theories that a body had been stashed for three to five days.” But defense entomologist Timothy Huntington told the jury that “sparse organic materials in the trunk’s garbage bag attracted [the maggots], and that a body would have attracted thousands of insects.”

“Based on the findings,” he testified, “there’s no reason to believe there was ever a body in the trunk.”

There are plenty of illegal jobs in the insect world, too. Demand from bug collectors means you can make a good living as a smuggler.

Mexican redknee tarantulas, for example, can fetch “hundreds of thousands…

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