Buggin' Out

Tiny hands reach out to pet one of Don Ehlen’s creepy crawlies. - Brian Kelly
Tiny hands reach out to pet one of Don Ehlen’s creepy crawlies.
— image credit: Brian Kelly

Don Ehlen turned, slightly stunned, at the stranger’s question, like he was just asked how much cash he had in his bank account.

Ehlen smiled.

“Of course I have scorpions. How could I not have scorpions?” Ehlen said.

Ehlen brought his “Insect Safari” to South Whidbey libraries last week, bringing bugs and insects of all kinds to big crowds anxious to see his collection of creepy crawlies.

He faced a rock star-style mob at the Freeland Library Thursday; more than 50 kids, parents and grandparents packed the place to see the Seattle man’s insect show.

Ehlen, who has a collection of 2,300 insects, some living, some not, had to use a hand truck to bring in four big boxes filled with bugs for the Freeland show.

It was a fast-paced 90 minutes.

Ehlen had more bug facts than a picnic has ants, and he peppered the audience with insect info. Insects smell with their antennas. Centipedes bite, millipedes don’t. Scorpions don’t bite, they sting.

Ehlen, who said he has been picking up bugs for 20 years, spent his two-day visit to Whidbey gathering more insects for his collection.

He said he has never been stung. Having a pair of tweezers about a foot long helps; Ehlen says he just carries them in his pocket.

As Ehlen unpacked his big boxes – pausing to hold each glass-covered insect case high, so the kids could see – the room sounded like a children’s choir practicing for fireworks.

“Ooooh.” The roomful murmured when the display box of scorpions came out.

“Ohhhh.” Ehlen displayed a case of spiders.

He answered another question. “These are all dead, yep.”

There were mantises, cockroaches, crickets, leaf bugs, stink bugs and bees. Ants and wasps and flies and fleas.

Ehlen then brought out some still creeping crawlies.

One of the insects was a walking stick, a camouflaged critter that looked like a piece of speckled bamboo.

“It looks like bird poop,” Ehlen explained, so predators wouldn’t want to eat it.

He pulled more live bugs out of a cooler, a millipede from Peru, a hissing cockroach and its more colorful cousin.

An impromptu cockroach race showed which variety was speediest, but also showed how kids squeal when a cockroach is running straight at them.

In the end, though, the scorpions stole the show.

Ehlen showed how they shine with a lime-like glow under the purplish haze of ultraviolet light.

He didn’t know why. Another mystery: Dead ones in his display cases glow, too, when bathed in UV light.

The show inspired Robby Roberts, 4 , of Greenbank to immediate begin a search for bugs among the flowers and plants next to the sidewalk along the library.

He found an ant, and paused briefly to tell a reporter that the scorpions were his favorite insect during the show.

“That’s my favorite one. I thought they were cool,” Robby said.

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