Wicked Good Guide to Bizarro Boston /

Creepy-crawlies

Compiled by Adam Gaffin

Share your opinions of these bizarro attractions - click on the "Comment" links below. Is something missing from the list? Report it.

The cockroaches that ate Natick

U.S. Army Natick Research, Development and Engineering Center, Rte. 27, Natick

The Natick Labs are bizarreness incarnate.

Researchers here once built a "solar furnace" to give pigs really bad sunburns (they wanted to simulate the effects of a nuclear blast). They invented boots that had the raised outline of an average Vietnamese peasant's bare foot instead of treads on the bottom (so soldiers could traipse through the jungles of Vietnam and the Viet Cong would look down and be fooled into thinking "nope, nobody here but us Commies"). And they developed the extrusion process that made Chicken McNuggets possible.

In the early 1970s, the labs imported sizeable quantities of Giant Hissing Madagascar cockroaches (so-called because, well, they are huge and they hiss and they normally only live on Madagascar) to see what would happen when they zapped them with large amounts of radiation.

In 1974, the experiments ended - with a fair number of the roaches still alive. Lab personnel dumped them into plastic bags and then sprayed them with carbon tetrachloride. The chemical killed the adults but did nothing to any eggs they were carrying. A contractor then disposed of the bags in the nearby town dump - where they promptly disintegrated (because that's what carbon tet does to plastic bags). The eggs hatched and the baby roaches promptly invaded nearby homes in search of food. The town health inspector downplayed the problem - until residents threatened to begin shoving the egg cases in his mail slot.

It took nine months to eliminate the roaches - thanks in no small part to DDT that the army gave out to any resident who showed up at the lab with a bucket to carry it home in.

Mutant Irradiated Cockroaches Attack - The account on which the above is based.

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The glass bugs and diseased fruit

The Botanical Museum, 26 Oxford Street, Cambridge

Diseased pear

This Harvard museum (formerly known as the Museum of Vegetable Products) is famous for its Glass Flowers - a collection of several thousand realistic glass reproductions of flowers and flower parts (you will never again see so many stamens in your life), all carefully handcrafted over 50 years by a father-son pair of Austrians. To get to the collection, you have to pass through a room with equally realistic glass reproductions of fruits suffering from various types of diseases (in particular, fungal growths) and big, hairy bugs with large stingers (which may explain why nobody wants to get near them with a duster). $5 admission.

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This guy bugs us

27 Myrtle St., Medford

Trouvelot
If moths
could
sing,
they'd
sing
"Trouvelot
Honey."

Call him the Dr. Frankenstein of the icky bug set. E. Leopold Trouvelot, a French immigrant who settled in Medford, is the man who introduced gypsy moths to America. Trouvelot, an artist with an interest in entomology, decided to see if he could breed gypsy moths, native to Europe, to produce silk. So on a trip to France in the 1860s, he collected a bunch of the larvae and brought them back to his Myrtle Street home, where he began raising them on some trees in his backyard.

The caterpillars followed their natural instincts: They turned into moths and flew away. With no native enemies, they thrived, turning into a leaf-munching pestilence that plagues us to this day. Trouvelot moved back to France in 1882 - the same year Myrtle Street had its first serious gypsy moth infestation (it's not known if the two events are related).

More info:

E. Leopold Trouvelot, Perpetrator of our Problem

He was also an astronomer

Gypsy Moths in North America - Probably more than you want to read about them.

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